Stuff That Almost Killed Bowmen: Part II

 

Bowmen recovered from his traumatizing and short lived stint as a welding apprentice and eventually began to emerge from his social shell. It wasn’t long before he started adding to the list of things in Iraq that nearly killed him.

Item 3: Truck Tire. We retained one of the old five-ton truck variants left by the unit we replaced. It was used by one of our NCOs to pick up and drop off people from the flight line or any sundry of miscellanies errands on Forward Operating Base (FOB) Taji. The NCO that owned the truck had to pick up some Soldiers from the flight line the night before he brought it in to us for a new dispatch. He’d changed one of the tires and needed a new spare. Once the tire had been lowered to the ground, he spotted Bowmen and told him to hold the tire upright until he could get down from the truck and take it from him. Bowmen was happy to comply and placed one hand on either side walls of the tire. Trying to be helpful, Bowmen tried to straighten the tire so that the NCO could simply take the tire and roll it straight out the door of the maintenance bay. The massive tire leaned slightly to one side and Bowmen hugged it closely to his chest in an attempt to right it. He didn’t, however, move himself to the tire. Rather, he muscled (a term I use loosely here) the tire over to him. The tire gained enough momentum by traversing the length of Bowmen’s arms to throw him off balance. Going for his now patented self-preservative posture, Bowmen threw himself flat on his back. Unfortunately, he did so in the path of the tire. I heard a yelp as I rounded the back bumper of the 5-ton just in time to see the tire leave its path. So basically, the tire rolled up Bowmen’s leg, traveled the short distance up the length of his torso, and regained contact with concrete shortly after crossing the left side of Bowmen’s face. The tire pattern was pristine. It left perfectly outlined black tread patterns all along its makeshift road surface. Bowmen bounced up, screamed at the tire, kicked it over Bruce Lee style, and hobbled across the street to the Battalion Aid Station. As it turns out, it rolled up the leg opposite his traditional complaint. He claimed from that point on that it compounded his pre-existing knee injury.

Item 4: ASV Door. The Battery Commander opted to incorporate some Armored Security Vehicles (ASV) into the mix of our other “up-armored” vehicles. They were beautiful. Bowmen was fascinated with them and made every attempt to be shown something new on them when they came in. A fellow Gun Bunny turned Mechanic, T-Diddy, had just come back from an external maintenance support facility and Bowmen wanted to show T-Diddy that he had learned how to seal the back hatch of this ASV. It was a two-part door that had a pneumatic cylinder preventing the bottom half from slamming to the ground when released. The upper half had a sturdy latch, but closed by gravity. The idea was to put your right hand on the upper door half and push up just the tiniest bit while hitting the latch with your left hand. You could then lower the door into place. It was at least as heavy as the gun box door that I mentioned earlier with an additional layer of Kevlar on both sides of the armor plating. He correctly explained the process while standing under the top half of the door. He was short enough that if it swung down it wouldn’t hit his head so we didn’t worry about it. When he reached the part in his explanation where you had to hit the release, he reached up with his right hand and punched the catch with his right forearm bisecting the space the door would travel: his hand was outside the vehicle and his arm was in. The heavy door swung down and pinned him to the vehicle spurring an immediate, explosive, and profanity laced reaction. As T-Diddy reached for the door, Bowmen did something he’d never been able to do during physical fitness training: A flawlessly executed one-armed pull-up. It was poorly timed though since the door was lifted off his arm at the pull-up’s apex. He dropped to the lower half of the hatch and rolled onto the bay floor holding his injured arm. He was picked up and escorted to the aid station where they determined that it was not actually broken. They put him in a half half-cast and gave him “Ranger Candy” (800 mg ibuprofen) in addition to some fairly potent pain meds.
Narcotics had a great calming effect on Bowmen and our days became a little less entertaining while he sat drooling in the tool room.

Item 5: Hammer. Bowmen was always trying to organize his tool room. He had shelving aplenty, but liked to hang things. So he scrounged some nails and picked up a 5-pound mallet. By the time he got done, the tool room looked like a medieval torture chamber and had the music to match. He tended to choke up on the hammer quite a bit. His hand just under the head of the tool that was overly large for the task at hand, and tapped lightly at each of the 200 plus nails he sank to a depth of about 1/8 of an inch. This worked fine for most things, but for heavier we had to show him how to wield a hammer. He politely declined, citing reasons of self-mistrust and general klutziness. One day a heavy bar with an eyelet in one end kept falling and he grew progressively angrier. He would gently tap the nail back into place without achieving any real penetration into the post. The bar fell a final time and startled him. Unable to take it any longer, Bowmen grabbed his mallet and wielded it the way we showed him. He held the nail firmly in his left hand and drew back as far as he could with the right, wielding this maul the way Thor wields Mjolnir (think of a very small Thor and very small Mjolnir). I think it goes without saying that this only ended well for everything except Bowmen. The hammer, nail, tanker bar, and wood came out on top, but he broke a finger this time and dropped the mallet on his previously good, (but bad since the tire incident) foot. The aid station placed him in a finger splint and wrapped his hand up. He returned to work with more pain meds. For the next week or so, he sat on a bar stool in the tool room and grinned at everything. It was the most calm any of us had ever seen out of him.

