31 July 2010

2-34 BCT Headquarters Departs for Camp Shelby

A standing-room crowd of family, friends, and other well-wishers gathered to celebrate and say farewell to the deploying soldiers of Headquarters and Headquarters Company (H.H.C.), 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division (2-34 B.C.T.) at the Boone Campus of Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) Friday morning, July 30.

Calling the soldiers of the 2-34 BCT "the finest troops on the planet Earth," Iowa Gov. Chet Culver urged those present to reach out to National Guard families during the brigade's 12-month deployment. "I think they will, because Iowans are at their best when we have a friend or neighbor in need," he said.

Army Brig. Gen. Timothy Orr, the Adjutant General of the State of Iowa, noted in his remarks that the town of Boone had seen many previous deployments. "And we've packed this place every time," he said. "That's indicative of the support of this community, and the surrounding communities, on the Iowa National Guard."

Citing an Iowa tradition with roots in the American Civil War, Orr presented Col. Ben Corell, commander of the 2-34 BCT, with an Iowa flag to fly over Afghanistan.

Soldiers marched in single file at both the open and close of the half-hour ceremony, accompanied by the bagpipes of the MacKenzie Highlanders. Other dignitaries present included John Slight, the Mayor of the Town of Boone, as well as field representatives of the U.S. Congressional delegation of Iowa.

Following the ceremony, soldiers loaded their bags onto commercial buses, and spent approximately an hour talking with friends and family before departing for Camp Shelby, Miss. The unit will train there and other stateside locations prior to movement to Afghanistan.


For a listing of other send-off ceremonies of other brigade units by geographic location, click here.

For a listing of other send-off ceremonies of other brigade units by date, click here.

For a July 30 Des Moines Register interview with Col. Ben Corell, describing the background and context for the deployment, click here.

For a July 30 Des Moines Register blog post describing the activities of one HHC, 2-34 BCT family prior to the send-off ceremony, click here.

30 July 2010

Achtung -- Panzer!

I had to say good-bye to Trooper the other day. He's moving out with one of advanced parties, tasked with setting up initial operations for the brigade headquarters. He doesn't get to participate in today's send-off ceremony. He's already on the job, down at Camp Shelby, Miss.

Guys don't do emotional moments very often, or well. Things end up either being left unsaid, or sounding like dialogue from a bad Mafia movie.

Trooper and I were on the same deployment back in 2003. We've seen and done some wacky stuff together. Take, for example, the time we hung out for hours drinking tea in a Middle Eastern hotel lobby, watching the people-scape change from day to night. The restaurant was closed, because of Ramadan, but Trooper had cracked the local hospitality code by ordering room service, and having it delivered to the registration desk. Stupid little insanities like that kept me sane, and Trooper made more than just a few of them happen.

In other words. Trooper is good people--for an Infantry guy.

Trooper reads people like books, and reads a lot of books, too. He's always joked that I should write the Great American novel about our Nothing Little Deployment to the Land of the Sand. I remind him--again and again and again--that I don't do fiction. I have a reputation for story-telling, but I am genetically incapable of making things up. I mean that.

"I'll see you on the flip side," I tell him this week, shaking his hand. In the afternoon sun of the U.S. Middle West, the parking lot is as stifling as our old Middle Eastern motorpool. I've just been reassigned--I'll tell you about that next week--and I don't know when I'm going to see him next. "I'm sorry I won't have your back on this one."

"Yeah, we would've made it fun somehow," he says. "If you ever do write that novel, you'll have to make me six-foot something, and chiseled. Chiseled like ... a Panzer commander."

And that's how he drove off: Into the sun, all dashing and chiseled and resolute, off to fight the Taliban. I can honestly say that he looked like a Panzer commander:

A tea-drinking Panzer commander, driving a Honda Civic.

29 July 2010

The Waiting Games

It's hard enough for soldiers to understand the old "hurry up and wait." From Basic Training on, soldiers develop a tolerance for administrative bull-pucky and standing in lines and generally not knowing what's going on. Friends and family, however, grow impatient with a lack of easy and quick answers. Hurry up and wait doesn't translate very well to the civilian world.

Here's a little perspective:

As late as this week--in some cases, after months or years of preparation--I have friends who still don't know whether or not they're going to deploy. Some of them do know they're going to deploy, they just don't know what day they're supposed to get on the bus.

"Uh, Honey? I could be leaving next week. Or maybe tomorrow. They're still trying to figure out which bus I'm on ..."

It goes the other way, too: A couple of our soldiers were recently pulled off the deployment list, casualties of last-minute paperwork requirements and medical checks. One of them even found out that, instead of fighting the Taliban for the next year, he's going to be fighting cancer.

Other friends have just been transferred within the brigade, and don't know exactly when their "new" units' send-off ceremonies are scheduled. Even when dates and times are known, there can be worried questions. One wife asked mine whether she would be able to give her husband "one last hug" at the send-off, or whether the troops just all march off to the buses. She just wanted to know, so that she could prepare herself and her kids.

Those aren't complaints, mind you. That's just life in the military.

Thing is, our families aren't IN the military. Or, at least, they don't feel that they are, and they haven't had much opportunity to build up the jaded, sarcastic "all this has happened before" mental defenses of the common soldier.

It's a heck of a world when you have to tell your kindergartner to "man up."

Or your mom to "embrace the suck."

Clocks are ticking. Buses are on the way. Families? Families are doing the best they can. It's Mobilization Day, for some of us. The waiting is almost over--and it's about to begin.

28 July 2010

Caption Contest No. 4: 'Sir Marks a Lot'

  • "Wasn't it nice of the whiteboard vendor to give us all these markers for FREE?"
  • "Hey, look--we've mixed our live and blank ammunition. What could possibly go wrong?"
  • "This ... this is why we can't have nice things in the TOC."
  • "Well, that's going to leave a mark ..."
Make your suggestions and additions in the comments section!

