International Incidents

This started off in 2008 as an e-mail update list to a few friends back home discussing the stupidity I was witnessing with the military. By the time I was in a Iraq a couple of years later, that list had grown a lot, and friends of friends were asking to receive them. I made the decision to capture these on a blog, but most of the original ones were written for a specific e-mail audience (these are easily noticeable).

Due to Operational Security and other reasons, I don't include names, specific units, or mission titles. Every story needs some outline, but other than that, I will not identify specifics.

Everything in here is true.

I hope you have as much fun reading these rants as I had writing them, and way more fun than I had experiencing it.

29 September 2015

Finally Deployed (Wait…What?!)

                I mentioned that it was over 100 degrees with an insane amount of humidity when we finally hit ground in Qatar.  This, combined with almost two days of travel, created an unholy cocktail known as my personal stench.  We made it through Customs and loaded into 15 passenger vans for the trip from the Air Base to our base (about 20 minutes down the road).  Due to certain restrictions in Qatar, American service members could not wear identifying clothing while off post.  This meant that if we were conducting official travel off post, we were not allowed to wear our uniform tops or covers (hats).  The trickle-down effect in this particular instance was my uniform top was keeping in the worst of my stench.  Once I got in the van, I took my top off and was immediately rewarded with the sight of every Soldier in the vehicle physically recoiling from the stink lines emanating from my body.  The female Soldier sitting next to me almost vomited and started gagging.  Now we all stank pretty badly, but apparently the odors coming off of my body was enough to cut through the collective stink of everyone else.  We took the 20 minute ride, and people were actually retching in the seats behind me.  I felt bad, but then I didn’t.

                The next several days were spent acclimating to the sweat box that is Qatar.  A little background: Qatar is a small peninsula in the Persian Gulf that is connected to Saudi Arabia.  It is the richest country in the world per capita due to the immense natural gas deposits that area located in its territory, and is almost completely covered in a barren, arid desert.  It was also in the midst of an explosive expansion because they were applying to be the site of the 2022 World Cup (which it eventually won the bid for, because playing soccer in a desert country in the summer is brilliant).  For a long time, it was also the Rest and Recovery (R&R) site for the US Military, and as such had quite a few amenities.  During the height of the war, every Soldier had three choices when it came to Mid-Tour Leave.  You could go anywhere in the world for up to fifteen days, take four days of R&R in Qatar, or not take any leave at all.  When the Army went to “short” tours (nine months as opposed to twelve), the R&R program basically stopped.  This was good for us, as it meant that a transient population of combat service members were not showing up for four days, fucking shit up, and leaving.  My girlfriend during this deployment had actually deployed to Qatar for thirteen months (2006-2008), and encountered a drunk Marine on R&R who tried to pull her off to a darkened area.  She slapped the taste out of his mouth, but the lack of an R&R program meant we wouldn’t have to deal with that shit during this tour.  

                When most people in the military hear you’re “deploying” to Qatar, they immediately laugh in your face.  I completely understand this mindset, as on our base alone there were two bars that served alcohol (usually verboten in a deployed environment), a Chili’s with a pool, and numerous opportunities to go off post and enjoy Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) activities.  These ranged from deep sea fishing trips to earning your Scuba license.  Are. You. Shitting. Me.  This place is termed as a “Combat” Zone?!  

                After most people are done laughing when I tell them I deployed to Qatar, I make sure they know that it wasn’t all sunshine and daisies.  They continue to laugh and say “Yea, but you’re not getting shot at!”  You are 100% correct, good sir or ma’am!  But that very lack of a combat or pervasive threat means that Soldiers get bored and complacent VERY easily.  Our mission didn’t help, as the vast majority of Soldiers were guarding the gates into the Camp.  Tedious, mind-numbing, dreary, and dull are all words that I used to synonym function in Microsoft Word to find to describe the situation over there.  This was a breeding ground for insanity.