 

Stuff that Almost Killed Bowmen: Part I

Stuff That Almost Killed Bowmen* (Name altered to protect identity) Part I

I shared this three-part series on Facebook a while back, long before I started this blog. I find it mildly entertaining and worth sharing. I hope you enjoy.
Private Bowmen was probably the smallest Trooper in our Battery when we deployed to Iraq in 2005. He was a socially awkward kid from Florida that stood just under 5’5” and couldn’t possibly weigh any more than 130 pounds. Bowmen had a perpetual limp that seemed to switch legs from one day to the next depending on what we did for physical fitness training, but based on his ability to hurt himself I believe there may have been actual injury. By trade he was nuclear, biological, chemical (NBC) Soldier. At this stage in the war there wasn’t much concern over enemy use of NBC weapons, so Bowmen needed to be gainfully employed elsewhere. Having been reorganized from an artillery battery to a convoy security company, there was a need for qualified drivers and able gunners. As it turns out, Bowmen was neither. He couldn’t charge the .50 caliber in the turret and I’m pretty sure he couldn’t see over the steering wheel. The truth of the matter is that Bowmen was the single most accident prone individual I have ever met in my life and couldn’t be trusted to drive a 2.25-ton Army vehicle. So, he was designated as the tool room custodian in our maintenance bay.

Bowmen didn’t take well to the inevitable banter that goes on between Soldiers and was prone to fits of rage when included in our verbal sparring. Like any good Soldier will do when discovering an injury in a buddy, we stuck our figurative fingers in the wound. If you ever join the military, for the love of all things holy, do not let on when something bothers you physically or emotionally. Bowmen did eventually join in the game but was quick to blow up when what he dished out was fed back to him. We never physically abused the guy except for our section’s tradition of “birthday pink bellies”. (*Disclaimer: This has since been deemed “hazing” and has no place in our organization). Besides, he was far better equipped to damage himself than we were. After a short period of something like mild neglect, he found his place in the pecking order and began to be seen like an annoying younger sibling who we wouldn’t allow others to harass. He was something of a motor pool mascot to us and a source of endless and humorous distraction.
Coming out of his self-inflicted isolation, Bowmen expressed an interest in doing more to help out. Our Chief gave Bowmen over to me so that he could learn the use of cutting torches and plasma cutters. What could go wrong? At this stage of the war there was a great many units that fabricated their own add on armor to supplement the poor protection offered by standard equipment. This became one of my areas of responsibility. I had to reclaim armor from obsolete fabrications by the previous unit then design and build armored items for our use. In a muddy patch of unused ground, the unit we replaced left large steel boxes that were designed to go in the back of the trucks they used for convoy security missions. There was a raised platform inside with a swiveling seat and gun mount since the trucks they used did not have roof turrets. My task was to instruct Bowmen on the use of cutting tools to dismantle these boxes. Not comfortable giving him fire attached to rubber hoses filled with volatile gases, I opted to give him the plasma cutter. After all, he couldn’t blow us up with an electric arc shielded in argon gas.

I say all of that to set the stage for what began a list of items that very nearly killed the little guy.
Item 1: Iraqi dog. A three legged stray dog had taken up residence under a platform in one of the gun boxes. While I began setting up the plasma cutter for Bowmen and attempted to teach him how to do it, he became distracted by the gunner’s seat in the box. In a display of childlike glee, he hopped around the corner and opened the door to the gun box to go get in the seat.

It was at this point we were introduced to the dog. She was startled by his entrance into the box and decided she should be elsewhere as quick a manner as her three legs could get her there. She never made a sound but shot like a bolt straight for the door. The door currently held a small, shocked, and now frozen Bowmen. As the dog lunged towards freedom, Bowmen simply went over backwards with a scream I haven’t heard out of anyone other than 3rd grade girls. This was good for the dog though as she didn’t have to get her paws stuck in the six in deep mud since Bowmen now filled a five-foot stretch of that. Upon regaining his senses (the dog was long gone) he extracted himself from the mud and darted (still screaming like a little girl) around the gun box in the opposite direction the dog had gone. Upon noticing my uncontrolled mirth Bowmen became enraged, and kicked the steel box with his good foot, screamed and fell again. This only added to my glee and he stormed off towards Chief’s office with his middle finger over his shoulder. I gathered myself and finished setting up for the day’s work. It was only six in the morning. This was going to be a good day.

 

Item 2: Gun box door. Chief managed to calm Bowmen down and send him back out. Bowmen apologized for his outburst and asked me to show him what to do. I needed repair parts to get the plasma cutter up and running. So against better judgment, I schooled him on the use of the oxygen/acetylene torch and boarded the six-wheeled Gator to retrieve tools and parts. “He’ll be fine” I thought. “I’ll only be gone for five minutes”. An unsupervised Bowmen, plus fire, plus five minutes proved to be an equation that Chaos Theorists would be proud of.
I returned to the mud pit where I’d left Bowmen with the gun box only to find that he wasn’t there. I looked around thinking that he couldn’t have gone far, not on that limp. I drove the loud diesel driven Gator to the other end of the mud lot to see if he’s wandered over to a group of Soldiers nearby. They hadn’t seen him either. So maybe he was in the latrine. I drove back over to the gun box and shut the Gator down. I immediately heard Bowmen screaming again, but didn’t see him.
“AHHHHH!!! Get this F#$%*&^ thing off me!! Getitoffgetitoffgetitoffgetitoff!!!!” Was just the first few seconds.
I ran over to the gun box entrance to find that he had been standing inside the gun box with his feet under the door made of armor plating when he decided to cut the hinges off of said door. It only dropped a couple of inches, but it was heavy and the ground was soft. The door was standing upright in the mud on Bowmen’s toes. He was on his back in the mud again, sunk to about mid-calf and thrashing about like a drop of water on hot steel. He was trying to reach an upright position, face red with rage, veins popping out of his neck and forehead. He was still screaming obscenities and other words un-separated by the natural breaks often heard between verbiage. I grabbed the door and lifted it out of the mud. Bowmen burst upright then hurled himself over into the mud again in a dramatic display of relief.

