23 January 2009


We made the trip up to FOB/Camp Comfy to hang out with Higher for a couple of days. Our headquarters has, of course, a really nice wireless internet connection running throughout the building.

It's great. No waiting in line for timed access, no crappy community keyboards where half the consonants don't work (great fun in the Age of Complex Passwords), no tremendous slowdown from some funny-looking E3 downloading video from the mail-order brides website...

There are about ten of us visiting up here right now. You can tell which ones we are at a glance - we're the soldiers giggling with glee and crowing, "Yeah, ask me for updates NOW!"

(an aside - the whole auto-updating thing is phenomenally irritating if you have no access. Sometimes I'll be working down at FOB McLazy and one of the boxes will pop up - "you are in extreme personal danger unless you update Minesweeper immediately! Update now?" So I'll hit "update" just for kicks and laugh at my computer as it searches, and searches, and searches.)

Reading list

I'm coming to the end of some of the stuff I've been reading, and thought I'd solicit some recommendations here.

Some ground rules - I don't do a lot of heavy readiing while deployed. I sort of consider this an extended period for "airport reading." I keep it light, avoid anything too intellectual. Reading is an escape here. I did read The Arms of Krupp (loved it!) last time, but almost anything qualified as "escape" on that tour.

Anyway, I've been doing a couple of series so far on this trip - an odd combination of science fiction (which I am not normally inclined to read) and Florida murder mysteries.

I'm almost finished with John Ringo's Posleen War series, which has been pretty good and even occasionally combined man-eating alien invaders with Nazis. How much better can it get? Ringo writes good, interesting characters, and I can ignore the sci-fi silliness (really, I'm sure someone out there cares about fictional anti-matter technology, but it ain't me) if there are good characters.

That one was recommended to me by someone who noticed I was reading David Weber's Honor Harrington series during mobilization. Ringo's character are good - I think Weber's are better. Weber's vision of the societies of the future also really rung my bell. He's a throughtful writer, and I enjoyed that armload of books. And, of course, there were treecats.

I've been breaking up the aliens and invasions with some Randy Wayne White mysteries starring Doc Ford. The good news - they remind me of John MacDonald and Travis McGee, who got me through the last trip. The bad news - Doc just isn't Travis. He tries, but... well... that's the problem with reading the series that set the standard first. Everything else is a bit of a letdown. I'm also getting a little sick of all Doc's girlfriends dying at the end of each book. Travis could never hold a lady, either, but at least his damsels would run away, meet someone else, or die. Doc's ladies just get whacked.

I picked up Matthew Bracken's Enemies Foreign and Domestic recently, just to actually read what I heard a lot of the gun crowd referencing. Interesting, but it reminded me a little of Ayn Rand (remind me to tell you guys about the Ayn Rand fan and the Iraqi microloan guy some day when I'm whining about having nothing to write about) in that after 50 pages, you've got the point and the rest is just...remediation.

So. If, given that brief synopsis of what I've been reading and what I've thought about it, you have any ideas...please. Please share. Keep in mind - I have no problem knocking out the average novel in a day, so please - no 50-page wonders that won't get an afternoon past mail call. I likes 'em lengthy.

I'm really looking for some optimistic fiction, with good characters. I read a lot of cop novels out of the community library, but the overly dark ones...they don't do much for me.

I think I'm really about pegged on sci-fi stuff for a while, but I'll ponder all suggestions.

No Nicholas Sparks. Ever. Under any circumstances. I got desperate enough to read...what was it...well, one of those, recently. I would have flung it away in annoyance if it hadn't been all I had to read.

Any ideas, again, are welcome. A series would be best, so I could order several at a time.

21 January 2009

Joy...and meat

We were sitting around this afternoon, hatin'. Nothing going on, nothing on the horizon. Then Bossman remembered the steaks he'd picked up on his last Officer Mission to one of the Big PX FOBs.

T-bones and ribeyes and charcoal - oh, my!

