WARNING: Some materials in this blog may not be suitable for children under 18 years of age. Viewer discretion is advised. Statements made in this blog are personal opinions and do not reflect the views of the Army or the Army National Guard.
April’s Drill was a 4-day weekend, at an Army National Guard base located 4 hours away.
Prior to Drill, I accidentally injured both of my shoulders (left shoulder during Karate class, right shoulder while Rollerblading). I went to see my doctor, received a diagnosis, gave my doctor’s note to my unit and was placed on a temporary, 3-month “profile.” A profile is an exemption from doing physically hard labor or activity, due to a medical condition.
Due to my injuries, I was transferred from a “line” platoon, to Headquarters Platoon. I would work in the Operations Section and perform administrative tasks that didn’t require physical exertion (pushing, pulling, shooting, wearing protective gear, carrying heavy equipment), until my shoulders healed and I would be able to return to performing regular military police duties and training.
Since I was on profile, I was placed on a large school bus during the convoy to the base (a.k.a. “The Camp”), along with the rest of the Soldiers who have been labeled as broken, sick, Medically Non-Deployable, or simply not cool enough to ride with teams of popular people, in High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs).
It was the bus ride from hell. Loud, incessant talk-radio blared from roof speakers. Our efforts to sleep became futile, as we sprawled out among the green vinyl-cushioned seats. Heat blasted mercilessly at our legs, while the hot California sun radiated through the windows. We laid with our mouths gaped open, our eyes half-dead, like a tin can full of shriveled sardines on wheels, inching down Highway-101 through the heavy traffic of the morning’s slow-moving commute.
“Hey Sergeant,” one junior-enlisted Soldier bravely piped up. “Do you mind turning off the heat, and turning on the air-conditioning instead? We’re dyin’ back here.”
“Sorry guys,” bellowed the Sergeant at the wheel. “The A/C switch is on so I can’t figure out why it’s not working — I guess the bus must be broken. Oh well – it’s still a great day to be in the Army, HOOAH!” He was in high spirits, since he had been recently promoted and received his “Sergeant stripes.”
We eventually found relief from food and water, at two pit-stops on the way to the Camp – once at a shopping plaza for lunch, then at a gas station to refuel our vehicles.
When we rolled in through the secured front gates of the Camp, we finally reached our destination at the barracks. So began the rat-race, to haul our gear (luggage) and quickly claim beds for ourselves.
The next morning began with an official, bi-annual Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT). Of course, there was immense pressure on all Soldiers to pass, with a score of 60 points or more, for the 2 minutes of push-ups, sit-ups and timed 2-mile run.
Since I was on profile, I couldn’t participate in the APFT so I was assigned to be a Road Guard. I stood at a road intersection on the running trail, wearing a reflective vest and holding a flashlight, directing Soldiers to the finish line. The APFT concluded with all Soldiers being measured for height, weight and body mass index (if over the Army’s weight standards).
After breakfast at the chow hall, I reported for work in the Operations office. Another Specialist (E-4 rank), “Blondie,” was also newly-assigned to our Operations team. Blondie is, by far, the most beautiful female Soldier in the entire Army National Guard (sorry guys, she’s engaged!).
Blondie has an angelic, royal appearance. Her body and face is perfectly proportioned in every way. She has high cheekbones, a thin, straight nose, and the most amazing crystal-blue eyes, flecked with shades of sky and ocean — framed with long, dark lashes. When she speaks to me, I often find myself gazing into her eyes for far too long. I forget to blink and when she realizes that I’m hardly paying attention to what she’s actually saying to me, her eyes suddenly dart away like luminescent butterflies. I feel like a troll caught red-handed, as though I’ve violated her in some secret, god-awful way, but I just can’t help myself when I stumble upon eyes so rare and intriguing. If Blondie wasn’t so darn polite, Christian and genuinely NICE, I would be insanely jealous of her.
My other cohort on the Operations team was a male Private First Class (PFC, E-3 rank), “Triple Threat” – nicknamed as such because he claims he can act, sing AND dance. He is a thin, dark-skinned Latino with jet-black hair, thick, striking eyebrows and black, square-framed glasses. He works a daytime job as a civilian school teacher, but dreams of a career in culinary art as a pastry chef, making sweet desserts. Triple Threat is so goofy! Everything that he says or does, tickles the deepest marrow of my funny-bone and makes me laugh like an uncontrollable baby.
Then there was our boss, the Readiness NCO — Sergeant First Class (SFC, E-7 rank) Persimmon.* She is one of a small handful of Asian female MPs (Military Police), that exist in the California Army National Guard.
As the Operations team, our primary task was to compile and calculate the APFT scores for the entire Company. We needed to figure out how many had passed, who had failed, what their body fat percentages were, and enter their data into a computer. On top of that, we had to prepare and print out negative counseling statements for Soldiers who had failed the APFT, for them to sign and archive into their records.