He never did come back out to help finish the job.

 

Green is the New Orange

Everything I can buy on post in Korea is rationed. Well… Everything I want to buy, at least. Groceries, beer, liquor. It feels a little like incarceration, truth be told. I’ve taken to thinking of my rations as my “commissary”. On top of that, I was a little excited that my fermenters arrived safely with my household goods. Now I can start making hooch. Green is the new orange, folks!

Hercules: King of the Zombies

“I’m patient zero,” I told my wife when she answered the video call.

“I haven’t even had coffee yet.”

“This is serious. I’ve put all the pieces together now. Get coffee. I’ll wait.”

She went off screen briefly and I sat listening intently to her morning routine. It contained more prayer than normal I think. I kept hearing things like “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” and “Lord you made him…” and some mumbled plea about answering calls in the future that began with “Good morning”.

She sat back down. “Patient zero?”

“Zombie apocalypse? Duh.”

“This should be fun. Please. Enlighten me.”

“So if you remember, I was raised with cats. Now throw my mad cow into the mix…” I began.

“You do NOT have mad cow,” my wife informed me. “And Moosa isn’t a real thing either.”

“Then explain my erratic thought processes. HA! You can’t. So much for your psych degree, Doc.”

“You’re just bizarre.”

“No. I’m misunderstood.”

“Einstein was misunderstood,” she incorrectly corrected.

“He couldn’t make correct change for the bus, either.”

“But You can most certainly make change for the bus.”

“Tell that to the Korean bus driver who had to make correct change for me when I put ₩ 10,000 in the thing to pay for my fare yesterday.”

For those unfamiliar, ₩ is the symbol for Korean won which makes more sense than our $ for dollars. Double strike-through W for Won versus a double strike-through S for Dollar. In regards to the origins of double strike-through S for Dollar, I blame the French influences on the early development of the written English language. Kind of like the superfluous K in knight or knife. It’s a working theory. Back to Won (₩). It is Pronounced wan but spelled w-o-n. Lost in translation, I suppose. Anyway, 1,000 ₩ is like 90 cents. Cents: (¢). Boom! Take that Frenchie!

“You didn’t.”

“It was all I had on me. It resulted in me having about six pounds of Korean coins in each pocket. After that I just dumped the contents of one pocket into the thing (what is that called anyway?) every time I got onto a different bus. The driver would then make change and the machine would spit a new set of coins out weighing slightly less than six pounds. It was exactly like paying a percentage to have my money laundered. I felt like I was in the Triad.”

“That’s exactly nothing like having your money laundered, and the Triad are Chinese.”

“Right! But they are also foreign to Korea, so it works.”

She placed her left thumb on her cheek and covered her eyes while shaking her head.

I explained to her for perhaps the hundredth time in twenty years how I came to be afflicted with the first of three bovine sicknesses. The second is from a mandatory series of anthrax vaccinations and the third is from an Army mandated small pox vaccination. I know that you are thinking that small pox and cow pox are two different pox (poxes?), but if you are thinking that, you are mistaken. Apparently, small pox was eradicated except for weaponized versions stockpiled alongside weaponized anthrax in Russia and sold off to any number of belligerent states. So the US engineered something out of cow pox to administer to us so we can’t get either type of poc. Milkmaids seemed to be immune to small pox, so why not? What is it with Russians and cow disease weapons? Weirdos. I digress.

Removing her hand from her face she asked me what Einstein had to do with all of this?

“You brought him up.”

“Oh my god, would you just get to your point?” she pleaded.

“As I was saying, when I got exposed to MRSA, that particular disease was outmatched by preexisting conditions and teamed up with the mad cow, cow pox, and anthrax. Voila! Moosa.”

“And your cats had what to do with this?”

“I’m glad you asked. Being raised with cats is what started it all. You remember that manipulative parasite they carry?”

toxo

“Toxoplasma gondii. Yes, but that affects women and causes birth defects or something.”

“It makes them more promiscuous so they have more babies and perpetuate the cycle, yes. But it also makes men less risk averse to put them in the way of the big cats we once lived alongside so that when we became cat scat we could also spread the bacteria.”

“Is there a point to this?”

“Of course there is. The Toxoplasma gondii explains why I was chasing that cat in Panama and got stuck in the sticker patch which is where I picked up that fungus that controls the minds of ants in South America.”

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I held up my arm to show her the sticker wound I’d gotten when I was nine years old. There is a still visible brown mark much like a tattoo. Maybe it is more like the pencil wound on my left leg I got when I was thirteen following a leg spasm while I held a pencil point down under my desk. “It got in at this point.”

“So you have fungus for brain. That explains things.”

“No. I’m just saying I’m not in full control of my mental faculties.”

“No argument there,” she shrugged.

