20 September 2007

Best and bravest

Being 17 or 18 isn't, as I recall, all it's cracked up to be. Things move pretty fast, and you're not equipped with enough of a bank of experience to feel comfortable about a lot of the decisions you're expected to make.

I spent the day at the local MEPS. Those of my readers who've been through the MEPS process at some point just cringed - it's pretty irritating - anonymous and brusque.

The vast majority of the folks going through that process are pretty much kids. No more than a year or two out of high school, and somehow they've come to the decision that the Army, Navy Air Force, Marine Corps or Coast Guard is where they need to be.

It's a rough decision to make - I remember it - and as you start the process, alone with a folder in your hands and under the indifferent control of people who don't know your name or care to learn it, it's a scary place to be.

Two primary groups show up at MEPS - "applicants" and "shippers." The applicants are there for a physical, to see if they're physically qualified for service and, if they are, to make committments about contract length, job opportunities, etc. The physical is impersonal, not mean, but they don't know that yet. Their eyes are wide and they clutch their folders and wonder why nobody is speaking gently to them before drawing blood, before telling them to strip.

Shippers show up with one small bag and a slightly overwhelmed look. For these folks, it's all over but the shouting. The shouting, they know, is just about to begin. They go to the front of lines in order to make their flight times. It seems more confusing to them than it should be - my recruiter said I was going to Basic, why am I standing in this line? All of these other people are going other places, how will I get to my place? Nobody thinks of these transitory details when they steel themselves for what comes next - you think of how to say goodbye to your family, and you try to prepare yourselves for the Drill Instructors, but what happens in between is confusing and frustrating.

They are proud, though. They have service pride already. The Marines, of course, but the others, too. "Yeah, the Marines might be tough, but they wouldn't get anywhere to fight without the Navy!" and "Don't hate the Air Force, it's not our fault you weren't smart enough to join!" and "Airborne all the way!"

They don't have a clue, but God love 'em, every last one of them has balls of solid brass for volunteering to take their places in the long lines that stretch out into history.

The shippers go, walk off early in the day into their futures. The applicants "process." They have physicals, and interviews. They pick jobs. Some are disappointed, some are thrilled, some are delayed, some sent home.

The whole party starts arounf 0500 (which means everyone's been up since 0330), so by early afternoon, the kids who were confused and keyed up in the morning are hollow-eyed and worn.

And the ceremonies start. Every hour or so, the group of eight to 12 who are finished go down a hall to a small room with carpet and some service flags. They're walked through one more piece of paperwork, then get a two-minute class on the position of attention. For the first time ever, they're called to attention and an officer walks in.

"I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."

They'll come back, as shippers, in a week or a month or eight months, but they made the committment today. On that carpet, in that room, not knowing where the words will take them, they made the ultimate gesture of devotion. Although I do not know what it may require, they said to their countrymen, I will defend you.

The moment of truth may come thousands of miles away, but what has been called "the offering" was made today for those young people.

It's an eight-year committment, you know. It's called a Mandatory Service Obligation, and when you enlist, you incur it. Only once (some of us are past those days), but there's no way around that number - you're on the hook, one way or another, for eight years.

I watched a full MEPS today. Overheard the staff talking about the high number of shippers, about how long it took when there were so many applicants "on the floor."

We've been in Iraq for four and a half years, and Afghanistan almost six. We've got folks acting a fool in front of Congress and trying to recreate the 1968 they read about once. We've got marches and dire news and a full-blown fistfight in our country about fight 'til we winvs. cut our losses.

And yet our military takes only volunteers, and still the processing station was packed. And you don't know the number of times I heard a young man say, "guaranteed infantry - damn straight!"

When we're proud of the wardogs downrange, we shouldn't forget to be proud of the puppies. They just keep coming, walking as straight and brave as they know how into a tremendous unknown.

That takes a lot of things, but mostly it takes guts. I'm proud of them, and you should be, too. It's a leap of faith, and it's a big one.

Doesn't take near that kind of guts for a MEPS frequent-flyer like me to walk in and get poked and prodded so I can run around with a Reserve unit again. Which I did. I do so love wearing boots.

19 September 2007


We do note that it is International Talk Like A Pirate Day.

We also note it is Mom's birthday.

Coincidence? We think not.

No over-the-hill jokes, folks, or it's the plank for you!


So we all know I sent the Garand order off to the CMP several weeks back, right? And I've been waiting and waiting and waiting and...what did the Big White Truck Of Happiness bring today?

Not that I won't use it, but still...

I did find the whole "spam can" setup pretty neat. Also like the warning to not use the can as a food container. Good to know.