For all other Soldiers, their primary task was to shoot, and qualify, on the pistol and rifle at the firing ranges. As SFC Persimmon and PFC Triple Threat gathered their helmets and protective vests, to head over to the firing range and qualify on their weapons, SFC Persimmon asked if anyone had sunglasses that she could borrow. Army safety policies require the wearing of “eye pro,” as well as “ear pro” and “hand pro (ear plugs, glasses and gloves).”
“You can borrow mine,” I volunteered, brandishing my expensive Oakley Asian Fit Half Jacket sunglasses, which is specially designed eye-wear for us Asians, who have no bridges on our noses. Any other type of glasses, which doesn’t have such supporting nose legs, causes constant sliding down our sweaty, nervous noses.
“Thanks. I have another pair that someone lent to me, but look at how huge it is on my face,” SFC Persimmon replied, as she whipped out a pair of sporty, over-sized sunglasses that wrapped around her face and made her look like a dilapidated Robo-Cop. Everyone in the office burst out laughing at the Sergeant’s comical demonstration.
“At least these are better than my BCGs,” she continued, and whipped out a pair of out-dated, brown-framed Army-issued glasses.
The lenses were as thick as coke-bottles. Such glasses used to be issued to Soldiers on the first day of Army boot camp during the 1990s – when mullets and leg warmers were fading out and “New Kids on the Block” was trending in. It’s no wonder why such glasses were nicknamed “BCGs” – otherwise known as “Birth Control Glasses” – because wearing them made you SO instantaneously ugly, no one would EVER want to sleep with you. It was the Army’s perfect form of cheap, effective birth control.
SFC Persimmon took a quick “selfie” with her smartphone, to post onto her Facebook page. She turned her face to a three-quarter angle, gave an exaggerated smile and a thumbs-up, then snapped a photo of herself wearing those ridiculous glasses, as if she were posing for a high school yearbook portrait.
“Class of ’94 — where are they now?!” I shouted gleefully, shrieking with laughter.
Thankfully, Army-issued glasses have evolved since then, to more contemporary styles.
For the next two days, Soldiers continued firing their weapons, coupled with classroom training on military police and warrior skills. Training also included lectures on preventing sexual harassment, sexual assaults and suicides.
For the first time during my 8 years of Army National Guard life, our unit performed a ruck march, at the insistence of our hard-core 1st Sergeant (E-8 rank). Soldiers were required to fill their rucksacks, assault packs or equivalent back packs, with 25 pounds worth of weight to haul on their backs for several hilly miles. Blondie, Triple Threat and I were ordered to fill the 1st Sergeant’s rucksack with water bottles and weigh it on a scale, to measure exactly 25 pounds.
“Throw in another 10 pounds worth of water bottles!” the 1st Sergeant declared, like a fit and fearless Spartan on a wind-strewn mountain top. Was there no stopping this man? He makes Rambo, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Chuck Norris look like pre-tween Boy Scouts.
“Formation!” a voice bellowed from out of nowhere. Nightfall began to blanket the sunset sky.
Blondie, Triple Threat and I ran outside of the Operations office and jumped into our platoon’s formation in a large parking lot. Soldiers hauled heavy rucksacks on their backs as they ran from the barracks, to report to their respective platoons. A group of lagging males struggled towards our platoon’s formation, huffing heavily as beads of sweat dotted their foreheads.
“Why are you LATE?!” demanded Staff Sergeant Bogotá,* a fiesty Latina who accents every word with emotional spice. Exaggerated and curvaceous, she placed her hand on one hip to emphasize her no-nonsense seriousness.
They stood and stared at her in silence, not knowing how to safely respond — without throwing themselves into a quickly boiling inferno.
“Drop. Just DROP,” Staff Sergeant Bogotá ordered, lowering her long eyelashes in disgust.
The group of late males immediately went into push-up position, still carrying the heavy rucksacks on their backs, as they began to perform push-ups. The blood of a sacrificial lamb would not have been enough to appease the angry goddess.
Once the platoons in our unit finished “forming up” and gained accountability of all Soldiers, they stretched for 10 minutes, donned flashlights and reflector belts, and designated road guards for safety. No one, except for the Command Staff, knew how long or difficult this ruck march was going to be.
“Forwa-a-a-ard, MARCH!” a Sergeant’s voice barked. The Soldiers began marching in column formation, their boots crunching rhythmically on gravel, as they moved onto a dirt road and into the pitch-black night.
Since I was on profile, I was instructed to take photos of everyone during the ruck march. I rode in a white, government pick-up truck, with our Master Sergeant and a medic, as we slowly followed behind our marching unit. Any Soldiers who “fall out,” due to ill health or injuries, would be picked up by our truck and examined by the medic.
