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Archive for April 15th, 2008

Now I have the immigrant song stuck in my head

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

One of the less fun aspects of being in the military is the way you will be utilized on a day-to-day basis, while in garrison. For instance, you may have just finished training on a new high-tech computer system. Or learned how to speak an exotic and obscure language. You might even be qualified on some sort of armored killing machine capable of destroying and terrifying the enemies of our nation.

But at the end of the day, a normal day, you are a grounds-keeping specialist.

I, myself spent six months doing my initial entry training, Basic, Illustrator training at Fort Mead, followed by jump school. I was a lean, mean, Photoshopping machine, who was also able to jump out of airplanes for no suitably explored reason. And I had been assigned to PSYOP at Fort Bragg where I would use my newly acquired skills to help craft propaganda to confuse and demoralize our enemies. And on my first day at my brand new unit, they told me I was being assigned to “Post Beautification Detail”. This turned out to be Army-speak for “Here’s a weed-whacker. Have a nice month doing lawn care.”

And so I spent the next 30 days taking my frustrations out on the various North Carolina weeds. During this time, one particular incident does stick out for me. At one point, me and my elite post beautification team were handling the grass near the Special Operations Command building and we came across some device on the ground. It looked like a little tiny radar installation and was presumably some sort of high-speed communication device. It looked like someone had being using it and just wandered away. I noticed that it had some sort of yellow and black warning sticker on it, maybe the size of a pack of cigarettes. I wondered what it said, and got close enough to read it.

“Danger. Non-aligning isotopes. Do not approach closer than 10 feet while in operation.”

“Hmmmm,” I though to myself, standing maybe two feet away from this device, “I think I will run away screaming like a little girl now.”

To this day I still have no idea what that device was.

A fun tradition at Ft Bragg was that once a year they would have Post Clean-Up event. This meant that for a week, everybody got to help with the lawn care. And by everybody I, of course, mean the enlisted along with a few unlucky officers who had evidently pissed off someone important.

One particular year my unit got assigned to clean up the Mata-Mile.

For those of you that are not familiar with Ft Bragg, the Mata-Mile is one of those general purpose areas which gets used by different groups for different activities. For most soldiers on the post, it was a path through the woods, suitable for running or ruck-marches.

For every person living in the nearby town it was a path through the woods suitable for dumping things like old washing-machines, tires, dead hookers, and boxes of unlabeled urinalysis samples.

And for high ranking officers, it was a path through the woods, which needed to be cleaned on a yearly basis. To hear it told to us, the cleanliness of this path had a direct and urgent effect on our nation’s ability to defend itself, even if no one could ever explain why.

So one week we are out there, raking the dirt path. Not raking things out of the dirt path. Just dragging a rake through the dirt. Not my idea, just following orders. So my unit is out there, industriously raking the dirt when a Captain came out with a new assignment. He wants us to go into the woods around the trail, and collect all of the pine needles and pine cones. And then to make them into piles under the trees. To make the area look more natural.

I will repeat this, and highlight a few points that might not be obvious.

This Captain, who is a grown man, who has graduated from college, and presumably came from some sort of officer training program. A man who has been in the military for at least five years or so. And he orders us to go make piles of pine cones and pine needles under all of the trees. To make the woods more “natural looking”.

After issuing this order he wandered away. Presumably to dispense his wisdom to other needy soldiers. One of my NCOs scratched his head and went, “Natural? Do piles of pine-cones ever happen naturally?”

And I decided to be helpful.

“I thinks so Sgt. Squirrels do that sometimes.”


“Yep. It’s how they bury their dead. You know, when they’re not burning them in little tiny long-ships.”