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.
March’s Drill began with a somber tone. Last month, my unit Commander had initiated my discharge from the California Army National Guard, due to being a chronic Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) failure. Although I had been able to perform the 2 minutes of push-ups and sit-ups, my biggest hurdle had always been trying to complete the 2-mile run within my required time frame. After having received a generous number of chances to try to pass the test, my Commander finally decided that enough was enough, and decided to let me go.
Facing a General discharge within 30 days since February, I immediately contacted the state’s Judge Advocate General’s Trial Defense Services office, and exercised my legal right to request free assistance from a military attorney. Fortunately, a clause in the discharge policy allowed me to request a trial by a separation board, in which I could have my case heard and at least try to have my discharge type upgraded, from General to Honorable. I knew that my 8 years of meritorious service in the Guard was worth an Honorable discharge, so I wasn’t going to fade quietly without a decent administrative fight.
In the meantime, I had begun working out and dieting like a bulldog for the past several weeks, since the Commander and 1st Sergeant mercifully agreed to give me another chance. If I could lose significant weight and show improvement in my push-up/ sit-up/ run time scores during the next series of fitness tests – and ultimately pass the APFT within the next few months – they would be willing to drop the discharge and keep me in the Guard. It was a very fair deal that I was grateful for, and willing to take on.
In the meantime, military Drill duty for the Guard continued at Armory headquarters….
On a typical Drill day in our Company, Soldiers receive military police lessons and review “warrior skills.” Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs), or “high speed” Specialists, provide “hip pocket training” by downloading Army manuals, policies, study guides or PowerPoint presentations from the Internet as references, before lecturing to small groups of platoons. Soldiers try to listen attentively, while guzzling mega-sized cans of energy drinks or gallons of coffee. The sleep-deprived Soldiers who are desperate enough to will themselves awake — without caffeine — force themselves to stand, knowing that the punishment for sleep is virtual death.
Our 1st Sergeant performs his routine “quality control” measures to ensure that training is properly being conducted within the unit, by prowling the Armory floor like a wolf. He checks to see that no Soldier is sleeping, or browsing through his smartphone, or incessantly chatting or texting, or doing anything else that isn’t Army-related.
A list of our 1st Sergeant’s other pet-peeves includes Soldiers who lean against walls, or eat fast food for lunch (he is a Hollywood-style fitness stud who prefers healthy salads, quinoa and a hearty dose of fiber each morning to cleanse the colon), or use any product or device that isn’t colored black, camouflage or olive Army-green. He eyeballs the lengths of haircuts and fingernails. Smart males keep razors and cans of shaving cream handy, should they find themselves falling short from meeting Army grooming standards.
Females maintain sleek hair buns, pulled tight and cemented with gobs of industrial hair gel. Few are brave enough to wear make-up, since the slightest shade of too-dark or too-bright lipstick is enough to warrant a negative counseling statement.
Our 1st Sergeant uses the word “unauthorized” in every other sentence, followed by the directive to “Fix that shit!” Yes, this is the 1st Sergeant’s world and he runs the show because he is top dog – the ultimate alpha male. We oblige ourselves to follow his norms, in order to stay out of trouble.
However, this particular Saturday was no ordinary Drill day. The morning began with first formation, followed by a rushed convoy in High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs), to a small suburb in northern California. Our unit would be receiving unique training: real, bona fide law enforcement lessons from civilian police officers in a local agency.
The strategic goal of this training was to improve collaboration and inter-operability between Soldiers and civilian police officers. In the event of an emergency, our unit could get “activated” on short notice, to help provide assistance for security threats, natural disasters and civil disturbances.
Training included learning how to respond to a robbery-in-progress alarm, high risk pedestrian stop, pedestrian encounter, building alarm, traffic stop and high risk vehicle stop. Official patrol vehicles surrounded a parking lot, in which Soldiers were allowed to sit in the front seats, activate the flashing blue-and-red police lights, tactically dismount, issue commands to suspects and apply search and arrest procedures. Soldiers partnered into teams, tactically handled artificial pistols and rifles, and rotated through several scenarios throughout the day. Each scenario involved at least one suspect or acting civilian.
“Stop! Military Police (MP)! Get your hands in the air!” barked an MP. He was responding to a robbery-in-progress alarm scenario, cautiously aiming his pistol at a hooded suspect who had quickly rushed out of a building.
The suspect surrendered his arms into the air and was ordered to lay face-down on the ground. The MP re-holstered his pistol and crouched over the suspect to search for contraband. Dark gray clouds covered the morning sky as cold rain pelted relentlessly on the MP, mixing with warm droplets of sweat — collecting on his forehead and fogging up his glasses.
His team partner stood nearby, positioning himself as the over-watch “cover” officer by maintaining a vigilant pistol over the suspect. The procedural search seemed to go well, when all of a sudden – –
“Got a gun! Got a gun!” shouted the MP, as he suddenly discovered a pistol hiding in the suspect’s pocket.
The MP immediately secured the weapon, grabbed the suspect’s wrists and placed him under arrest.
After each scenario, police instructors critiqued each team’s response and demonstrated methods for improvement. Special emphasis was placed on following proper safety procedures, such as how to maneuver tactically to “clear” an area.
In addition to learning tactical skills in civilian law enforcement, our Soldiers learned that policing is not just about busting down doors, storming into buildings and arresting perpetrators. Policing is also about maintaining positive relations with the public, as a service-based organization. Soldiers learned lessons on how to improve communication skills by practicing social diplomacy, tact and professionalism through role-playing during the various police response scenarios.
For our MPs, receiving this kind of detailed, job-specific training was a real treat. This new insight into law enforcement techniques and procedures has strengthened our unit, as a ready and proficient Military Police force.
Sunday’s Drill day consisted of a Periodic Health Assessment (PHA) for all Soldiers in the entire Company. The PHA program is a system used to monitor and track a Soldier’s individual medical readiness, with a focus on screening and preventive measures. This is to ensure that Soldiers are available for deployment, at any time.
The PHA consists of two parts: an online self-assessment from the Soldier, followed by in-person assessments from temporary civilian health care providers at the Armory.
The self-assessment consists of an in-depth questionnaire that asks about everything from how often you suffer from depression, suicidal thoughts, night terrors and your overall [un]happiness level — to medical deficiencies within your family’s health history (heart attacks, strokes, that swollen third nut in the itchy scrotum that your Uncle Billy-Bob always complained about, but never went to the doctor for, etc.).
For the in-person assessments at the Armory, all Soldiers dressed in casual PT (Physical Training) uniforms and gym shoes, and stood in long lines throughout the day to have their physical exams completed. Exam stations included height, weight, dental, vision, blood pressure, immunization and pregnancy tests for all females.
All in all, I was thankful that March’s Drill turned out to be a smooth, no-drama weekend.
Stay tuned to find out what happens in the April 2014 issue of MyNationalGuardLife.com.
* Names have been changed to protect the identities of Soldiers and maintain Operational Security.