                Our Battalion had deployed under the assumption that a slice was going to be detached to go to Bahrain to take over the mission there.  With this assumption in mind, they deployed very heavily in their Operations Section.  Operations sections at Battalions or higher perform all of the planning and overseeing of (surprise!) the operations of their lower units.  It is a very important function, and Ops is usually one of the busiest sections around.  Unless you’re in Qatar and you come with WAY more people you need thinking that you’re going to be getting an additional mission that gets scrapped almost immediately.  All of a sudden, there was no secondary, detached mission to occupy the five Captains and one Lieutenant in the cell (it’s normally three Captains and/or Lieutenants in a Battalion Ops cell).  This meant that there were suddenly some very bored people in that section who had a lot of power over the units below them.  These Captains were collectively assaulted by the Good Idea Fairy and spent the rest of the deployment thinking up shit for everyone to do to make themselves look better.
I should probably give a breakdown of our Battalion, as it was very strange (read, idiotic).  All of the units came from different States’ National Guards: the Battalion came from Arizona, and the companies came from Massachusetts, Ohio, and Alabama.  Oh yes, they had Soldiers from the “Yankee” Division (Mass) and the “Dixie” Division (Alabama) in the same Battalion.  Hilarity ensued.

                The staff at Battalion was basically a fucking joke, which is unfortunate because I met several very good officers, NCOs, and Soldiers from that unit.  Any good work from the Personnel or Intelligence section was completely overridden by the fact that the Ops cell couldn’t find its collective way out of its own asshole.  They spent the entire deployment making up shit to do with ridiculous suspense dates and times (a suspense is a deadline).  For example, they would put out a Fragmentary Order (FRAGORD; this is a new tasking or a change of mission) requiring us to do something.  That would be fine, but they would hold onto it until 1900 (after everyone had left the office) and require the task to be done by 0700 the next morning.  Typically, I would come in the office at 0800 and already have nasty e-mail messages demanding to know why the tasking wasn’t complete.  Invariably, I would call up the irate officer to find out what had crawled up their ass, and get screamed at by said officer that the tasking wasn’t done.  Each time, I would ask them why they didn’t call me on my cell phone if it was so important (most of the leadership were issued cell phones that worked over there for this express reason).  Their response would sputtering incoherence, and then a lecture on the need to check my e-mail. 

Me: “How would I know to check my e-mail after hours with no internet in my room if you don’t call to tell me that there is a high-priority tasking that needs to be done immediately?”

Idiot Captain: “You should just know!”

                I wish I could make that up.  It would be fine if they did that a couple of times, but THEY NEVER FIGURED OUT THAT I DIDN’T HAVE INTERNET IN MY ROOM.  One of them even told me to go fuck myself when I asked why there had never been any follow up regarding the tasking she was bitching at me about.  I think I laughed at her and hung up. 

I told my Commander (who got it), the Ops Officer-in-Charge (who got it), and all of the Assistant Ops Officers (who never got it).  It never changed, so we continued to be late on those random, self-generated suspense times.  When I eventually got questioned on it by the Battalion XO, I told him the unvarnished truth.  He was a little taken aback by the vitriol spewing from me regarding lazy staff officers, but he finally agreed with me.  That was almost the most unbelievable part of the whole situation, but you know what didn’t change?  Random, useless taskings that had unrealistic suspense times.  When developing Courses of Action in the Army, you have to see if your proposed courses are: realistic, attainable, specific, and measurable.  There is a whole step within the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP) that is designed to analyze proposed courses of action to determine whether or not they meet those criteria.  This Ops cell seemed to delight in the taking of this process and wholesale chucking it out of the window. 

The whole deployment was characterized by random, useless taskings that took time away actually accomplishing the mission.  To these fucktards, their taskings took priority over any silly nonsense such as force protection or ensuring assholes didn’t end up on base, fucking our shit up.  Even there, we were fucked with by the PMO.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, the PMO is like the Police HQ on a military base.  The actual Provost Marshal (PM) is like the sheriff, but with WAY less power in some areas.  However, since he had purview over our mission, he was one of our bosses (yes, we had multiple chains of command again, a la Office Space).  I was fortunate enough to have to deal with the bureaucrat that had been slotted into this position fairly early on in the deployment.

Unfortunately, my Commander had to go home on Emergency Leave about 45 days after we got there.  He found out NOT through the Red Cross, but by the Battalion Commander calling him and expressing condolences for his loss.  My Commander was fairly bewildered, as no one had let him know he had a death in the family.  The military is usually pretty good about deaths and letting people go home to take care of business, and this was no different.  Within a couple of hours, he was on a plane to go home for two weeks.  However, this now meant I was the acting Commander.   Oh boy.  This was a little unexpected at this point, but it’s part of the XO’s job to step up in the Commander’s absence.  OK, I got this.