“You can’t insinuate that I’m stupid after calling me Einstein.”

“I most certainly did not call you Einstein.”

“You said I was bizarre and through the whole misunderstood money laundering Triad thing, we established that bizarre is basically a synonym for Einstein when we talk.”

“I’m pretty sure having mushrooms in your head is no basis for zombification,” she suggested. “That fungus is not the same thing as magic mushrooms.”

“The point is that when the MRSA wins out over the mad cow, it will erupt in my skull at which point the fungus will take control due to Moosa diminished mental facility and I will become a zombie with bacteria that draws people to me. Cycle repeats. Zombie apocalypse.”

“I am going to choke your mother next time I see her.”

“I would too. This is all her doing. First the cats, then the willful spread of mad cow. I told you she was the Mesopotamian goddess of the underworld,” I gasped at a sudden realization. “I am a demigod! I’m like Hercules, king of the zombies!”

“And I am hanging up now.”

 

 

 

Photo Credit

Zombie Ants: http://www.ourwindsor.ca/news-story/5444141-a-mind-controlling-fungus-is-turning-ants-into-real-life-zombies-in-the-rainforest/

Facebook Lamentations 8:25

Tuesday, 25 August. What fresh hell is this? Somewhere near Starke, Florida we amble about like the undead as we struggle against the heat, inappropriately clad in full duty uniform. Our clothes stay wet and there seems to be no reprieve in sight. I saw a Soldier today who has begun growing moss on his uniform and moves much like a sloth. This must be how sloths are made. It is unsure if our drenched clothing got this way from profuse sweating or from absorbing humidity. I think that it is from the latter since the atmosphere is already saturated in excess of capacity. All I know for sure is that I showered on Saturday and have yet to successfully dry off.

The shower. The horror. It is a broom closet with an exotic dancer’s pole in the center of it with four high-pressure water jets attached.

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Fifty of us share this little chamber of pain. Obviously not at the same time. That would be awkward. The stall can barely accommodate two people, much less fifty or even the intended four unless they were a foot wide at the shoulders. There is a single hole in each shower head/jet that puts enough force behind the water to strip paint or even rust from a battleship. My first experience here was very nearly my last. Reveling in the act of being cleaned, I was caught unawares when the water very nearly pierced one of my boy bits. As it turns out, I am a great soprano. I used the dance pole to pull myself up off the floor and was briefly concerned that people might start throwing dollars at me. What’s worse is that none did. It was just one of those moments that leaves you torn between relief and insult. However, I was entertained when the water jet and a different, now overly sensitive appendage inadvertently recreated the same action that can be seen by strumming those stupid spring type door stops often enjoyed by cats and babies. And me. I love those door stops.

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Ultimately the entertainment value was brief and taught me much regarding the fundamentals required of a world class opera singer.

 

Mad Cow Blog

It occurs to me that perhaps I should clear some things up since only a select few of you potentially reading this know the true nature of my malady. I know it seems like I may spend more time explaining things than I should, but…. OK. So yeah. Maybe I do, but this topic is one that really needs to be expounded upon. If you read my blog’s “Under the Hood” section or the introductory paragraph formerly pinned to the top of the corresponding Face Book page, you may recall mention of mad cow disease and other microscopic tormentors afflicting my person. I realized today that most people have no idea what I’m talking about. So here it is. The truth. The whole truth. The whole horrifying truth. At least the first part of it anyway. So help me Rod of Asclepius or Caduceus of Hermes. Whichever you prefer. Reader’s choice, really. Unless you work for the World Health Organization and swear your snakey stick is the only correct one.

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As a military dependent in my mid-teens, I found myself living in Germany during roughly the same time period in which several calamities befell Europa. Chernobyl went up and we were forced to stay indoors for days on end with our chief form of entertainment being the watching of birds outside in the hopes we’d see them go bald or begin to glow. Italian Wines were giving people lead poisoning, which didn’t really distress me as I had yet to discover the joys of fermented produce. That would come soon though. We had armed and armored Soldiers guarding us in school because the US had yet to take out the Libyan threat.

Then there was an outbreak of mad cow disease. At the time I thought this bore no impact on my life since I typically favored German pork (by God those people cook the best pig in the world). Additionally, the meat we ate almost always came from the commissary on post which was stocked with American meat and produce. I never even got to see a mad cow.

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(It’s a great song. Look it up sometime.)

Some time later we returned to the States and my maternal grandmother was facing surgery. They wanted a blood supply, and as luck would have it we shared a common blood type. I guess it’s also beneficial to get your blood from family for a reason they tried to explain. The nurse doing the explaining was quite distracting to a boy in his teens and I can’t tell you a single thing she said after “Hello”. The unfortunate looking vampire taking our blood was not nearly so distracting and I clearly remember her asking if we’d traveled through or lived in Europe during the mid-80s. Before I could open my mouth, I saw my mother shaking her head in an unmistakable “No” from behind the frightful phlebotomist. I quickly lied with a “no” while cataloging the parentally sanctioned fibbery for future ammunition. I later asked my mother why she had me do this thing she’d always taught me not to do. She explained that due to the mad cow outbreak in Europe, the US medical community couldn’t risk spreading the disease.

“So you would have me do it?” I asked. “Who are you? Nergal?”

“What in God’s name are you talking about?” She seemed genuinely perplexed.