27 July 2010

Things NOT to Say Before a Deployment

The following is a mix of both proven (don't ask) and hypothetical ways to put one's proverbial spousal combat boot into one's mouth. Whatever you do, do NOT try these at home:
  • "When is our wedding anniversary again?"
  • "I think I'll sell your car while your gone."
  • "Hey, cool---did you know that we're getting the Military Channel free this month?"
  • "I think I'll get a new dog while you're gone."
  • "By the way, there's a rumor that we won't be getting mid-tour leave ..."
  • "I just got volunteered for extra duty the next four weekends before Mobilization-Day. You and the kids won't mind, right?"
  • "Don't bother making travel plans while I'm at Mobilization station--I'll probably just hang out in Vegas with the guys on our 4-day pass."
  • "Just remember, it's going to suck more for me than it will for you and the kids."
  • "You're going to lose some weight while I'm gone, right?"
  • "You're going to lose some weight while you're gone, right?"
  • "You'll never believe who looked me up on Facebook last night--my old high school girlfriend!"

26 July 2010

More Ball-Peen Hammer Moments

I've been collecting "ball-peen hammer moments"--times when I've suddenly felt like I've been emotionally smacked between the eyes with a ball-peen hammer--in the months leading up to our unit's deployment to Afghanistan. I first wrote about such pre-deployment surprises here and here. Here are a couple more, for the record:

I am at my dentist's office, getting a routine check-up and cleaning. I am in uniform, as I have been the last couple of appointments. When Julie asks when she should schedule our next meeting, I tell her that I'm likely not going to be able to make it. I'll probably be out of the country, I say. I try hard not to make it sound like a certainty.

She packs me an extra-full goodie bag of dental hygiene supplies: brushes and rinses and floss. After Dr. Deb comes in, I remind them that I got my best check-up ever following my first deployment. "There was nothing else to do over there but floss," I tell them. They laugh.

Later, as I am leaving the appointment, I suddenly find myself being hugged. I stand there, holding my toothbrush.


The two computer technicians are doing their best to break the news to me gently. My trusty workhorse of a laptop computer has been displaying the symptoms of digital Alzheimer's disease. Things are looking good here in the shop, when a pink-and-gray veil suddenly falls across the start-up screen. The logic board is beginning to go. The replacement equipment would cost nearly as much as a new computer.

My old writing partner might start up correctly every so often, they tell me--at which time, I should grab my personal data and photos and music and run like a bad boyfriend. Other than that, I can only make it comfortable.

We move on to happier topics. "We've seen a lot of you guys in uniform in here recently, getting ready to go overseas," says James. "You should be careful over there."

I proceed to list off all my techno-preparations: power supplies and converters and eternal hard-drives.

James laughs. "Your life is more important to us than your computer," he says.

"Yes," I reply, "but my computer is my life."

I walk out of the shop, into the bright sun. I have already purchased my next "go-to-war" laptop.


I am sitting in the same barber's chair I have frequented for more than 20 years. Instead of our usual Cubs games and reality TV shows, I am talking with Dave about the Army. Specifically, how the Army has pushed a lot of training prior to Mobilization Day ("M-day"), so that soldiers don't technically have deploy for more than 12 months at a given time.

That's not exactly how it plays out, of course, particularly for guys and gals who live hours away from their units. All the pre-Mobilization classes and trips and duties add up. Families discover their soldiers are still living at home, but variously become less present and available. M-Day isn't even here yet physically, but--mentally and emotionally--the deployment began long ago.

"You know, I never thought about it that way," says Dave. "You explain things differently than what you see on the news."

My eyes sting a little, and I tell myself it's the hair tonic. I start cataloging these little surprising moments. You can see someone every couple of months for years, and not really see them at all. Until they say or do something that really connects.

You can make someone's day with just a few little words. You can also re-make the world.

It's too bad it takes the prospect of leaving everything behind to figure that out.

23 July 2010

The Message to Lt. Col. Garcia

This happened a few months ago, while the brigade headquarters was temporarily operating out of Camp Dodge, Iowa ...

One of my TOC buddies called. I had made the mistake of taken a late lunch--said I'd be back at 1430 hours. Apparently, the brigade's deputy commander (D.C.O.) had walked into the Tactical Operations Center 5 minutes after I'd left at 1330, and requested that all battalion commanders report to him immediately. Face-to-face.

It was now 1425 hours.

When I got back, I asked what was up. "The DCO needs the cell phone numbers for all the battalion commanders," was the answer. My radio-telephone operator training kicked in.

"OK, but what does he want to DO with those numbers?" I asked.

"He wants all the battalion commanders to report to him as soon as possible."

"Is that 'drop everything right now' ASAP, or 'as soon as you've completed whatever mission you're on' ASAP?"

"'Drop everything' ASAP."

We proceeded to e-mail a couple of commanders--they were Blackberry users and we knew that was faster and more reliable than calling them. We called one commander's cell phone number, and got his daughter. "My dad gave me his old cell phone when the Army gave him one," she said. "Sorry to bother you," I said, "but could we have your Dad's new phone number?"

Thinking fast in problem-solving workaround mode, I feel like I'm in that Clint Eastwood movie--the one where they called in naval gunnery using a long-distance credit card. Adapt, improvise, overcome.

When I contact him, I relayed the message, making sure to add that the message was being delivered to all commanders. After all, I didn't want him thinking he was in trouble. And, because I said that, he made another connection for me.

"I've got another commander sitting right next to me here in training," he said. "Want me to bring him along?"

As staff specialists in the brigade headquarters--in logistics, operations, intelligence, communications--we're always trying to educate our "customers" to give us their requirements, not their requests. A logistician might only give you two trucks if you ask for them specifically, but if you tell him you what you want to move and how much of it you have, he'll be able to give you options. Options you might not even know about.

That's because he's the expert, not you.

Same dynamic applies to communications.

An informal motto in the U.S. Army Signal Corps is "get the message through." Don't tell us how to deliver it. Don't fall into the trap of worrying about the medium--whether e-mail, texting, phone call, or asking a commander to grab his peer and get it in gear--just give us the message.

We'll do the rest.

(By the way, in The Signaleer's archives, you'll find the Signal Soldier's Creed. Check it out! And the obtuse title of this post echoes "A Message to Garcia," another great moment in had-to-be-in-the-Signal-Corps literature.)

