13 September 2010

Scenes from a Football Game

Prior to Saturday's Iowa-Iowa State game, soldiers of Alpha Troop, First Squadron, 113th Cavalry Regiment (A/1/113 Cavalry) had tastefully mounted Hawkeye and Cyclone flags on what appeared to be the tall, thin radio antennas of their headquarters building.

Not to be outdone, solders from the Headquarters Company, 334th Brigade Support Battalion (334 B.S.B) hung their battling banners off the big honking cranes of two HEMTT (pronounced "hemmet") trucks.

There was just enough of a hot breeze to catch the fabric, but getting both flags to appear simultaneously was a little difficult. Passersby would try their luck at capturing the perfect flag photo, then move on to the party.

Nearby, the BSB chaplain had instigated a tailgate in one of the Camp Shelby dayrooms--buildings with comfy chairs and foosball tables, which serve as government-issue rec rooms. A BSB soldier had hooked into the game feed using some combination of satellite TV, wireless Internet, and black magic. Given the technical know-how and sheer gumption, I'm pretty sure that means he or she went to ISU. But I'm a little biased.

Outside, the battalion's command sergeant major fired up a platoon-sized formation of charcoal grills. "I put on the training schedule that were 'conducting smoke operations,'" he said, carrying a pan of hamburgers into the building.

Inside, troops hungrily circled the serving tables. As a sort of pre-game show, someone was projecting a stream of stupid Internet videos on the big screen. One of the BSB's medical company officers was mixing and serving virgin Bloody Marys. "Basically," she said, "it tastes like really salty tomato juice." One of her customers strolled by, crunching a celery stick that was the size of a Camp Shelby pine tree.

Over at the Camp Shelby theater, soldiers hung out in the air-conditioning, dazedly watching the halftime analysis. The score was 28-0, Iowa, at the half. It never got any better for the Cyclones. In fact, it got 35-to-7 worse. Never before had I heard a sports commentator preface his comments with, "You have to feel sorry for ..."


So, it wasn't much of a game, even for those of us who don't normally watch sports. Still, it was dark, it was cool. Even the worst game in the world still beats the 100-degree heat index outside, and the hot breeze, and the hurry-up-and-wait.

"You know what's going on here?" Archer says to me. "People are hungry for normal."

Only a few hundred soldiers of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division may have been lucky enough to watch a little of the game. As the Hawkeyes battled the Cyclones Saturday afternoon, most of Red Bulls were out in the training areas of Camp Shelby, training on detainee operations, unexploded ordnance, and other "go to war" topics.

The brigade has been on federal active duty for more than 30 days, and things are beginning to feel routine. No longer does everything have to simultaneously suck equally for everyone. Sometimes, you get to watch the game. Sometimes, you're out in the suck.

Soldiers seem ready to move on--"I can't wait to leave Camp Shelby" is a commonly heard comment--to the next phase of training and testing. That would be the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif., the ultimate in Army away games.

It's almost time to take this team on the road.

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