Sunday, October 5, 2008

leaving on a jet plane

Some may have noticed that I haven’t posted in about a month. My mind runs in a constant narrative about the people I meet and the things I am learning, but when I have attempted to write some of it down, I get stuck. I almost hesitate to take the time and energy to cement it in words when I could be living and enjoying the times (good and bad) I have had in texas. I’ve realized I have a habit of being the observer, have been since I was a little kid. It’s just seemed like a safer approach to living on many levels. My standard operating procedure (SOP in army language) is to observe everyone else do what I want to do -- it means taking less chances, and I gain much from watching others make the mistakes and learning what not to do, save myself the hurt of failing, or loving someone and giving them the power to cause me pain, making friends even when I know I’ll be leaving and might not see them again and that will hurt too… how much have I missed by doing this? doing this cuts me off from the joy of being part of life, gaining new friendships, and challenging myself to do what is outside my realm of confidence. Maybe I’m ‘smarter’ because I’ve protected myself, but I felt so numbed out.

I joined the Army and threw myself into a situation I had absolutely no control over—definitely something I would normally avoid! I hate not knowing what to expect, or having a sense of what people will expect of me. Yes, I am the girl whose #2 nightmare is showing up to a situation and not being dressed appropriately. (#1 involved very large spiders… don’t ask me for details, please). Just a touch of neuroses… while in texas, I’ve had to just let it go… accept the fact that I frequently look foolish (exhibit A: state of beret for 1st 3 weeks of training, exhibit B: showing up on first day with nose ring still installed), have no idea what is going on, don’t like people telling me to wake up at 4 am and work until 6 pm, where to stand, when to eat or sleep, can’t understand half the acronyms flying around. . . I could go on and on and on. What a horrible state to be in! choices are: be insecure/unsure and nervous and upset, or insecure/unsure and laugh about it (ok and cry when it’s overwhelming but deal and move on). Wow, maybe therapy actually works…. ☺

I am flying to Hawaii as I write. Texas and my time in officer’s basic is behind me, I have my piece of paper that says I never have to do it again. I’ve had mixed feelings about leaving for the last couple of weeks. There is so much about being in this course that I have detested— I have been looking forward to getting through the training and moving on to my real job since the day I arrived. But my enforced limbo has allowed me to relax and have fun and spend the time I do have with good friends. . . my days had a rhythm that I was used to. I think I can relate a little to convicts who have served their time and yet fear life “on the outside.” Hopefully, I don’t reoffend and end up back in san antonio.

But I left my little 2 person room this morning, said goodbye to Victoria, my roomie. my real life, or the one I’ll be making for myself in Hawaii, is starting in about 2 hours when I land. I’m slightly terrified, but eager too. Yes, I’m excited about starting my job at the hospital, finishing up my PhD in the process. But I think most of the nervous anticipation stems from the hope I have that my time in OBLC with my platoon and others I met in san antone has changed something inside me permanently.

It’s time for a new SOP.

Monday, September 8, 2008

some pictures from the field

teri & i 

MRE's are still a novelty on the 2nd morning....
on our way home for labor day weekend -- feeling pretty good :)

Quick Reaction Force: these are the girls that defended the base on war games day. . . giggling all the way

we look like we could hurt someone... or at least bite their ankle 

Monday, September 1, 2008


funny how living in a tent with 40 other women, eating shelf stable food for 2 weeks, walking everywhere with at least 25 lbs of gear, and being continuously assaulted by voices over the loud speaker instructing me to go places and do things i don't really want to do can make a girl like me appreciate solitude, weightlessness, quiet, running water, mattresses - freedom! 

i've been home from the field for a few days, and am just now feeling like my normal self. it isn't the deprivation of what i consider the basics of living (hygiene, non-processed food, my own pajamas) that was getting to me out there. i mean, that stuff sucks, but my bag of candy and canteen showers helped me cope. the mental stress of having absolutely every action dictated started to effect me. camp bullis is it's own little world. ten acres of insulation from the outside world.  i have realized i have a problem with people telling what to do, which is a problem if you are in the army! maybe my rebelliousness is good, a little bit of my personality that rises up every once in awhile. yes, the smart comments coming from the 5th squad in the back of the platoon are coming from Agnor. 