22 July 2010

Caption Contest No. 3: 'Our Tower of Power'

  • "Can you smell what the TOC is cookin'?!"
  • "We are here ... to pump up ... your tent!"
  • "On 'Craft Day,' the TOC crew collected and recycled all the uneaten MRE crackers from Annual Training 2010 for use as Class IV barrier material."
  • "Presenting the winners of this year's 'Mr. Camp Ripley' pageant! The talent or swimsuit competitions have been cancelled due to lack of interest."
  • "Hey, sergeant major! We've got an idea to top that whole 'living patch' photo!"
  • "Three reasons why the proposed 'Men of the Red Bull' deployment calendar never really got off the ground."
  • "Once upon a time, there were three soldiers who went to Annual Training, and they were each assigned very hazardous duties. But I took them away from all that, and now they work for me. My name is Charlie."
Add your suggestions in the comments section of this post!

21 July 2010

Take your Foot off the Fire-Gas

More notes from Annual Training, which took place at Camp Ripley, Minn., in June 2010:

At risk of a certain amount of sibilance this morning, I must state that soldiers are neither saints nor sinners, but simply citizens under stress. We're not perfect, and we know it.

For better and for worse, every deployed dog-soldier has his day.

Take, for example, this cautionary tale, recently told by one barracks wag--a buddy who graciously allowed me to report it here:

During Annual Training at Camp Ripley, Minn., my buddy's wife had texted him from behind the wheel of his $2,000 riding mower. "Something is clanking," she wrote.

Instant messaging isn't always instant, however: He received her message 45 minutes later. "GET OFF THE MOWER NOW," he replied.

"Too late." Soon after her original message, the engine first sputtered, smoked, then seized.

It turns out that she had used the yellow gas can, the one with diesel fuel in it--the stuff that my buddy uses to burn weeds and trash on his acreage. Apparently, his 3-year-old son had tried to ask, "Mommy, why are you putting fire-gas in the mower?" The warning, unfortunately, wasn't understood until it was too late.

My buddy was hot when this happened. He did the wrong thing. He poured gas on the fire. "If this is what you do on Day 2 of my being gone," he says he said, "I can hardly wait to see what you come up with for the rest of the 482 days!"

He called back later to apologize. "Obviously," he says.

My buddy is a stand-up guy, a role model for me and others. No question, I'd follow him in firefight. But it's important to remember that even stand-up guys can have a bad day. Downrange, the trick is going to be to learn how not let our individual bad days spark hurtful words with our spouses. Today's communications technologies make it too easy to light fires of frustration. Words can hurt. Words can leave everyone feeling burned.

I hope I can learn from The Fire-Gas Incident, to take extra care to be understanding and supportive through the telephone lines. I'm going to make mistakes. So is my wife. We need to be open to that. Name-calling and I-told-you-so's don't get anybody anywhere but miles away from each other.

At the same time, I need to remember that figuratively counting to "10" before hitting the "send" key is probably a good e-mail practice.

My Army rifle has a safety on it, after all--why shouldn't my e-mail account?

20 July 2010

Red Bull Send-off Ceremonies Announced

The soldiers of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division (2-34 BCT) have received their mobilization orders, and will be moving out in phases and waves, from July 29 to Aug. 9. The units will first assemble on Camp Shelby, Miss. for "post-mobilization training." This is usually team-based training, or training on skills specific to Afghanistan.

After a month or so at Camp Shelby, the units will move to the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif., for a large-scale exercise. After that, Uncle Sam's crystal ball gets a little fuzzy on the details. Some units may launch directly to Afghanistan. Others may return to Camp Shelby temporarily before themselves launching to Afghanistan.

Iowa communities traditionally send-off their soldiers. Speeches are given, tears are shed, pictures are taken, promises are made. It's similar to the scene depicted in the National Guard heritage print (above), "Goodbye Dear, I'll Be Back in a Year."

Personally, I've asked my family not to go to my unit's send-off ceremony. I figure I'll have a hard enough time trying to keep it together emotionally, as well as remembering the difference between "left-face" and "right-face" marching movements. Also, I don't want my wife to have to pack away two crying kids while putting on a brave face for all of us.

Someone once observed, however, that send-off ceremonies are like graduations and funerals--they're really not so much for the people who are in them, and more for the people who are in the audience.

Two previous ceremonies celebrated Iowa soldiers who will be absorbed into the 2-34 BCT. These soldiers come from the 185th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, headquarted in Johnston, and the Headquarters and Headquarters Battery (H.H.B.) of the 1st Field Artillery, 194th Field Artillery, headquartered in Fort Dodge.

Approximately 300 Nebraska National Guard soldiers of the 1st Squadron, 134th Cavalry will also be joining the 2-34th BCT deployment. While press releases regarding their send-off ceremonies are still pending, the Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman recently noted that this unit hails from Beatrice, Fremont, Hastings, and Lincoln.

While individual soldiers may choose to travel across the state to their monthly drills, whether for increased promotion opportunities or job specialty, a National Guard armory likely houses a unit representative of surrounding local community. When a National Guard unit "goes to war," a whole community goes with it: local police officers and physicians, business owners and community leaders, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, priests and pastors all put on the uniform, and march out smartly.

Official releases about the remaining Iowa send-off ceremonies can be found here and here. I've take the liberty of re-posting them below, and re-organizing them alphabetically by community name.

Even if you just scan the places and units, please take a moment to consider how many communities and families will be affected by the temporary absence of more than 3,000 citizen-soldiers:

Battery B, 1st Battalion, 194th Field Artillery (approx. 45 soldiers)
Fri., July 30, 11 a.m.
Iowa National Guard armory, 1511 N. POW Camp Road, Algona

Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Brigade Combat Team (approx. 110 soldiers)
Fri., July 30, 10 a.m.
Des Moines Area Community College (Boone campus), 1125 Hancock Dr., Boone

Company A, 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry (approx. 100 soldiers)
Sun., Aug. 1, 10 a.m.
Carroll High School, 2809 N. Grant Road, Carroll

Cedar Falls
- Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry
- Company E, 334th Brigade Support Battalion
- Detachment 2, Company E, 334th Brigade Support Battalion (Iowa Falls unit)
(approx. 230 soldiers total)
Tues., Aug. 3, 10 a.m.
UNI Dome, 2501 Hudson Road, Cedar Falls