“Exactly! Nergal: The Mesopotamian god of death, pestilence, and plague! Or would it be Nergala to make it feminine? I’m likely to reduce the US population by a third and I don’t even know how Mesopotamian naming conventions work!” I was despondent.

She blinked.

“You’ve turned me into a plague rat like the ones loosed on Medieval Europe by North African nations!”

“That is unfounded conspiracy theory,” She corrected.

“I read it somewhere.”

“I should have never encouraged that in you.”

“What?”

“Reading,” She said without hint of humor.

I know what you are thinking right about now, but you are mistaken. That little convo IS essential to the plotting of how I got this way. You’ll note that she never once denied the fact that I have mad cow disease. Boom! I need the world to know this for two reasons.

1) If you get it, it isn’t because of me. It’s Nergala’s fault (Love you Mom).

2) Mad cow is often misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s disease. When I start losing it, please have them consider all options.

It gets even more convoluted, but that is a story for another time.

Fun With Engineers

So how did I get to this point? Perhaps a review of my nightly log of events may help. Then again, it may just serve to chart my descent into the mud and mosquito choked misery that eventually landed me in the hospital. That last bit is technically unfounded, but for the life of me I can’t imagine where else I might have picked up Lyme’s disease especially considering that it corresponded with my return home from this debacle.

March 10: It’s a good thing we got here at three in the morning. Had we not, they wouldn’t have been able to get accountability of everyone so we could then sleep on the sidewalk for six hours, propped up on our bags while we waited for the bus. I’m showing up at nine in the morning next time.

March 11: I’ve calmed a bit since my last entry. I just wonder if we set the tone of this exercise by bringing everyone in six hours early. Turns out that every echelon below the Battalion Commander bumped up the time when we were supposed to be there. So basically, he said be there at seven a.m. and everyone under him moved that time to something 15 minutes earlier when they passed the message downstream but felt like jerks for their practical joke and showed up in a display of belated solidarity.

*So here is something to brighten up my day: A positive note to self. When the sun last set on me, I was in the Georgia low country. I was greeted this morning by a light drizzle, grey skies, and steam rising off of a Mississippi bayou. I do love the South.

March 14: It has been raining for the past fifty hours. As soon as my soul becomes slightly less water logged, I will resume recording events. I don’t love all of the South.

March 15: I told a counterpart that the mac-n-cheese at breakfast was nasty. He then informed me that it was actually scrambled eggs. I’m not sure where he got that idea unless it was the overwhelming odor of sulfur. Still, the texture and consistency was undeniably pasta-ish. There was also a nickel size hunk of a questionable meat product they claimed was steak. I’m pretty sure that if it did come from a terrestrial bovine that it was slices of unwashed boiled hoof. The highpoint of the meal was a lovely oatmeal/brown rice medley that only had a mild numbing effect on the tongue and throat.

March 16: Perhaps at this point considering this adventure to be something of a personal winter is a bit misguided as it gets uncomfortably warm at points. I’ve decided not to brave the dining facility for breakfast. Despite the delightful numbing effect of the oatmeal/brown rice thing during consumption, it provided a violent form of sensory overload on the downstream side.
*On an interesting note, I have saluted 4,357 and 1\2 times. The 1\2 salute was due to a hesitation while rendering the greeting of the day. I found myself unable to ascertain the gender of the Captain to whom I was rendering proper courtesies. Fortunately, he\she was note paying attention and I was able to drop the half salute.

March 17. Day three of my personal fall. I choose fall because despite the best efforts of the cooks, I am still alive. The days are starting to meld into an uninterrupted line of bad ideas punctuated only by more food. I’m only aware of the date at this point because of the well intentioned St. Patrick’s day greetings.
I stayed completely away from the dining facility today as a personal favor to my driver’s olfactory sensitivities. This proved a prudent move as the convoy took eight hours to traverse less than fifty miles.
I fear that mutiny is on the horizon stemming from the absence of hot meals. I shall need to make an example of someone in order to maintain discipline. Perhaps a plank walking at Alligator Lake. Look it up. Narrow your search to the Fort Polk area. It’s real.

March 18. Day four in my own personal fall. I’ve learned much despite my discomfort. For instance: I just learned that sleep apnea is not just dangerous to the sufferer, but risks the few meager hours of sleep all around the guy in the cot nearest the door. Had mutinous sedition still stalked our ranks, he would make a fine candidate for a disciplinary example. His counterpart on the other end of our “great hall” grinding out a higher pitched counterpoint might also serve should the need arise.
At some point during the night, the clothing I had become quite literally attached to became self-aware and had to be put down. I cannot abide menu request out of clothes despite our unbroken eight-day relationship. Call it what you will, but symbiotic relations with trousers makes me uncomfortable.
After two days of nothing but the digestible plastic mix with copious amounts of saturated fat that the Army jokingly refers to as “Meal Ready to Eat” or MRE, the cooks have returned to their playful shenanigans. Lasagna? Still not sure. And what were those oval-esque chunks of what I think were meat? My ex pants would have liked it I think.