Well, within a few days I received a phone call of an incident at the front gate (our responsibility).  The incident involved a possible VBIED, and the gates were in the process of responding according to Standard Operating Procedure (SOP).  My senior NCO and I immediately donned our body armor, jumped in a vehicle, and sped to the front gate.  There we witnessed the Soldiers conducting the appropriate response drills (I won’t go into detail because the base that we lived at is still operational).  One of the response drills was to zip-cuff the driver to ensure that he couldn’t affect the response operations.  The Soldiers had him under cover from the sun, cuffed enough that he couldn’t escape but not tight enough to cut off circulation, and were giving him water whenever he asked.  He was being treated respectfully, and understood that it was just a precaution as long as he wasn’t part of the threat.  I left him in the care of the Soldiers and continued checking down the line.  Eventually, the threat was cleared and no bomb was present.  We re-set the gates, released the driver, and continued on with operations.

A couple of days later, I received any angry phone call telling me to report to the PM immediately.  I showed up and reported in.  The PM (a Major) immediately started yelling at me and demanding to know why I had zip-cuffed the driver.  I was a little puzzled, but informed him that it was SOP to do that.  He got red-faced, and started screaming that my Soldiers had abused the driver “for no reason” and that there were no security threats anywhere in Qatar [I assume that he forgot that Qatar is, in fact, still in the Middle East, regardless of how many deep sea fishing trips he had been on].  I tried responding to him, but he cut me off and said, “LT, shut up and be yelled at.  There is nothing you can say to change that,” and continued on his harangue for another ten minutes.  At the end of it, without asking any questions, told me never to zip cuff anyone again and told me to get out.  Before I left, I asked him what we could do instead of zip cuffing in future situations like this, and he responded with “You are MPs, you shouldn’t need zip cuffs to secure a suspect.  Figure something out.”

I think I passed out as my brain simply shut off at this point.  I mean, are you kidding me?  Why issue MPs (or any Soldiers on mission) zip cuffs to begin with?  Why do Law Enforcement MPs get hand cuffs?  I simply could not wrap my head around the fact that this…officer with over fifteen years of Military Police experience was completely disregarding the most effective and safest (for both us and suspects) method of restraining someone. 

What frustrated me even more was that we were told to come up with alternatives to zip cuffing, but never given any assistance.  Yes, it is our job to figure out work-arounds, but every single course of action we submitted was immediately shot down with no reason given.  Fortunately, we didn’t have to secure anyone again, but what if we had?  What if there had been a credible threat, and the unsecured suspect was able to negatively impact our force protection?  Not only would people most likely have been hurt or killed, but this shit stain excuse for an officer would probably have been the first to hammer us for not properly securing said suspect.

This is what is incredibly frustrating about being in the military.  If you have a shitty chain of command that is more interested in political cover than mission accomplishment, you will get nothing substantive done.  Ever.  That same shitty chain of command will never support your initiatives if they risk not being completed, or they will let you try and put all of the blame on you if you fail. 

Fuck.  If the Army wasn’t so awesome, I would fucking hate it.

Still Camp Shelby?!

These events took place in the late summer of 2012.  I have not posted this rant until now simply because I did not finish it until bad.

After the momentous day at the range in which every Soldier began to hate the Army, we continued on with our training.  By that, I mean that we spent a whole lot of time not training.  I had mentioned earlier that several other Soldiers and I went to Camp Shelby early in order to deconflict any issues and maximize the training time so that the Soldiers would have the best preparation possible for the deployment.  We worked really hard, and, even though some people were really confused as to why we didn’t want a lot of combat training (see earlier anecdote regarding this), we produced the semblance of a plan that looked realistic and attainable.  We brought it home with us and briefed it to our chain of command.  Everyone was pleased, the Soldiers rejoiced, and I was a God.

And then I wasn’t.

Camp Shelby took one look at the magnificent training plan that my Operations NCO and I developed, giggled, and then took a steaming, runny, southern shit all over it.  Then had sex with it.  Though many of the ranges that we had laid on were cancelled due to extreme weather, we still had quite a bit of other training laid on that was specific to our mission (entry control training, civilian vehicle defensive/offensive driving, etc.).  Well, that pretty much all got cancelled.  When we went in to request training for the next day, we were told that we had to request 48 hours out (ask for training on Thursday afternoon no later than Tuesday morning). 

Me: “OK, can we request the same training for two days from now?” 

Idiot Captain: “Yes, you can.”

                I came back the next day to give him more information and the safety worksheet for the training, and he then informed me that our training was not approved.  When I asked why, he informed me in a huff that I needed to request the training at least seven days in advance.  When I opened my mouth to remind him of his original guidance, he cut me off and asked me if I wanted to push the training one week out. 