Cedar Rapids
- Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Brigade Special Troops Battalion
- Company B, Brigade Special Troops Battalion
- Company C, Brigade Special Troops Battalion
(approx. 340 soldiers total)
Sat., Aug. 7, 10 a.m., US Cellular Center, 370 1st Ave NE, Cedar Rapids

Cedar Rapids
- Detachment 1, Company A, 334th Brigade Support Battalion
- Detachment 2, Company A, 334th Brigade Support Battalion (Oelwein unit)
- Company B, 334th Brigade Support Battalion
(approx. 160 soldiers total)
Sun., Aug. 8, 2 p.m.
US Cellular Center, 370 1st Ave NE, Cedar Rapids

Charles City
Detachment 1, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry (approx. 35 soldiers)
Mon., Aug. 2, 6 p.m.
Iowa National Guard armory, 2003 Clark Street, Charles City

Detachment 1, Company A, 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry (approx. 35 soldiers)
Mon., Aug. 2, 2 p.m.
Iowa National Guard Armory, 1200 13th Avenue North, Clinton

Council Bluffs
- Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry
- Detachment 2, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry (Spencer unit)
- Detachment 1, Company B, 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry
- Detachment 1, Company F, 334th Brigade Support Battalion
(approx. 215 soldiers total)
Sun., Aug. 1,10 a.m.
Mid-American Center, 1 Arena Way, Council Bluffs

Company A, Brigade Special Troops Battalion (approx. 75 soldiers)
Sun., Aug. 1, 10 a.m.
Modern Woodmen Park (River Bandits), 209 S. Gaines Street, Davenport

Des Moines
- 334th Brigade Support Battalion
- Detachment 1, Company C, 334th Brigade Support Battalion (Corning unit)
(approximately 340 Soldiers total)
Mon., Aug. 9 , 10 a.m.,
Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium, 703 3rd Street, Des Moines

- Company A, 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry
- Company D, 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry
- Detachment 1, Company E, 334th Brigade Support Battalion
(approx. 130 soldiers total)
Tues., Aug. 3, 10 a.m.
Peosta Community Center, 7896 Burds Road, Peosta

Company D, 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry (approx. 50 soldiers) Sun., Aug. 1, 10 a.m.
Denison High School, Fine Arts Center, 819 N. 16th Street, Denison

Eagle Grove
Detachment 1, Battery B, 1st Battalion, 194th Field Artillery (approx. 40 soldiers)
Fri., July 30, 11 a.m.

Battery A, 1st Battalion, 194th Field Artillery (approx. 80 soldiers)
Sun., Aug. 1, 11 a.m.
Estherville Armory, 1704 3rd Avenue South, Estherville

Iowa City
Company B, 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry (approx. 100 soldiers)
Tues., Aug. 3, 10 a.m.
City High School, 1900 Morningside Drive, Iowa City

Iowa Falls
Company C, 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry (approx. 75 soldiers)
Tues., Aug. 3, 10 a.m.
Iowa Falls High School, 1903 Taylor Avenue, Iowa Falls

- Detachment 1, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry
- Company C, 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry
- Detachment 1, Company C, 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry (Newton unit)
(approx. 100 soldiers total)
Sun., Aug. 1, 10 a.m.
Camp Dodge Freedom Center, 7105 NW 70th Avenue, Johnston

- Troop A, 1st Squadron, 113th Cavalry
- Troop B, 1st Squadron, 113th Cavalry
(approx. 130 soldiers total)
Thurs., Aug. 5, 10 a.m., Ankeny High School, 1302 North Ankeny Blvd., Ankeny

Detachment 1, 832nd Engineer Company (approx. 55 soldiers)
Fri., July 30, 10 a.m., Keokuk High School, 2285 Middle Road, Keokuk

Troop C, 1st Squadron, 113th Cavalry (approx. 80 Soldiers)
Thurs., Aug. 5, 9 a.m., Le Mars High School, 921 3rd Avenue SW, Le Mars

Detachment 1, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Brigade Special Troops Battalion (approx. 50 soldiers)
Fri., Aug. 6, 10 a.m.
Marshalltown Community College, 3700 S. Center St, Marshalltown

Mount Pleasant
832nd Engineer Company (approx. 50 soldiers)
Fri., July 30, 10 a.m.
Mount Pleasant High School, 2104 S. Grand Avenue, Mount Pleasant

Detachment 1, Company C, 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry (approx. 40 soldiers)
Tues., Aug. 3, 10 a.m.
Oelwein Middle School, 300 12th Avenue SE, Oelwein

Red Oak
Company F, 334th Brigade Support Battalion (approx. 110 soldiers)
Sun., Aug. 1, 10 a.m.
Red Oak High School, 2011 N. 8th Street, Red Oak

Saturday, July 24
Selected members of the 2168th Transportation Company
(approx. 70 soldiers)
Sat., July 24, 1 p.m.
Sheldon High School Football Field, Sheldon

- Company B, 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry
- Detachment 2, Company B, 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry (Corning unit)
(approx. 100 soldiers total)
Sun., Aug. 1, 10 a.m.
Shenandoah High School, 1000 Mustang Drive, Shenandoah

Storm Lake
Company G, 334th Brigade Support Battalion (approx. 80 soldiers)
Fri., July 30,11 a.m.
Storm Lake High School, 621 Tornado Drive, Storm Lake

Sioux City
- Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 1st Squadron, 113th Cavalry
- Company D, 334th Brigade Support Battalion
(approx. 170 soldiers total)
Thurs., Aug. 5, 10:30 a.m.
Sioux City East High School, 5011 Mayhew Drive, Sioux City

19 July 2010

It's Only a Paper Moon

Sometimes, you can't make this Army stuff up.

Following last month's Annual Training at Camp Ripley, Minn., our brigade is slated in July to mobilize and leave for Camp Shelby, Miss. for a few weeks of post-mobilization training. After that, we're to move to the National Training Center (N.T.C.) at Fort Irwin, Calif. Parts of the brigade would launch into Afghanistan directly from NTC, while others might rotate back to Camp Shelby to launch from there.

The NTC used to be the force-on-force training capital of the Army, a place where tomorrow's would-be Pattons and Rommels would duke it out with armored fists. Recently, however, people at Fort Irwin figured out the training money was all going to the counterinsurgency (COIN) fight. They've allegedly minted themselves a new kinder, gentler training plan and program.