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MRE Chili with Beans (I think)

March 19. Day five. I asked for the corned beef hash at breakfast to which the server replied “Uh. That’s oatmeal, Chief”. I put my tray back and sought out pop tarts and granola bars. I am obviously at some entry level of gastrointestinal hell. I am not alone. The Company XO has reached an advanced stage of this yet unnamed malady. He doesn’t even exhale anymore. He simply inhales then levitates momentarily. I thought the engineers were running a vibe roller near our HQ at one point. I am sure he will explode soon and take out several Soldiers in the blast. Regrettably, I am convinced that I am not far behind him. On the bright side, if this new disease I have discovered does indeed kill me, I will be immortalized like Madame Curie. The down side is that our manners of demise may look similar once I’ve run down the curtain and joined the Choir Invisible.
Now that I think about it, maybe I should get a Geiger counter to the DFAC.

March 20. Day …… Six of the exercise? I could have sworn I left home on the10th. I just learned that it is Friday. Not sure how I was still on Tuesday. This very well may be the most elaborate ruse ever pulled by an entire unit on one person. The good news is that I am onto them. I refused all alleged victuals and seem to have entered a period of lucidity. It is plain to see that I have been being drugged at the chow hall. To what end, I cannot yet say. Maybe we stand on the cusp of perfecting MK Ultra and I am the guinea pig. Maybe I’m like Dolph Lungren (without all the muscle) in Universal Soldier. Being a Unisol looks like it sucked though. I don’t like this experiment anymore.
The XO is a lost cause. He persists in consuming mass quantities of all that the “cooks” put before him. He has yet to explode, but his voice is definitely two octaves higher. It’s quite reminiscent of inhaling helium and he seems perplexed by my reaction to him speaking. Coughing fits failed to cover my mirth during his brief so I gave up the pretense. Apparently this is frowned on in the Army. I would never have guessed that the service cherishes pretense.

March 21: Today we finished loading our equipment back onto rail cars and ourselves onto buses. Several cases of hypothermia later and at least one heat casualty all in the same day, the task force has learned a lot about Louisiana weather. Oh! And we also had one hydraulic excavator accidentally discover an underground stream, much to the operator’s chagrin, making this the most memorable training exercise in which I’ve taken part. All is not lost. Personally, I gained several valuable tidbits of good to know info from participating in this exercise.

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Field training lessons learned:

  • When your female commander is in your area of operations, lock the door to the porta-john. “Jesus peaches, Chief”! I swear she sounded like Pam from Archer when she said that.
  • Hydraulic excavators are not ideal for subterranean amphibious operations.
  • A three-day exercise takes ten days.
  • Despite CDC protestations, Lyme’s disease IS TOO present in the South and probably transmitted to me when I got stabbed by the blind fish I caught by hand while standing in waist deep mud.

Vodka, IVs, and Iraq

The floor of our barracks room in a commandeered Iraqi building on Camp Taji had a scrap of ancient brown carpet that resembled sand paper more so than it resembled carpet. It now looked like we had just sacrificed a small animal on it.

So let me back this up just a little.

Soldiers will always find ways to occupy their minds and capitalize on any little bit of free time. This is still true even in the austere conditions in which we live while deployed. Some activities are harmless or even beneficial. A pick-up game of basketball, working out frustrations at the gym, constructing a grill out of whatever is available so we can enjoy something we’ve charred as a community, or any number of things often taken for granted back home. Then there are the odd things one could reasonably expect not to see. My buddy and roommate, Trohizzle (name slightly altered) and I once witnessed medics engage in batting practice with expired IV bags. Other times we will find mischief because it just feels good to get away with something. We don’t always get away with things though. Trohizzle and I were forced to dismantle our potato mortar that we’d planned to mount to the rood of our living accommodations. The idea was to lob rotting produce into the area in which our battery’s vehicles were parked when the crews were prepping for mission. We could have even hit the First Sergeant in his smoking area and never be seen. It would have been brilliant! Thanks a lot, Chief. It was a good design. For me, the ultimate in “getting away with things” happened when Trohizzle and I scored a bottle of vodka. I then went to the dining facility and secured as many boxes of cranberry and orange juice as could fit in my uniform pants cargo pockets.

If you aren’t familiar with modern combat zones, there is this little thing called General Order One. It’s just a fancy way of saying that US Soldiers aren’t allowed to consume alcohol and are instead forced to look on while the Italians enjoyed wines, the Macedonians swilled Rakija, the Australian guzzled beer, or the South Africans imbibed on any one of the thousands of drink types they stockpiled. The South Africans really like to drink. A lot. Seriously. They had a bar in their maintenance bay that was better stocked than any I’ve ever seen.

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(Young Frankenstein 1974)

I’m pretty sure I looked like Igor in the image above when returning to my room with pilfered juice laden pockets. Coincidently, I made the same face after seeing the South African bar as well. And the first time I saw my wife. Pretty much every time I see something that catches my eye. I’m positive that this is why my wife can read me so well. I make this face often.

It had to be winter because we were still working days (we worked nights in the summer to avoid the worst of the heat) which was good because it would have seemed over-the-top wrong to get off work at seven in the morning and debauch myself with hot fruity vodka drinks. Everybody knows hot fruity contraband is best consumed under the cover of darkness. So we did. And it was awful and glorious and we felt a little bit like men again.

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(The Shawshank Redemption 1994)

We’d gotten away with it despite a Lieutenant losing his weapon and inducing a mass formation at 2 A.M. in which the whole battery had to account for weapons. This is how I found myself inebriated in the middle of the war in Iraq, wobbling at the back of a formation while holding an M16 and 210 rounds of ammo. I’ve never felt more redneck in my life.

