14 June 2008

Class stretches on…

In the past couple of days we’ve covered culture (in three excruciatingly detailed classes), negotiations (in one brutal six-hour block), and a truly painful block titled “Coordinate With Interagency, Intergovernmental and Nongovernmental Organizations.” This last one involved lots and lots of discussion about how much we all value the United Nations and its contributions to building a better world.

Actually, the negotiation class was taught by a New Jersey cop and former SWAT guy who initially defined negotiation as a single sentence – Sir, could you move a little closer to the window, please?
Guaranteed laugh line in a room full of soldiers, that.

And again, although the course material is about as useful as the proverbial screen door on the submarine, the class interaction allows for us to reach consensuses on important issues for the Civil Affairs NCO.

Let me share some of those with you.

1 – Village cleanup projects are a giant waste of the American taxpayer’s dollars. Iraqis don’t care if their towns are ankle-deep in garbage. If they did, they’d ask for some of these projects. They don’t. It’s a common misconception of newly-arrived maneuver battalion commanders that paying for a bunch of some local bigwig’s cousins to pick up trash for a couple of weeks will enable these folks to see the light. They don’t care.

2 – Everybody likes to build schools because Children Are The Future. However, if there’s no system in place to hire and pay teachers, the utility of the new school is roughly zero immediately following the ribbon-cutting. If there is a system, but it’s entirely dependent on US dollars and contracting, it’s only slightly better than worthless.

3 – The nomadic subpopulation in Afghanistan is, apparently, the CA NCO’s worst nightmare, since this seems to be a group that travels around and has figured out they can get money and stuff from a wide range of US military units. Worst of all, they must be placated, since a large part of their economic heritage involves smuggling stuff across mountainous borders.

4 – Again, about the schools. Although economic growth initiatives don’t make for good ribbon-cutting pictures, we’ve decided that education without economic opportunity is bound to become either an expensive luxury, or the source of lots of well-educated Iraqis and Afghans working in other countries – neither of which is part of the overall goal.

5 – The Officer Efficiency Report should be changed to a GO/NO GO document in theatre. Far too many stupid ideas are initially conceptualized as “bullet points” on an OER. A good NCO can identify one of these ideas at 100 yards, but trying to stop one…well, imagine an armadillo on a Texas highway going toe-to-toe with a Peterbilt. Yeah. We know how that ends.

6 – The no-beer rule sucks. However, as dutiful noncommissioned officers in the US Army, we recognize that we are most effective when we train ourselves to live as warrior monks – rejecting personal comforts and vices in favor of an ascetic study of our field of expertise. Further, since we are, indeed, warriors, we must train our bodies and minds to accept deprivation. In that spirit, along with giving up beer, we have discarded mattresses, sheets and pillows in order to sleep on the ground outside the barracks. We have also taken to pouring sand and insects onto our food before eating it.

It appears that Those Who Know Best have decreed that we shall spend another week in the classroom getting made smarter. I can only hope it’s as illuminating as this first one has been.

(admin note - yes, I retro-posted this for ease of organization)

13 June 2008

^%%$%^ Army computers

I had a nice little post for y'all, even though the wireless is down and I'm using an Army computer.

Then Blogger took a giant crap on me.


So, no thoughtful little post. However, when I can get up and running again on my own computer, I do have a groundhog picture to share.

11 June 2008

But the interesting part...

aside from the woodchucks and the sparrows, and the incredible evil of the no-beer rule, there is a nifty side to this class I'm taking.

I spend all day sitting in the world's most dull TRADOC-required classes. I taught four hours on the fine details of writing orders yesterday (just in case any of my fellow mid-level NCOs ever find themselves running a Division G3), and suffered through 4 hours this morning focused entirely on Annex Q to the Operation Order - the Civil Military Operations Annex.

Obviously, this sucks. But our instructors aren't real interested in the classes, either, as long as they fill the time required. And so every PowerPoint slide is the jumping off point for whichever of us is treaching the class to ask, "So, who has experience with [whatever] while you were deployed?"

And that's where it gets good. Because in our 16-soldier class, we have one soldier who hasn't deployed. We have people who've worked Civil Affairs in Iraq, and Afghanistan, and a couple who've been to both. We have people who've worked at Echelons Above Reason, and many people who've worked in the dirt. We have people who did the Iraqi invasion, and people who've worked the State Department at Provincial Reconstruction Teams.

It's a lot of experience, it's significantly more current than anything in our texts, and it's directly related to what all of us will be doing at some point again.

Best of all, the nature of our work being what it is, the discussions enable us to pool our knowledge and dream new ways to "slap the Good Idea Fairy out of the air." That is, tactics, techniques and procedures for managing enthusiastic, ambitious and idealistic officers. This is vital to NCO education, and probably is enough to make this tiresome outing worthwhile.

Just when it was staring to get really miserable...

the weather up here finally broke and it's not 1,000 degrees with 98% humidity. I find ol' Court Licks much more enjoyable when I'm not squinting through a sheet of sweat.

I mentioned the bird's nest in the bathroom to y'all, right? It's occupied (I can hear the little sparrows), but I can't get a good view from the outside (yes - I leaned waaaay out the window to look - nearly becoming one of those "weird military deaths" statistics).

But I wouldn't want you to think I was pulling your leg, so here's a crummy shot of the portion of the nest that protrudes into the shower entrance.

It could be evidence of the Army's horrifying lack of interest in our living conditions, but I prefer to think of it as a cheerful and rustic touch.

08 June 2008

More Army Fun

Greetings from lovely Court Licks, Eastern Seaboard!

The official mascot of Court Licks appears to be the giant fat woodchuck, of which I have seen no fewer than 14 examples in the space of about 24 hours. The Mister retained possesion of the digital camera, so don't get your hopes for exciting woodchuck imagery, but if one wanders close enough, perhaps I'll take a cell pic.

This particular class I'm enrolled in is focused on my job, so thus far it isn't too painful. The blanket no-beer rule, however, sucks the big one. Guess you can't win 'em all - if you get (mildly) useful content, you apparently don't get quality military recreation.

However, it seems the internet is not a physical impossibility, although it is a bit of a trudge. It does require operating off of battery power, which means I will soon have to brave the woodchuck-infested hike back to the barracks.


I love this job.