We'll have to see about all that, however, because NTC doesn't appear to have some of the basics required to move a National Guard unit overseas. At least, that's what their tourist brochures seem to indicate.

Take, for example, this fine print: NTC does not supply "linens, toilet paper, or cleaning supplies."

Remember "beer math"? Even the slowest fraternal party-goer can rattle off how many cases of beer equals how many cans per drinker. To put it in such terms, the Army says the NTC party is strictly "B.Y.O.P."

What ... The ... Foxtrot?!

Consider the plight of a bunch of formerly hard-charging, hard-drinking warfighters, now confined to a Plans tent and reduced to arguing over how many rolls of toilet paper equals a basic combat load. It's not pretty. Or productive.

It's also a lot like that Pat Hazell joke: "I like to buy a four-pack of toilet paper every time I shop, just so I can ask the clerk this judgment question: 'Would you say I got the right amount of toilet paper for the amount of groceries I bought?'"

Personally, I like the suggestion of issuing each soldier two rolls of single-ply paper for personal use, one for each cargo pocket. We teach our Joes to conserve ammunition--why not other classes of supply? "Remember, boys--make each sheet count."

The same strategy would work for cleaning supplies, too. Just issue it in 3-ounce containers, so that Joe can get through airport security. Some of us old-school types are already trained to clean toilets with toothbrushes.

Not to worry, however. Clearer thinking apparently prevailed. Instead of us brining-our-own, the U.S. taxpayer is going to ship our toilet paper and cleaning supplies by bonded courier, along with our equally precious and secret computer equipment.

I am not making this up.

16 July 2010

Caption Contest No. 2: 'TOC Me Out to the Ball Game!"

  • "Hey, why is there a little mound of dirt under the floor of my tent?"
  • "That barbed wire should prevent ANYONE from stealing third!"
  • "Clearly, yesterday's tactical tailgating party got a little out of hand ..."
  • "Look at the size of that pitching machine! And it's radar-guided!"
Add your suggested captions in the comments section to this post!

15 July 2010

The Next Insurgency Will Not Be Televised

More notes from Annual Training in June 2010 ...

It was a little surreal when the brigade Public Affairs Officer called me onto the figurative carpet one day. He casually let slip that we needed to talk about "Sherpa." After I figuratively picked myself up the (might I add, uncarpeted) floor, we talked about blog-stuff: what works, what doesn't, what's good for the cause, what isn't. It felt good to come in from the proverbial cold.

Apparently, he's known about the Red Bull Rising blog since April, when he and some mutual colleagues discovered a post that, coincidentally, just happened to involve them. "Hey, this is a pretty funny story that sounds kind of familiar ... HEY, WAITAMINUT!"

I wish I could've been a fly on the wall to see that!

So, Sherpa is no longer "hiding in plain sight"--but neither is he taking out full-page advertisements in the local newspaper.

Against this background static, imagine my surprise when twice the new command team separately inquired as to my off-duty activities, without apparent awareness of the blog. Here's how it lays down: I've served under the new brigade commander once before, when he was in charge of the 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment (1/133rd Infantry). And the new brigade command sergeant major was then the first-sergeant of a line company in that unit, while I was a "commo dog" in the headquarters company.

During the "Ironman" battalion's deployment, you see, I ran what you might call a "humor-driven underground newspaper," there in the desert. I only had to publish one issue--literally one page--per week, conserving paper and ink by posting it over the urinal in our "hootch" trailer.

The name of the publication was "The Bull Sheet."

Even with the earlier adrenalin provided by the Pubic Affairs Officer, I was ill-prepared for the following Annual Training moment, which occurred after I briefed both the brigade commander and command sergeant major on some computer-related stuff.

"By the way, when does the covert back-talk start?" asked the commander, chuckling.

"Yeah, where's 'The Bull Sheet?'" asked the command sergeant major. "We need some humor around here."

I stammered and backed my way out of the briefing tent, vowing never to play poker with any of these soldiers. If they already knew about the Red Bull Rising blog, they sure as heck weren't letting on.

Besides, after all that, I wasn't about to give them the usual Bull Sheet, now, was I?

14 July 2010

How Sherpa Got His Callsign

More Notes from Annual Training in June 2010 ...

It was at an Annual Training a couple of years ago that I earned the nickname "Sherpa." It even happened right here at Camp Ripley, Minn. The headquarters company had just come in from the field, and we were variously busy washing mud off our vehicles, cleaning and turning in our weapons, and staging trucks for the next day's convoy.

The staff, of course, had scattered to the four winds. Commanders and first-sergeants are always focused on taking care of business, and their business is troops. By comparison, however, once in from the field and distracted from mission, staff officers are mostly like cats. Attention-deficit disorder cats--A.D.D. cats on crack.

The headquarters company supply sergeant couldn't lock up the weapons rack and load them in the truck, because she was missing a couple of staff officers' M-16 rifles and M9 pistols. I volunteered to wander around Camp Ripley, collecting the weapons directly from the customers. At this point, the supply sergeant didn't care how clean the weapons were--she just wanted them back.

It took a few hours and a few miles--I was schlepping around on foot, because all the vehicles were at the wash-racks--to locate Supply's Most Wanted. By the time I found the last of the usual staff suspects, my back bristled with three long black rifles, and I was carrying a semi-automatic pistol in each hand. If I looked dangerous, it was probably more to myself than to others.

As the last gentleman handed over his handgun, he said, "Hey--You're the weapons Sherpa!"

At least, I suppose, he didn't say "caddy."

It took me a few years to grow into the "Sherpa" name. Truth told, it now means more to me than a silly story. If you've spent any time with me, you already know that there's never a single or simple explanation. I'll write more on the topic soon.

For now, however, let's just say that "Sherpa" has come to represent--to me, at least--the idea and ideal of putting yourself out there, in humble and hopeful service to one's peers. You've heard the Marine motto, "No greater friend, no worse enemy"? I prefer "no task too great, no service too small."

Too often in this world and Army, people seem to seek out only glory, praise, or honor for themselves. I've been guilty of it many times myself.

"Sherpa" keeps me grounded. "Sherpa" keeps me real.