i'm about to head back out tomorrow morning (3 am), and am feeling a bit low about it. Only 4 more days, though, which is absolutely more do-able than the last run. we'll be focusing on setting up aid stations and rehearsing how the treatment process works in Iraq. these are things i may need to know in the future. psychologists are part of the teams who respond -- mostly for brain injuries and combat trauma. 

i have a strategy for the week - no MRE's! they totally toxify your body! I'm bringing Luna bars as part of my new weight loss plan - the camp bullis diet. it's a combo of carrying around a growth of gear, sweating like a whore in church on easter (got that one from my good friend from Charleston, SC), doing PT/Combatives in the morning, and feeling nauseous from the stink of the port-a-potties. 

I've posted some pics this time - don't laugh too hard at the sight of my new outfit! thanks for everyone's encouraging comments, i feel the support. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

day 9 in the field

a few impressions from the field….

my ghetto dorm/hostile lodgings at fort sam look like a four seasons hotel after sleeping in a tent for 9 days

on day one, I was dirtier than I have been without the chance to clean up – day one! and we weren’t able to take our one and only shower until yesterday. I never want to smell myself again. crawling around in the mud and dirt and grass is just fine if you have more than a baby wipe waiting at the end of the day.

my new friend, charleene, goes with me everywhere, even the latrine (aka port-a-potty). she’s an M-16 rifle. we have a love/hate relationship. I love to shoot her, but I don’t want to carry her around all the time. I also have an LBE (load bearing equipment) and a gas mask I carry with me at all times. the whole package weighs about 25 lbs.

MRE’s are handy, but baaaaad for you! I am alarmed by how many men here are planning to buy a case and live off them from now on. they seem to think MRE’s are better than veggies and fish, and fruit. don’t get me wrong, if I had a bunker, I’d be loading it up with MRE’s. but guess what? Armageddon is not looming...

I’ll be back with more in 3 days. let’s hope I survive….

Sunday, August 17, 2008

a pink flamingo in the desert

haven't posted in a few days, although i have started several. i'm trying! by the time i get home from class, i want to a) take shower, b) eat, c) sleep (not necessarily in that order). in about 4 hours (2 am), i report for monday's adventures. we start field exercises (FTX) tomorrow, a training that is supposed to simulate a deployment environment (HA!). we'll be out at camp bullis for 12 days, then they allow us Labor Day weekend off, and we return to bullis for another week after that. i think it's mostly an exercise in deprivation, roughing it, having to do without showers, toilets, cell phones, and computers. the plan is to have us crawling through dirt, packing a rucksack ("ruck marching"), setting up camps and clinics for those of us who are medics, getting comfortable with weapons, and learning how to convoy.

the prospect is stressing me out! i just want to get it over with. i also know that although it won't be the most comfortable situation for me, the soldiers in Iraq and those who train for the field regularly, are roughing it WAAAAYYY more than we will be. this is nothing compared to the reality, it's just a taste. i've talked to a few people in my class who have been deployed as combat medics, and i think this FTX is almost an insult to their skills. the people (such as my roomie) who were enlisted before becoming an officer have experienced more training and hardship than OBCL has to offer, but somehow, that isn't easing my worries. 2 words: obstacle course... OK, here's another two --- brown recluse spiders (i know, that was three words...). i can deal with the whole "no shower" situation, i can live through the filthy sweaty messiness, but the physical challenges are the source of the freak out. climbing a wall? climbing up a rope with my arms alone? a PhD in psychology does not prepare one for this.... i've packed so much crap, i'd like to think i will be able to handle any unforseen unpleasantness (my feet rotting off, snake bites, chiggers, infection, dehydration, sunburn, what else could there possible be?). my ruck weighs a ton, i hope i can offload a bunch of stuff in the tent.