The next morning was as one might expect after splitting nearly two liters of vodka between two guys. We were miserable, but it was worth it. We also had a plan of action to correct our misery. We’d convinced the medics at batting practice to spare two bags of normal saline and we’d both been through the combat life saver’s course in which Soldiers are taught how to start an IV. Voila! Instant hangover cure! Trohizzle applied the tourniquet and deftly inserted the needle. He popped the tourniquet off and stood to admire his handy work. It was then that he realized he’d failed to free the catheter from the needle or even hook up tubing. He stood bent over with his hands cupped and rapidly filling with my blood.

“What are you going to do? Put it back?” I asked while laughing.

With that he opened his hands and stood.

I never did get my bag of saline.

On Spicket Docility and Other Entomological Myths

According to research, the Camel Cricket is harmless and timid. The researchers suggesting such are obviously terrible at their jobs. First of all, these cursed things aren’t even well named. When I discovered the species I dubbed them with a more appropriate moniker: Spickit. Since this species is clearly a mash-up of a cricket and a spider, Spicket just works better. They also kind of remind me of a tick but leggier. Grandticky Longlegs is just too much of a mouthful to be practical though. The second bit the bug specialist types got wrong is in regards to the alleged harmless and timid nature. They aren’t harmless or even mildly timid. They also sport a highly evolved social structure that will become clear as you read. I have personal case studies backing up my claims. What do these entomologists have? That’s right. Opinions.

On Spicket Harmlessness

0200 hours. Training area Tom somewhere on the Korean peninsula. I crawled into my sleeping bag for some much needed down time. In case you aren’t aware of how these things work in cold weather, the fewer articles of clothing you wear the warmer the sleeping bag keeps you. I did keep my boxers on just because there was typically only a foot of space between cots in our tent. Nobody wants to wake at two a.m. with an unwashed naked dude standing over them. I’m considerate like that. After a few minutes my sleeping bag began to warm comfortably and I began to drift off. I scratched absently at my chest and was jolted awake by what I was sure was a wasp or a spider. It felt a lot like a sting and I extracted myself from the sleeping bag at a high rate of speed propelled by nothing but my glutes working in a rapid scissor-like fashion. With my flashlight I found that a Spicket had lay claim to my accommodations and was perched on a fold of cloth with bits of my flesh still hanging from his mouth. I almost crushed it with my M16 but it retreated deeper into the folds of my bed and the army doesn’t like it when you wield a rifle like a fly swatter. Then I had an epiphany. I closed the mouth of the sleeping bag and took it outside the tent and shook it out. The Spicket bite left a raised welt that burned and itched for days. Harmless nature debunked! Take that, entomologists!

*Graphic Representation

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On Spicket Timidity

Several weeks later and back at my barracks I had one assault me in the shower. It was so large I could see its eyes tracking my movement and I swear I saw some intelligence in there. All I did was pull back the curtain and it began leaping at my nude form. After unleashing a string of profanity coupled with many instantly fabricated words, I tried to reason with it.

“Look, you,” I said. “I get it. I don’t like my nude form either, but it is more offensive to the nose right now than to the eyes. Umm. Yeah. So I don’t see a nose, so I can see your point, but this isn’t going to work.”

It seemed to take “this isn’t going to work” as a declaration of hostilities and began lunging at me again. With each leap it splayed its legs wide and threw its belly at whatever the intended target was. It was seriously exactly like a face hugger from the Alien movies. Except it didn’t have a tail. Or a mouth underneath. And it was more crunchy sounding every time it landed in the tub. So maybe exactly isn’t the best choice of words here, but it felt exactly like a face hugger attack. I’d anticipated this and applied a liberal coating of baby oil to my entire body in the hopes that if it did land on me it would not be able to gain a toe-hold. I forgot to mention the toes! The danged thing had discernable toes! I also donned my Army issue body armor but took the plates out. I just felt like steel and Kevlar plates was overkill at this point, but I was interested in the groin protector that dangles from the front of the armor vest.

*Spicket/Facehugger comparison

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The donning of armor came after my second attempt to rid myself of this violent bug with a honey badger’s attitude. It takes two hands to operate an ad hoc flamethrower comprised of an aerosol can and cigarette lighter. It takes one hand to draw the shower curtain behind which my source of torment lurked. I was simply not fast enough to draw the curtain and deploy my weaponry before the Spicket launched a preemptive strike. Wielding the shower curtain like a matador employs a cape, I beat a hasty advance to the rear (I hate retreating), regrouped, and donned body armor. I also determined that my homemade flammenwerfer required my hands be too close to the target and opted for hot shower water and an open drain as my new weapons. I began by proffering my helmet on one side as a decoy kind of like you might see in a movie to trick a sniper into firing and exposing his position. I then turned the water on as high as I could and began trying to wash a now hyper hoppy flesh eating Spicket down the drain.

It took some effort, but my superior skills as a Soldier eventually won out over his unadulterated rage and hopping skills.

Spickets: 1. Me: 2. Timid fallacy perpetuated by entomologists: Debunked!

Closing Comments

It occurs to me (and should to you now as well) that Spicket society is largely unstudied and drastically misunderstood. It is clear to me from my own encounters that they are only semi-isolationist and practice a caste system like some South American ants. There are the drones who go out into the world and bring back food (aka: me-flesh). There are also Spickets similar to the ant soldier caste except these are more like lone assassins or Mafioso hitmen. The one that lay in wait behind my shower curtain was one of these. If I had just killed the bitey one, I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have been able to put out that Spicket fatwa on me.