Without realizing it, I think I've been on the path toward "servant leadership." I aspire to be more humble. I desire to help make my organization better. I am also painfully aware of my shortcomings, and that I can trip on my own tongue, and miscommunicate my message.

In the months leading up to my deployment, I've been quite taken with writer Ann Marlowe's clear-eyed plain-talk from Afghanistan. One particular passage builds on quote from a Provincial Reconstruction Team (P.R.T.) leader in Zabul Province. "The concept of servant leadership is absent here," he says. Marlowe later writes:
The Afghans, of course, have already Afghanized, and that’s the problem. It’s sauve qui peut ["every man for himself"] here, and servant leadership is maybe a century or two in the future. The best we can hope for now are the kind of Afghan government officials who identify with the interests of the government as though it were another tribe. They will at least protect its property and interests, which roughly speaking means our investment here. And of course some few genuinely care about achieving something here.

[...] Many would be happy if we took over all the apparatus of the state, from issuing drivers’ licenses and passports to collecting taxes, because Americans don’t ask for bribes. Many others want to kill us--and in a way, for the same reason. When you have a sense of shame about your culture, it’s one way to restore self-respect. Even the presence of Afghans who care about their work and their country is a reproach to those with no pride left.
We may not be able to make the world follow our leads--whether individually, as soldiers or citizens; or collectively, as armies or countries--but we can always lead by example. Remember the three most powerful words we can say to each other, even those who we perceive to be our enemies.

No, not "I love you"--but "can I help?"

13 July 2010

Packing It Up

I have way too much Army gear. Even Uncle Sam says so.

I'm conducting an informal "100 percent showdown inventory" on my driveway this past Sunday afternoon. Lena, 5, and Rain, 3, are sitting in their Daffy Duck folding chairs, watching me. I've opened the hatchback of my station wagon--the recently re-nicknamed "rolling wall-locker--and a good portion of concrete is now covered in olive-drab and camouflage fabric.

While I'm checking off each item of the $3,196.22 of stuff that U.S. taxpayers have bought for me over the years, the kids occasionally kick or pick up an item or two. There's a lot old stuff--stuff that will get turned it because it's out-of-date, obsolete, the wrong color, or broken and "unserviceable."
"Daddy, what's that?"
"That's what the Army calls an 'In-trench-ing Tool,'" I reply, overemphasizing the first syllable to make fun of the Army spelling. I am feeling very clever in front of my 5-year-old.
"Just looks like a shovel to me."

"That, Lena, is a 'Balaclava.'"
"Daddy, what's a Balaclava?"
"It's ... like a sock ... for your head."
And, my favorite:
"Daddy, something smells like stinky cheese ..."
I don't tell her that's the smell of old canvas straps and rotten waterproofing, probably mixed with sweat and DDT. That's the smell of the National Guard, circa the early 1990s--when we were considered a "strategic reserve," not an "operational" one.

That smell, Lena, is the smell of freedom. And my youth.

The next day, I'm supposed to duffel-bag drag my stuff to the Central Issuing Facility (C.I.F.) on Camp Dodge, here in Iowa, so the Army can issue make sure I've only got what I need for deployment. The Army giveth, the Army taketh away.

The day after that, I'm supposed to put my four duffel bags on a truck that will head to Camp Shelby, Miss. To date, the Army has only issued me three duffel bags, however, so this could get interesting. Each bag is like an overstuffed olive-drab sausage. I should probably label them with "Warning: Contents Under Pressure."

When we get to Camp Shelby, we'll all go through another CIF. That's supposedly when we'll get all kitted-out in MultiCam pattern gear. More stuff, more stuffing.

Somewhere in the weeks (week?) between Camp Dodge and Camp Shelby, I'm also slated to travel to Fort Irwin, Calif. for some pre-mobilization training. That means living out of a rucksack; it also means cutting rapidly diminishing time with our families even shorter.

All this change is an Army routine, and it's going to be great training. Still, it's tough sometimes for both soldiers and family to see the desert for the trees.

Remember that old World War I music hall ditty? "Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile." We've got plenty of bags, but the smiles? We're going to have to ask our supply sergeant for a few more of those.

12 July 2010

The Shambling Mound of Paperwork

More Annual Training notes from June 2010 ...

That "brain trust" of clear-headed thinkers who are regularly tasked with writing the elegant, intricate, no-detail-left-unturned instructions for the more than 3,000 soldiers and airmen of 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division (2-34 B.C.T.)? I hate to tell you this, but it's less like "rocket science" and more like "making sausage."

Welcome to the "Future Ops," folks, also known as "Plans." Watch your step, mind the ducts, and pay no attention to the men behind the curtain.

The Plans officers and NCOs get a little slap-happy sometimes. Sleep-deprivation and self-imposed isolation in their own "cooler" of a tent will do that. So will all the fumes from the midnight oil and those candles burning at both ends.

One night (or was it day? Working in well-lit windowless tents is like living in a casino) the guys figured out that the Plans team is authorized a Ghillie suit, a raggedy type of specialized camouflage more likely to be used by snipers or scouts. Wear a "Ghillie" or "Yowie" suit, and you look like part of the countryside, all leafy and earthy and stuff. It's like a Swamp Thing costume, if you're a fan of old comic books.

Needless to say, in the wee small hours of the afternoon (or was it beforenoon?), the Plans staff began work on the design for a Shambling Mound of Paperwork, a vaguely office-worker-shaped version of the mythological creatures I remember from my game-playing adolescence.

The proposed Staff Ghillie ("Staff Yowie"?) would be constructed of white vinyl, covered with coffee-stained spreadsheets and half-baked memoranda, and sprinkled with fragments of burned and useable CD-ROMs, sticky notes, and witty barbs. In addition to the basic load of darts routinely used for making complex decisions, soldiers wearing the suit would be issued a standard semi-automatic stapler for self-defense. And eye protection. And a reflective safety vest.

Can't show you pictures of it, of course, because it would just look like any other messy office. So I have substituted here a photo illustrating one of the other grave dangers faced daily by Plans staff.

To paraphrase pioneer, patriot, politician and honorary Planner (hey, remember the Alamo?) Davy Crockett:

"Sometimes you eat the Plans worm. Sometimes the Plans worm eats you."