I dispatched New Sergeant to the chowhall to get some potatoes. You're one of like 12 chicks here, I explained. You'll get more food than the guys.

She did wonderfully, so we ate well. I scrubbed and sliced taters and, with butter, garlic and foil, put together very nice side dish for the slabs of beef Bossman cooked.

Short on forks, we ate with combat knives and hands. The sounds coming from my porch, I think, probably resembled the sound of six hyenas around a wildebeest.

We played beach music and laughed at each other and stuffed ourselves. 'Twas wonderful.

18 January 2009

Thoughts on helicopters

The LZ (landing zone) here on FOB McSleepy is right behind our CHU. The birds come in, the birds go out. We get the Kiowas of the Scout Weapons Teams, small birds that land for fuel. We get the Blackhawks, running troops around, ferrying Them Who Be Important, doing all the miscellaneous aerial labor of a battlefield where ground travel is still problematic. And we get the CH-47 Chinooks (more affectionately called the Shithook). The ’47 is the biggest bird that flies in here (the Army does not stock any variant of the CH-53, my favorite Marine Corps bird, in its Big Army inventory), and we can tell when they come in – our quarters vibrate noticeably.

Although the birds come and go all day and all night, we still look when it’s light (my roomie, in fact, loves the helicopters and will occasionally throw on her night vision and go watch them in the dark. Strange woman). We glance up, throw the flight into a mental classification (the bird bringing the colonel to visit, the bird bringing the guys back from leave, the regular bird to Big Brigade Base, etc) and move on.

But one makes us stop and do the instant mental inventory of the Soldiers we own. The MEDEVAC bird.

We have, if my count is correct, medevac’d exactly ONE combat casualty since I’ve been down here. The day our Friendly Neighbors decided to shoot at us while we were out walking around, they got one young man in the leg with a ricochet.

We brought him back to FOB by ground, then passed him off to the medics. A couple of rifle squads went back out to look for the shooter, and we “leaf-eater” types were dropped off here. I was walking down toward the latrine when I heard a bird coming in. I looked up, saw the red cross on the side.

At that point, we knew our wounded comrade was most likely not in mortal danger. The medic on scene had not been overwhelmingly worried about him, nor had the medics here on the FOB. Most of these guys have been around the block and I trust them to tell us when it’s a appropriate to panic – they weren’t, so we didn’t.

But they were still lifting our soldier out (makes sense, why not take him to Big Brigade Base for a more thorough checkup?) and when I looked up and saw the red-cross marked Blackhawk coming in, I stood and ground my teeth and was struck by the urge to either spit or cry. I opted to do neither, they lifted him out, and he was back five days later with a Purple Heart and a bandage.

The way we’re set up, we have a slightly plused-up team (one extra CA NCO and a staff sacrifice – my roommate) supported two companies and a battalion headquarters that operate over a large area with several reasonably large towns. There are times –more than I’d like – when my soldiers are out without me. Sometimes I’m on the base, sometimes I’m on another mission elsewhere.

Once in a while, I’ll be on the FOB, and one of “the kids” will be on mission. I’ll hear a bird coming, and, although I know the dangerous town is just down the road, close enough so I’d hear an explosion, and although I know that if something terrible happened, it’s a small FOB and we’d know immediately – even though I know all those things – I still feel that clench in my gut. I look up and I squint into the sun, stock still until I’m sure there’s no painted-on red cross.

Because that, folks, I am learning, is the Big Fear. I’m afraid of lots of things here – cars that blow up, roads that blow up, potholes that look like they might blow up, so on and so forth. But the thing I’m finding really makes my blood run cold is the idea of something happening to one of my dudes, especially when I’m not with them.

Only one of my three has combat time, but I have two sergeants and a brand-new staff sergeant, so I cannot in good conscience treat them like dull-witted privates and hover over them every day. I’d like to, though. I’d like to hover over them and watch the alleys they pass and the rooms they enter, as though that is enough to prevent something awful from happening.

It doesn't work that way, though.