How I Got Kicked Out of a Korean Temple. Sort of. By My Wife.

Korean Buddhist temples. There are some extravagantly beautiful ones here and there are some that are spectacular in their simplicity. I guess the same could be said for churches back in the States. The Catholics build some of the most beautiful and elaborate places of worship I’ve ever seen, while a multitude of other denominations might reside in prefabricated steel buildings that are completely bare of any adornment whatsoever. With these Western places of worship in mind, I find it odd to just go wandering into someone’s church or temple to go look at it. Especially if there were people at worship there.

Apparently it is an acceptable thing to do in most temples in South Korea though. They even have little “Temple Stay” tours in which you go live as a monk for the weekend. Eating nothing but mugwort and raw garlic for dinner and then sleeping on a stone bed with nothing but your spiritual acumen to keep your body warm does not sound like my thing after a hard day of contemplating a rock while sitting cross-legged in an ant bed. But hey. You do you. I’ll stick to the tours on which I am free to come and go. What isn’t going to happen for my wife to accompany me on such a trip. She seems fairly certain that I’m banned for life and tracked on some monk monitored all-points bulletin social media site where they have reached a new level of oneness and demand profuse amounts of Kung Fu as a means to right a cosmic wrong.

I’m not sure what the mug wort and raw garlic eating is all about. I’m actually not even sure that it is a real thing. It is present in the Korea creation myth in which a tiger and a bear had to eat nothing but that for 20 days while forced to live in a completely dark cave in order to be granted human form. Apparently the tiger was all “Screw that noise” and left the cave with the now halitosis suffering bear. Long story short, the bear became a human woman, married the deity who subjugated her to this treatment, and gave birth to the first Korean king in the world’s first known case of Stockholm Syndrome. Anyway, I think this is why I think Korean monks practice this weird diet that they may not really practice.

It would be a real shame if they did though. There is literally food everywhere in this country. It’s like a national pastime or something to wander about aimlessly and eat things all day. Go to a Korean rest stop off their main highway. They contain no less than 10 different restaurants, two convenience stores, and not a single danged trash can present in the entire country. Just about every street corner has some vendor of something edible, but sometimes not so edible. Do NOT even bother to try Bundaegi. I’m sure that’s spelled wrong, but it’s just boiled silkworm larvae that taste an awful lot like a urinal smells. On the more delectable side of things are some pretty spectacular frozen treats. A particularly popular one among Koreans and Americans alike is this green colored melon popsicle. It is absolutely wonderful during the heat of summer.

The point is that when in Korea, do as Koreans. This means walking around all day long and looking at things. Between looking at things you have to buy things to eat while you walk to the next thing at which you are going to look. So we did. We each had one of those popsicles I mentioned, but it was quite hot out and I was slow to finish it and ended up with sticky hands. Right before we walked into a quaint little temple in the Korean folk village. There was this stone wall in the foyer with the giant face of Korean Buddha carved into it. There was a gravel bed at the base of the wall and water perpetually ran from the top of the wall, over Buddha’s face, and disappeared into the gravel below. It produced a tranquil sound that seemed to be an overtone to the deep toned background of chanting. I’m sure there is a technical term for the effect, but I’m not a musician. You’d have to ask my wife. Some monk I presumed to be an important man walked among the crowd blessing people or little patches of cloth they brought to him. We were really quite fascinated by it all and stood in reverent silence, soaking the cultural experience in. I was particularly pleased at the sight of my wife enjoying herself so much and I stayed a little behind her so I could watch her soak it all in. My tranquility was brought to an abrupt halt when I noticed the chanting had stopped and that every person, including the monks, had stopped what they were doing and were now openly glaring in our direction. An angry sounding utterance in Korean was issued by one of the…parishioners? somewhere in the crowd. The important looking monk extended both arms out to the sides and made a motion that was obvious in its meaning. He was motioning for the people to remain calm even as he narrowed his eyes and began to inch (millimeter?) towards us. I was kind of impressed that he could narrow his eyes more than they were in their natural state, but he took on a look reminiscent of Clint Eastwood as he began addressing us in a firm but calm manner.

“Even people of other nations slow down and speak louder when trying to get foreigners to understand them,” I remember thinking. Then, “They’re onto us. They know we aren’t Korean or Buddhists”.

My wife turned and was already asking what I had done before she’d completely rounded on me. Upon completion of her turn her eyes flew open and all I could do was mutter “What?” around my popsicle stick. Then I decided that there must be something behind me that was freaking everyone out, so I turned that way while using my pants to dry my now clean hands.

The wife began gesticulating in an overly dramatic fashion that matched her tone but not her words. “Did you seriously just wash your hands on Buddha’s face”?

“She washed her face on it,” I said, indicating an ancient looking Korean woman.

“She was performing a blessing!” My wife began gesturing to the door as if telling me to get out like I was some outsider. “Just play along,” she bellowed. “Lower your gaze, bow, mumble something contrite sounding, and go”.

I did so and she followed me still yelling and gesticulating like a mad woman.

We rounded the corner and I kissed her. “That was some quick thinking,” I said. Truly amazed.

“This is why I can’t take you anywhere”.

“This is why I should take you everywhere,” I began. “Hey! They have cuttlefish on a stick over by that museum….”

“Stop talking”.

I do love this woman.