11 July 2010

The Counts Down

How many ... days of leave do I have to use-or-lose?
... days until I get on the bus?
... garage-boxes left unpacked, and honey-dos that won't get done?
... movies watched and words left unsaid?
... heart-felt talks and misty-eyed good-byes?

How many more ... sleepless nights in my own bed?
... kisses from my wife, and hugs from my kids?
... drop-offs at daycare, and pick-ups from school?
... random tickles and routine tuck-ins?
... birthday cakes and bedtime prayers?
... just-short-enough-please hair cuts?
... last-minute changes and one-more-things?

"Time isn't holding us, time isn't after us."

How much time do we have left?

How much time do we need?

09 July 2010

Follow this Blog!

It's about to get interesting, if it wasn't already interesting enough.

The units are back from Annual Training, and the Red Bull soldiers are packing and repacking in preparation for Mobilization Day--the day they are placed under federal, rather than state, control. The actual M-day will vary by unit, but is anticipated to hit on or after July 29. As an organization, we're also shifting and shuffling around, finally configuring into the teams in which we'll live, work and fight for the next 12 months or more.

Time to strap everything down and wire it tight. Including this blog.

Believe it or not, I'm not big on self-promotion. In fact, it kind of runs counter to Sherpa's current literary lifestyle: Let the words speak for themselves. Illuminate and educate on National Guard life through seemingly random acts of story-telling and movie quotation. Focus on the positive, but don't shirk from the negative. Celebrate others, not yourself.

I also realize, however, that every good cause needs a call to action, that only the squeaky wheel gets the juice, and that a good pitchman always asks for the sale.

Second-prize? Second-prize is a set of steak knives.

So, here's the pitch: Whether you've been randomly reading Red Bull Rising for the past couple of months, or have just stubbed your Internet toes on it this morning, I'd like to take this opportunity to invite you to become a regular RBR reader.

And, if you're already a regular reader, I'd like to ask you to recommend this blog to others.

To borrow a phrase from my Infantry brothers, "Follow Me!"

Here's how:
  • Visit the Red Bull Rising website regularly. Bookmark it!
  • Recommend Red Bull Rising to your friends, family, colleagues, Facebook friends--knowing you as I do, I am certain that your usual list of suspects are all fine and upstanding citizens.
  • Use an RSS reader. My RSS weapon of choice is Google Reader.
  • Become a "fan" or "like" the Red Bull Rising Facebook page.
  • Use the Facebook "Networked Blogs" application and "follow" this blog. Click the widget at right for more info, or click here.
  • Use the Google Friend Connect / Blogger "follow" function. Click the widget at right, or click here.
As always, thank you for reading! Thank you for your interest! And, on behalf of the more than 3,000 soldiers of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division, thank you for your prayers and support!


08 July 2010

Caption Contest No. 1: 'Red Bull Calling'

  • "Yes, Cattle Commissioner?"
  • "You've reached the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division--home of the Red Bulls. Please listen carefully to the following menu options: To request fire support, press '1.' To report an insurgency, press '2.' ..."
  • "Honey, there's a Mr. Bull on the phone for you. Something about a deployment?"
  • "Hang on, Sparky--let me patch you through!"
  • "The first rule of Help Desk is--don't talk about Help Desk!"
  • "Why is the brigade's Help Desk number unlisted?"
  • "I just herd the phone ring."
  • "This had better not be a combat-booty call!"
Think you can do better? Add your suggestions to the comments section to this post!

07 July 2010

Bully for Freedom! And for the Press!

Sherpa is officially back home in Iowa, having returned from Annual Training 2010 at Camp Ripley, Minn., sometime before Independence Day. While I still have a few Annual Training "war-stories" to share this month--I'm currently unpacking and repacking, while deciphering my own cryptic notebooks--I thought that today I'd point out some of the great attention our Red Bull units received from Midwestern media.

With a little commentary from me, of course, which makes it all "fair use." I know my copy-rights.

Mark Geary of Cedar Rapid's KCRG did a neat job of teasing out the little details of military life, while also putting Annual Training 2010 into the larger context of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry Division's pending deployment to Afghanistan. I found his "Reporter's Notebook" observational style pretty entertaining. For example:
When you tear open the veggie omelet packet, a sour stench seeps from the package. Green vegetable speckles dot the squishy, orange substance inside. The meal looks like a thick piece of rotting, moldy orange Laffy Taffy. And, no, soldiers are not exaggerating. It tastes just as bad as they as they say it does.

“It just kind of crumbles in your mouth,” [1st Lt. William] Hayes said.
Personally, Geary had me at "Laffy Taffy." Even re-reading it makes me giggle.

Check out his whole KCRG "Enduring Freedom" package here.

Michelle Linck of the Sioux City Journal captured this great quote from an Army trainer regarding Red Bull units' upcoming departure to Camp Shelby, Miss.:
"You'll have 80 pounds of new equipment," she warned, describing the three hydration bags -- not one as needed in Minnesota -- each filled with water and strapped to their back for survival in the hot, dry, Afghan climate. That's in addition to the seven Kevlar plates -- not just two, as they recently trained with -- in their flak jackets: two in the front, one along each side of their torso, one covering each shoulder and one across the back.
"When you leave Shelby, you'll have two duffle bags of equipment," Stewart told her audience.
Red Bull soldiers of all stripes and backgrounds will take on a heavy burden, to be sure, both collectively and individually.

Randy M. Cauthron, managing editor of the Spencer Daily Reporter, elegantly pulled off the "Ernie Pyle" trick of piling on the names of local boys (and girls) gearing up for the deployment. Here's one such honored mention:
Private First Class Austin Bartley of Spencer, who joined the guard while 18 and still in high school, said that learning to work with the Afghan nationals is key to the success of the mission. "We've got to learn their culture so we can get over there and gain their respect. We don't want to go over there and anger anybody. We'll learn a few things about them and they'll learn a few things about us.

"It's extemely important. You don't want to have an entire country not like you."
Hot dang! That's counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine in a little over 50 words! Remember Pfc. Bartley the next time you find yourself worrying about kids today. They get it.

Despite some never-ending Internet arguments to the contrary, a free press is just as important to maintaining our freedoms as civilian control of our military. This old paper-boy thankful that some reporters and editors took a couple of days out of their schedules to chronicle the lives and sacrifices of their fellow Iowans. Each soldier, after all, represents a community, a family, a story that needs to be told.