Me: “Yes, Sir. Are you sure that we will be all set?  I want to make sure the Soldiers are not being jerked around.”

Idiot Captain: “Yes, LT.  You acted on the wrong information the first time, but you are good to go now.”

                Haha, are you serious?  You gave me the wrong information, asshat, and now you’re acting like I was the one who made the mistake!  Oh well, I will move on and ensure the training is squared away and the Soldiers are set up for success.  Five days later, I returned to give him the updated paperwork and asked him if there was anything else we needed to do for the training. 

Idiot Captain: “Actually, this training was not approved.  We found out a couple of days ago.”

Me (staring): “Um, OK, Sir.  How come it wasn’t approved, and how come you didn’t let us know?”

Idiot Captain: “Well, you need to request this training at least thirty days out.  And I thought someone would have informed you.”

Me: “Sir, you are the only point of contact regarding this training.  Who else would have told us that it was a no-go?”

Idiot Captain: “Well, it wouldn’t be an issue if you had requested it on time, now would it be, Lieutenant?”

                Oh boy, he used my full rank.  He was in full-on back-pedaling staff officer mode.  He knows he fucked up, but he also knows that he outranks me and can bluster his way through any chagrin or anger I may exhibit.  And I had the perfect answer for his smug, condescending, ass-covering remark.

Me: “Roger, Sir.”

                And then I walked out.

                What?  Were you expecting an epic tantrum, or me smashing him in the face?  That would have been fine, but I unfortunately live in a world where doing the common sense thing gets looked at funny.  You may be fortunate enough to live in a parallel universe where things proceed in a logical fashion and common sense trumps all, but I have to live in the real world.  If I had told him exactly how pissed I was that he had completely fucked up and exactly where he could shove his condescending attitude, I would have been the one in trouble, not this miserable excuse for an oxygen thief. 
                Unfortunately, most of the Soldiers didn’t witness this exchange go from idiotic to outright lunacy; all they saw were wasted time and training opportunities.  They (rightly so) were extremely pissed off that they were wasting away in the hell-hole known as Camp Shelby, and this feeling was exacerbated by the fact that we, the leadership, couldn’t even fill the time with training.  Like in Shawshank Redemption, deployment time is slow time.  Combat, combat-related activities, and training can speed that time up, but if someone is stuck in a shitty, 40-person barracks with nothing to do for days on end, inevitably that person will start thinking about how much it sucks, why it sucks, and who to blame for it sucking.  Most of that blame is (invariably, understandably, and rightfully) focused on the leadership for the unit, which makes it so frustrating for us in those roles when we are not allowed to provide those opportunities to get out of the barracks and do some cool-ass Army training. 

                As I mentioned previously, the ADVON (Advance Party) is sent out a few days before the Main Body in order to set up for arrival (drawing room keys, linking up with the incoming unit, etc.).  My commander lobbied for the unit to get at least a 48-hour pass before we pushed out to deploy so that the Soldiers could have some time to blow off steam before they headed down range.  It’s been customary to do that, and shows the troops that the command cares about them and trusts them enough to not be stupid with their free time.  While it was approved, the dates were for after the ADVON departed to head over.  I spoke to my boss, and he OK’d the three of us who were tapped to go on the ADVON to go off post and hang out the day before we left.  We were lucky though; the rest of the Battalion was in the field, and all of the other ADVON personnel were required by their units to go to the field for 36 hours, come back, get on the bus, and leave.  It was completely asinine, and really pissed off the other units that were not allowed the same privileges as me and my two Soldiers.  My response was a giant wet raspberry.  If you failed to secure that time off because you didn’t want to piss off your commander, that’s on you.  More likely, their commanders were shit heads and refused their request.  My issue boils down to trust; if you don’t trust your soldiers not to do something stupid in that period, then you shouldn’t trust them with the level of responsibility that they own.  You see it all the time in the Army; most things are outlawed because someone, somewhere, fucked up and earned the lack of trust from their bosses, which then ruined it for everyone else. 

                This lack of trust is sometimes warranted; I had no sooner hit ground in [blank] when I was notified via e-mail that I had to conduct an investigation on someone who had fucked up on their pass.  I replied with a request that someone who was actually there and could be realistically be expected to do the investigation justice do it.  He responded with “but they’re all busy.”  Sigh.  You’re right, Sir.  I’m not busy on a three-person ADVON 5000 miles away. But the stories regarding investigations will have to wait for a later post.