Soldiers marched in silence as the 1st Sergeant took the lead and soon sped up the pace. After the first mile or two of rolling hills, some Soldiers began profusely sweating and struggling to maintain the increasing, fast pace of the march. One Soldier’s rucksack fell apart when his shoulder strap suddenly broke. A Sergeant assisted by marching next to the Soldier’s side and awkwardly holding onto the hanging strap, so that they could “continue the mission.”
I sat quietly in the truck while the Master Sergeant and medic chatted. Suddenly, a male Soldier at the rear of the unit stopped marching and stood weakly hunched over. I grew concerned when I realized that it was Aquino,* a good friend from my platoon. Aquino is half-White and half-Filipino, extremely quiet with a gentle demeanor, and an overall super-nice guy. I always endearingly refer to him as “my ‘Pilipino’ friend.”
Other Soldiers quickly surrounded Aquino and had him remove his rucksack. He mumbled that he was feeling over-heated and dehydrated. A Sergeant ordered the other Soldiers to return to marching, escorted Aquino to the medic in our truck, then ran back to the formation to report the incident to the higher-ups. Aquino climbed into the back of the truck to rest, as the medic immediately checked Aquino’s pulse and inspected his pupils with a flashlight.
“What day is it today?” quizzed the medic, testing Aquino’s mental alertness.
“Friday,” Aquino replied, as he took off his headgear. His entire head and neck was drenched with sweat, as he struggled to breathe.
The medic continued asking questions, such as how often Aquino had been drinking water. Apparently, it hadn’t been nearly enough. The Master Sergeant handed over a bottle of water to Aquino and immediately ordered him to drink, as he blasted cool air from the truck’s vents to lower Aquino’s body core temperature.
Aquino ended up guzzling several bottles of water and, fortunately, appeared to be in better shape after 20 minutes. Dehydration is a common ailment among troops and we were lucky that Aquino’s case was quickly resolved. The situation could have been much worse, such as heat stroke — which would have required immediate hospitalization and could have resulted in death.
After the dehydration fall-out, the 1st Sergeant soon ended the ruck march and marched the Soldiers back into the parking lot, in front of the barracks. After another formation to check for accountability and a quick, cool-down stretching session, the unit divided into platoons to conduct an After Action Review (AAR) and work out logistical plans for the next day’s tasks.
Day 3 of Drill weekend was similar to Day 2: Soldiers continued testing their marksmanship skills on weapons at firing ranges while our Operations staff continued compiling APFT paperwork in the office.
During the late afternoon, all Soldiers returned from the ranges and gathered in our Operations building for a mandatory “piss test” (urinalysis) to check for unauthorized drug use. After several hours of piss testing, Soldiers lined up for administrative help with setting up their online travel pay accounts. The mood in the air was upbeat, especially since we knew that Drill weekend would be over tomorrow and we would all be going home. Suddenly…..
“Somebody call 9-1-1!” a female voice shrieked from outside. The tone in her faint, but frantic voice made my eyes dart towards the door.
Everyone in the room froze.
“Somebody get a medic!!” the voice screamed again. “Medic! Medic!” A group of screams from other people immediately followed.
Everyone in the room bolted from their seats, whipped out their cell phones and rushed outside, to see what was going on.
“The LT (Lieutenant) is calling 9-1-1 right now,” announced a Sergeant in our group.
“Stay here!” he continued. “Let them take care of it over there! They don’t need ALL of us running over and making a huge scene.”
It was difficult to resist the natural urge to go over and help, but we all knew that the Sergeant was right. If a dozen of us went over to the incident, when there were already a group of 20-30 Soldiers on the scene, trying to get medical help – we would only create unnecessary chaos. All that we could do was trust that our leadership would properly handle the unfolding, dire situation.
We stood quietly on the front porch and stared at the crowd of Soldiers quickly gathering in front of us. They moved like wild fire ants around a group of High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs) and shouted instructions to each other. The vehicles’ engines grumbled while their headlights glared into the dark night.
Our unit Commander was notified and urgently walked towards the accident site, keeping a cool head to maintain control of the situation. All eyes were watching him for guidance while the weight of the world landed squarely on his shoulders.
Soldiers in our group started calling and sending text messages on their smartphones to their buddies, across the way and in the barracks, checking to see if their buddies were safe and asking for information on what was going on.
“Someone is pinned between two vehicles!” blurted one Soldier in our group.
A wave of horror and dread washed over us.
“I hope and PRAY that it’s not Mickey*” muttered one Soldier standing next to me, staring at the HMMWVs. “He’s my Battle Buddy! We went through boot camp together. If I lose him, I swear, I don’t know what I’m gonna do….” his voice trailed off.
Who was injured? Who was the driver? How did this horrible accident happen in the first place? Voices whispered and rumors began spreading like a thick tangle of weeds – it was impossible to discern fact from fiction, assumptions from evidence. Names were thrown about like wild cards, as well as accusations of driver fatigue.