I'm not able to point to every link and story here, but let me just say this: Freedom isn't free, and neither is newspapering. If you don't already, please consider subscribing to your local fishwrap--and make sure that editors know how much you appreciate what they do, especially on behalf of soldiers.

Before I end this roundup, consider this lead from The Marhsalltown Times-Republican's Abigail McWilliam:
In the early light of morning, Pfc. Sue Dake moves among her fellow soldiers quietly. She straps on 60 pounds of gear, starts the engine of her Humvee and prepares to drive out to battle drill.

Her son, Kahlel Dake, turned 3 years old Saturday - a milestone both she and her husband, Sgt. Lucas Dake, were not home to celebrate.

When Kahlel turns 4, the military couple will be overseas, fighting in war. [...]

"It's tough," Sue Dake, 25, said. "But it's for their future. The fact that I will be coming home to them keeps me going."
Stories such as that are what keeps me going. God bless the Dake family, and Godspeed the Red Bull.


02 July 2010

Best. Army Training. Ever.

I don't know what exactly trainer Timothy Baigent did to get where he got, traveling the country and teaching people a practical mix of cultural awareness and interpersonal communications skills. And I don't know how he can do it with such high energy, hour after hour, day after day. I can honestly say, however, that in about three hours at Camp Ripley, Minn., he gave us Red Bull soldiers some of the most useful and most memorable Army training that I can personally remember in my more-than-20-years in uniform.

Bottom-line up front, with a little hint of the A-Team intro: "If you are in an organization that needs cultural awareness or interpersonal communications skills, and if you can find him, hire Timothy Baigent."

Taking notes was a little like being a court stenographer at a Robin Williams concert. I'm really not going to be able to do it justice, but here are some snippets to give you an idea of the topics and tips discussed:

Homosexuality in Islamic cultures. "'Man-love Thursday,' does it exist? Yes. Is it on Thursday? No. It's everyday, and twice on Thursdays." [...] "You are going to see some crazy stuff. Be mature enough to counter your emotions. Don't fly off the handle. Realize that other people are different than you."

Don't over-promise. In fact, don't promise at all. "Don't make promises--use 'Inshallah' to your advantage! If you promise something, and you don't deliver, that's your fault. If you say, as the Afghans do--'God willing'--then, if something doesn't happen, it's between the other guy and his God."

Don't make jokes--jokes don't translate. "If you say, 'My kids are furry and have tails,' Afghans will not understand that you are talking about your dogs. Not only that, they will think that you have just compared their kids with dogs, and they will take offense." (Dogs are not highly regarded in Afghanistan.)

Avoid casual blasphemy. "Gid rid of these phrases: 'Oh my God,' 'Jesus Christ,' 'God damn it.' In parts of Islam, it is Jesus Christ who comes to bring judgment. You can F-bomb to your heart's content, but end the religious stuff now."

Don't expect things to run on time. Ever. "In this country, we're time sensitive. In the military, we're time sensitive on crack." Afghans, on the other hand, may not ever get to work on time because everything happens according to God's will, even traffic jams.

Don't expect Western life-experiences to translate. "Tell people in Afghanistan that you're a stay-at-home Dad and that your wife is the one who works, and see how well that works for you. Relationship over--you're a loser."

Use the acronym "C.A.R.E." to connect with people: "Concern, Acknowledge, Respect, and Empathize." By connecting with others, soldiers can build trust across gaps in language and culture. If someone trusts you, maybe they'll tell you about the bomb in the road. Maybe they'll tell you where the bad guys are. "I don't care if you do all this [communications] stuff naturally. I care that you do this stuff when the crap hits the fan, so that you can save the lives of people."

I've overheard soldiers tell their officers that the officers really missed out on some good training. I've witnessed solders applying Baigent's training tips during subsequent events, including discussions after a special screening of the documentary Restrepo. A lot of times, so-called "must have" training ends up to be a stack of PowerPoint slides go in one glazed eye and out the other end.

Not this one. This one stuck.

01 July 2010

Zombie Ice Cream Tastes Like Brainz!

As a member of the unit's Knowledge Management ("K.M.") team--and there are precious few of us right now, but that's OK, because there's precious little knowledge to go around right now--I've been tasked to learn SharePoint.

SharePoint is a MicroSoft product that allegedly helps to structure, find, and archive organizational information. In designing our unit's SharePoint environment, the objective is that anyone in the organization can find any information they require within three clicks of a computer mouse.

I've used the computer application before, on small teams doing small tasks, but I've never before been responsible for administering user-access permissions, and website design, and information architecture. I know what needs to be done conceptually, but I am stumbling around on implementation.

SharePoint is not intuitive. SharePoint is not user-friendly. SharePoint is a dangerous and fickle mistress. SharePoint is a tantrum-prone 2-year-old leaving a toy department. SharePoint is a filibustering U.S. Senate populated by legislative robots who never have to urinate.

SharePoint, in short, is the anti-Sherpa.

I thought I'd won a little victory last week, when I learned how to post a unit-wide "announcement" on the home SharePoint webpage. This was my test message: "There will be an Ice Cream Social in the TOC tomorrow at 1600 hours. That is all." I figured that would be harmless, because no one could POSSIBLY think that there would be ice cream served in our high-tech command center--the heart and nexus of our proficient and professional Army organization.

Instead, people thought I was serious.

I practically got hate mail. And death threats.

Apparently, Rule No. 1 about Ice Cream Socials is: Do not joke about Ice Cream Socials.

A colleague of mine later suggested I should've said something about zombies, because no one could POSSIBLY assume that anything regarding the living dead would be true. While she may not have realized that I've seen an actual draft of the State of Iowa's Emergency Response Plan in Case of Midwestern Corn-Fed Zombie Attack--it's something the boys in the plans shop have been kicking around for a couple of years--I liked where she was headed.

After facing a day filled with icy stares and lactose-generated intolerance, however, I didn't have intestinal fortitude enough to post another SharePoint announcement the next day. The one that got away--the one I should've posted--was this:

"Ice cream social cancelled due to zombie attack. Thanks for SharePointing."