                Speaking of the aforementioned 5000 miles, the trip over was an unmitigated shit show.  The bus taking us to the airport should have been playing “Yakety-Sax” during the ride, not the rebooted Footloose (yes, we watched the new Footloose movie during the 12 hour bus ride).  Why was the bus ride 12 hours?  Because we had to drive to Virginia and wait there for the plane that would be taking us over.  The plane route started in Virginia, down to Florida…wait a minute!  Why didn’t we just drive to the Air Base in Florida, which is only a four hour bus ride away?  Shut up LT, that’s why.  So, ears leaking cranial fluid, I boarded the plane, took the short hop to Florida, waited on the ground for four hours, and then flew to Germany.  We stopped off in Leipzig, and then flew to [blank].  We landed at midnight, and it was 105 degrees with 80% humidity, which we had to sit outside in waiting for the local customs agents to wake up to start (sloooooowly) checking our baggage. 

                One of the last minute idiocies that came out in the run up to the move overseas was the requirement that we all take the sustainment pouches off of our ruck sacks.  For those of you who don’t know what they are, sustainment pouches are giant fucking pouches attached to either side of our ruck sacks (giant back packs).  Literally every ruck sack I have seen have had these on, but now the Battalion was mandating they be taken off.  Idiot Captain from earlier was leading this particular charge, and could be seen stalking through the barracks area telling people off for still having them attached.  This would normally be a minor inconvenience, but the Army, in its infinite wisdom, issues you a metric fuck-ton of shit to every Soldier deploying.  A fair portion of it makes sense (more body armor, flame retardant uniforms, etc.), but a lot of it frankly doesn’t.  Why, in God’s name, do I need a Cold Weather Clothing system designed to let me operate in sub-zero temperatures in the Middle East?! Afghanistan, sure, because it gets cold as fuck there.  But anywhere in the Persian Gulf?  Are you fucking high?  No? Stupid? Yes.  Yes you are.  My point is that we get the proverbial 10 pounds of shit to fit in the 5 pound bag, and now the Battalion was requiring us to take off these giant sustainment pouches without reducing the gear requirement.  Sure, we got to ship a footlocker and a duffel bag over on the slow boat, but there was a giant list of stuff that we couldn’t put in those due to security reasons.  Apparently the shipping containers going through Pakistan were getting broken into A LOT, which resulted in uniforms and other sensitive items being stolen and sold to the insurgents, so these restrictions made a lot of sense…if you were going to Afghanistan.  I’m sure you’re all tired by now of hearing how much we weren’t going to Afghanistan, but the assholes controlling our travel literally could not comprehend that we weren’t going ANYWHERE NEAR THAT FUCKING COUNTRY.  So not only do we have to hand carry the normal 150 pounds of shit, but now we had to carry all of the uniforms and not use our sustainment pouches.  Fast forward through lots of understandable bitching, and there I am sitting on the flight line in country looking at everyone’s bags.  I had already found mine, and went back to help others.  I ended up helping Idiot Captain, and eventually found his bag.  With the sustainment pouches still on.  I looked at it, then looked at him.

Me: “Sir, you left your sustainment pouches on.”

Idiot Captain: [genuinely puzzled by my observation] “Well, yea, of course.  How would I have fit all of my stuff otherwise?”

Me: “But, Sir, you were the one tasked with ensuring that no one had them on due to such-and-such regulations.”

Idiot Captain: “Oh yea, but I really wanted to use them, and the Air Force didn’t mind.  [laughing] Did you actually take yours off?!  Haha, why?”

Me: “…because you said it was against Air Force regulations.”

Idiot Captain: [pointing at Air Force luggage] “But they all have them on.  Everyone at Battalion put theirs back on.”

Me: “Why didn’t you tell us that we could tell our Soldiers they could have them on?  This was a huge problem for us.”

Idiot Captain: “Well, maybe you should have ignored it and just done the smart thing.”

Me: [starts having a seizure]

                This would become a recurring thing this Battalion, who I have not mentioned nearly enough with regards to their idiotic policies.  While they had a few good officers and NCOs, by and large they were more completely fucked up than any headquarters I have ever seen. 

                Our time at Camp Shelby was marked by the sheer incompetence of the training and support staffs at large.  The only people that were completely supportive were the bus drivers; no matter what or when we needed something, they worked their asses off to make sure that we got the support we requested. 

                Everyone else down there can eat a dick.