Tuesday, November 16, 2010

But What Does It MEEEAAAN?

I suppose you non-military types are confused as to what my title means. You can basically boil down military existence to two states: In the field or in garrison. In the field is what it sounds like - being out doing Army shit. In garrison is back at base, living in the barracks and not doing Army shit. Life instead consists of Powerpoint briefings, administrative headaches, and pretty much doing nothing but police calls of the area. Police calls suck if you're a non-smoker, because 90% of the trash you'll collect will be cigarette butts.

Anyway, there's a joke that you hear in regards to an Iraq deployment (especially to a larger base) and I understand it's spread to Afghanistan as well: "We went to war, but garrison broke out."

Life at Joint Base Balad was a slice of garrison in the middle of... well, not exactly a combat environment, but a bit of unpleasantness nonetheless. Between the hours of 1800 and 0600, one was required to wear a reflective belt over the uniform. Reflective belts were required with PT uniforms (even though the lettering and the big mountain-thing on the back of the shirts, along with the lettering on the sorts, are reflective). Don't forget to salute officers! God help you if your uniform isn't 100% in regulation at all times. Are you a mechanic working in a motor pool for 12 hours a day? Better remember to bring a change of clothes with you, because you can't get into the DFAC (dining facility) in a dirty uniform.

Speaking of the DFAC, God help you if you work odd hours or come in from another base at odd hours. Food is only served for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and midnight chow. If you show up between meals, you're not getting in. It doesn't matter how tired and hungry you might be after driving 10 hours from FOB Knoblick to JBB - if they're not open, you're not eating.

My company kept a night schedule because we ran night missions. The whole battalion did, really. So when the battalion scheduled us for briefings and classes, they all took place at night, right? Hell no! For the first half of our deployment, battalion scheduled all its Death by Powerpoint sessions at noon. The battalion aid station, where you went to sick call, was only open in the mornings and early afternoon.

Base support offices weren't any better. Nevermind that those of us actually running the missions outside the wire were on a night schedule, the rest of the military kept banking hours. Need to go to finance to get a pay issue settled, deposit to savings, or whatever? Better schedule your entire day around it.

Base security was handled by Air Force Security Forces. Now, my father served in the Air Force for 26 years. I have a lot of friends in the Air Force and I myself wanted to be an Air Force officer for a long time. So this is not a statement I make lightly: This collection of chucklefucks couldn't defend Alcatraz from an asthmatic eight year old with only one functioning leg. During certain weather conditions, Army units were assigned to a number of the bases perimeter towers. Basically, when visibility conditions were crap, the base would man all the towers. So we had to get briefed on tower guard duty.

The briefing was at 10 AM.

Among the happy things they'd teach us was that if we saw a threat to the base, they'd likely be a mortar crew or an RPG (rocket propelled grenade) team and that they'd be between 700 and 800 meters. The maximum effective range of the M4s we had is 500 and change. M16s aren't much better. Further, I have little faith in the ability of your average soldier to engage a target that far out with any success. It's more than twice the distance that our furthest target on the qualification range is, which is the furthest anybody ever shoots with any regularity.

My buddy Fee, a sniper, pointed out that 800 meters is a sniper's bread and butter and that he was issued a sniper rifle. Since the regular issue weapons couldn't reach our notional enemies, could he bring his sniper rifle to guard duty?

The answer was no.

Basically, in the event of an attack on the base, our instructions were to sit there and take it.

Basically, the only way to stay sane is to resign yourself to the fact that the military is run by pogues and Fobbits, do your job outside the wire, and then keep your head down while on base.

"Shot at and missed, but shit at and hit" is alive and well.

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