the heat has been incredible this week, which is a concern as well. if it's 100 degrees in san antonio, it's 110 at camp bullis. but i guess there are severe thunderstorms heading this way, and i'm not sure if that's better or worse. flash flooding or sunburn? tough call.... crawling through mud, or dust? hot & sweaty or damp and moldy? eww! i'm only bringing 2 uniforms, so be glad that you all don't have to be around me for the next 2 weeks! i've got a big bottle of febreeze, and will be using it liberally.

i must get whatever beauty sleep i can... i think it's gonna be a long monday. i'll be sure to take a ton of pictures, and post them when i get back... love you all!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

it's good to be an "A"

alphabetical order is truly the marker of an advanced civilization. . . you may think it's sliced bread, toe nail polish, or bio-diesel -- but those things get you nowhere in a line of 400 people. no, being an Agnor does! i must pause and recognize that the alphabet is an organizational jewel -- the one thing that is working out for me here. the Warman's would be in the back of the bus, sad to say. most of my new friends are A's and B's, we in the first 2 letters of the alphabet have to stick together in the 1st platoon. that's right - 1st! it's better to be first.... that's what I repeat to myself during the PT run, but somehow, it doesn't make my legs move any faster.

anyway, I'll be going out to the field next Monday for field exercises, and yesterday, all 400 of us had to stand in line to get our TA-50 gear (which apparently was issued during the Vietnam War, too - my roomie assures me the mustard gas has been washed out by now). being an A was a big payoff, as we were in line first, and got 3 hours of free time when everyone else was still standing in line. Hahaha! that evil laugh goes out to my roomie, who's at the end of the alphabet. I'm slightly terrified to go out in the field. I'm trying not be too girlie and have been trying to talk myself into just rolling with it... one shower every 5 or 7 days, 105 degree weather + humidity, tramping around in the Texan wilderness-- it's just not my usual cup 'o tea. BUT I do get to complete weapons certification with an M-16 and pistol (yee-haw!) and learn some combatives stuff - there are several people I would like to throw down at this point. I have been encouraged by those in leadership positions to sneak in contraband, like my cell phone and "pogey bag" (munchies - you all know I must have my snacks), and I am taking their advice to heart. maybe the food will soothe me while i lay awake at night, vigilantly guarding my tasty toes from the predatory brown recluse spiders (eeeee!!). I'd rather deal with the rattlers and scorpions, any day. as long as i go into it thinking "this will be just like the worst camping trip you've ever been on," i'll be fine. how's that for a reframe, my therapist friends?

Saturday, August 9, 2008

running around


Went on first ever "battalion run" this morning. one would assume the Army would be the epitome of organization and efficiency. sadly, not true! we were told to be there at 0430, which always means 15 minutes before that I learned the hard way, and we didn't start running till 0530! by then, my banana breakfast had fizzled out. so much time is wasted standing around, waiting for something to happen. it's a repeat offense around here... the infuriating part is that I have to be on time (i.e. 15 min. early) EVERYWHERE I go, due to a process called "accountability." it's a fancy term for "role call," which I haven't had to participate in since freshman year of college. believe me, know one wants to not be there-- we have three people in our platoon who are never there on time -- group punishment should be a powerful motivator! we have to show up earlier and earlier every time someone is late.

at least the officers in charge provided us with an Army-approved aerobic mix over the loudspeakers while we were waiting around before the run-- the mix includes such delightful tunes as "eye of the tiger," "the macarena," "who let the dogs out," "caught up," (usher) and the Army commercial theme music (you know, the one that makes you want to jump out of a helicopter with an M-16 in your hand). it was a surreal experience-- i was expecting someone to bust out into a jazzercise routine. oh, and THEN, we had to listen to a skit about the dangers of drinking and driving, put on by some of the kiddies in basic training. hey, why didn't anyone tell me there was Drama Club?? the public service announcements at 5 am are SO unnecessary.

ps- running in a group of 400 people who are trying to maintain the same pace is HARD. it was like a human accordion, and for some reason, I was always in the sprinting section. and i thought the front was the rough place to be, but next time, i'll leave the middle of the group to someone else. every time i'd think i had a good pace going, the person in front of me would slow or stop, and i'd be fighting not to give 'em a big body hug from behind. i do love hugs though :-) just not sweaty icky hugs.