There was gossip that the sudden screaming for a medic had triggered the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in some Soldiers, who were still struggling to mentally heal from our unit’s Afghanistan deployment, since returning just a few years ago after losing a fellow Soldier.
I walked back into the Operations office and noticed Private Triple Threat sitting mute and alone.
“Are you okay?” I asked him. “Why don’t you come out with the rest of us, on the front porch?”
He simply shook his head no — polite but firm — and remained seated in his office chair. I guess people handle stress in different ways, especially if they’ve experienced emotional trauma in the past. Maybe this was his way of dealing with demons.
A sense of uncomfortable fragility engulfed all of us — the uneasiness in not knowing what is happening, or what to expect, and the realization that such an accident could have victimized any one of us, at any time.
A civilian ambulance finally arrived, its red-and-white lights illuminating the parking lot. Knowing that Emergency Medical Specialists were here, to take care of our injured Soldier, lent some relief to our worries.
A formation was soon initiated, and everyone came running from all directions. Some Soldiers stood in their Army Combat Uniforms, while others wore their pajamas and sneakers. A few Soldiers had apparently run directly from out of the showers, as they shivered in formation, wearing nothing but sopping wet shorts and shower shoes.
“Soldiers,” the Commander assured us, “We had an unfortunate accident. Private Chez was injured and he’s going to stay in the hospital tonight, but I want you to know that he’s going to be okay.”
“I also want you to know,” the Commander continued, “that this was NOT anyone’s fault. Accidents happen and I don’t want anyone assigning blame. Remember, Private Chez is going to be okay, so let’s just leave it at that.”
“That being said,” he went on, “I want everyone to get plenty of rest tonight – especially drivers – because we have a long convoy back to the Armory tomorrow. Remember to hydrate and I will speak with all of you again, in the morning.”
After formation, a handful of Soldiers gathered in the Operations office to fill out Sworn Statements on official Army forms — providing written, detailed accounts of what they had witnessed at the accident site. The Command Staff also stayed up to compile their own reports, which would be reviewed by a Major and other high-ranking, “top brass” officers.
I didn’t get a chance to read the Sworn Statements so I can only speculate on hearsay testimony. What I heard was that Soldiers were attempting to park their HMMWVs in the lot, when Private Chez exited his vehicle to lay down the chock-block (a large, heavy wooden or rubber block, placed in front of, or behind, a HMMWV wheel to prevent it from rolling) and drip pan (large rubber pan, placed beneath the engine block to catch oil). While walking in front of his HMMWV, the driver of another HMMWV began backing up in reverse, not knowing that Chez was standing directly in it’s path. As a result, Chez found himself suddenly pinned between the two HMMWVs – armored combat vehicles that weigh thousands of pounds — unable to escape. When other Soldiers realized what was happening, that’s when the frantic screams for help began.
The accident was a curdling scare for all of us but we retired for the evening with a semi-queasy sense of calm, knowing that Chez was going to make it.
The last day of Drill began with a beautiful sunrise and the excited anticipation of going home. Ah yes, home sweet home – where you can eat hot, home-made meals instead of cold pouches of Meals Ready to Eat, lay in hot soothing baths instead of rushing through showers, where you can piss, crap, sleep and spend endless hours laying stretched out in bed, watching TV in your underwear – scratching yourself wherever you want, whenever you want – without being surrounded by dozens of other people in your personal space, who stare and criticize. Home sweet home never comes soon enough….
We awoke early to pack our gear and load them onto the school bus, supply trucks and HMMWVs. After first formation, we received a hurried, brown-bag breakfast of 1 egg, 1 yogurt, 1 carton of milk and 1 red apple (none of which I could eat except for the egg, because I am an extremely lactose-intolerant Asian who happens to be allergic to red apples, DOH!).
We then underwent a barracks inspection by Camp staff members, to check for facility cleanliness and inventoried maintenance items, which we passed with flying colors.
Our Commander gathered us for a safety briefing, in which a smiling, healthy Chez appeared, and was greeted by everyone with claps and cheers. We all felt bad for what had happened lastnight, including the Commander, who presented him with the only gift he could find on such short notice – an Easter basket full of candied treats, wrapped with a hideously giant purple bow. We laughed at the ridiculousness of the gift, but appreciated the Commander’s good intentions and hoped that Chez felt surrounded by cheer and well wishes.
After the safety briefing, we climbed into our vehicles, headed back to the Armory, unloaded our supplies, conducted vehicle maintenance, cleaned the offices and finished up administrative paperwork. We finally bid each other the usual farewell, until we would meet again for next Drill.
Stay tuned to find out what happens in the May 2014 issue of MyNationalGuardLife.com.
* Names have been changed to protect the identities of Soldiers and maintain Operational Security.