Reason 4,921

to be glad we made it out of Florida alive: Deadly amoeba lurks in Florida lakes

At first people exposed to the amoeba, naegleria fowleri, suffer from flu-like symptoms. Very quickly, in from one to 14 days, the symptoms worsen, Sherin said. "There's a downhill course. Folks lapse into a coma; there are abnormal movements of the eyes and a terrible cascade of events leading to the actual death of parts of the brain."

Lovely. If the sharks and stingrays in the water, coupled with criminals and maniacs on the shore, keep you off the saltwater beaches... And if you aren't eaten by an alligator or bitten by a snake... Florida is still out to kill you.

But one bit in particular caught my eye. Just in case there weren't enough people hanging out in the Emergency Rooms of the Sunshine State, the Folks Who Work Somewhere Else have helpful advice.

[A Health Department official] said anyone who exhibits flu-like symptoms who has been in a lake recently should see a doctor immediately.

"I was recently in a lake and now I believe my brain is rotting," I'd guess, is not going to move you to the front of the line.

18 September 2007


makes me vicious. I've been doing battle with a paper dragon of epic proportions recently, but I think I have him on the ropes, which should make me a bit more cheerful and less distracted. I hope to be able to share soon.

No - I am not adopting a Romanian baby.

But if there are any Romanians out there who want a black Lab-and-something puppy, just shoot me an email. I had to go out in the backyard to find socks to wear to work today.

17 September 2007

5.11 stock plummets

As Blackwater is tossed out of Iraq.

Iraq's Interior Ministry has revoked the license of Blackwater Security Consulting, an American firm whose contractors are blamed for a Sunday gunbattle in Baghdad that left eight civilians dead.

The firefight took place near Nisoor Square about noon, an Interior Ministry official said Sunday. In addition to the fatalities, 14 people were wounded, most of them civilians, the official said.

Details were sketchy, but the official said witnesses reported that one side of the gunbattle involved Westerners driving sport utility vehicles, which security contractors often use. The state television network al-Iraqiya reported that a Western security company was involved in the shootout, but it did not identify the firm.

Black GMC sport utility vehicles? With a spare tire strapped on top of each one? Full of guys with absurd beards? (Hint - running convoy security in Iraq does not require you to blend in with the locals. This is even more absurd if you're cultivating a look that would blend you in with Afghan locals. Wrong country, nimrod.)

An official with the U.S. Embassy told The Associated Press that a State Department motorcade came under small-arms fire near Nisoor Square, and one of the vehicles was disabled.

My very limited experience with these guys leads me to not be surprised by this. They seemed to be the sort who came under small arms fire all the time. Then again, it's Iraq, and if you're in the habit of considering yourself "under fire" every time you hear a shot somewhere in the middle distance, that happens.

"We have revoked Blackwater's license to operate in Iraq. As of now they are not allowed to operate anywhere in the Republic of Iraq," Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Abdul Kareem Khalaf said Monday. "The investigation is ongoing, and all those responsible for Sunday's killing will be referred to Iraqi justice."

It's questionable what, exactly, the Iraqi government can really do about this, but it's pleasing to see them take a stand on something useful.

Listen, I'm sure there are some very sharp guys running around with Blackwater. And I have already issued the disclaimer that my experience with them is limited - they ran security for State and other such things at the second place we worked in Iraq.

However, it doesn't take a whole lot of yahoos to cause serious trouble in a country we're trying to get up and on its feet. The U.S. military operates under monster, ponderous ROE for just that reason. And they do quite well in that difficult situation.

The contractors we employ need to do the same. The job is drive State Department people around, guys. Not live out Soldier of Fortune fantasies.

If you can't tell the difference, get your ass back to the States, or go guard a gate somewhere in Qatar, and leave those shoot-don't-shoot decisions to the kids making $22,597 a year (corporal over 3). They seem to do a better job.

16 September 2007

We're not dead...

We're simply involved in home improvement.

I took a good look at the news the past few days, and decided I'd rather blog about the ongoing tiki bar project. Keeps my head from going Pow!.

So. We know there are fully assembled tiki bars available.

Nice, eh? And really, if I had a spare $1,899... But I don't. Between guns, motorcycles, dog toys, and these pesky "mortgage" and "utilities," the Bad Dog Household has more time than money.

Fortunately, one of the gentlemen with whom the Mister works has some training in architecture, and so we got plans. From the plans came the material list, and the cutting began.

Lots of cutting. Then there was assembling. And now we have - basic structure.

Credit where it's due - other than occasional "holding," this was the work of the Mister and his coworker. Now, however, comes the labor of love, which will be my baliwick.

It starts with this:

Then comes "weathering," staining, finishing the bar top and, finally, accessorizing.

In a stroke of good timing, the Mister will shortly be out of town (not in the military sense, but in the Big Motorcycle Road Trip sense), leaving me plenty of time to putz around with all of this.

I think it will require the drinking of much beer in the garage.