Friday, August 25, 2006


Photo: "Port Austin Shoreline," copyright William McCain.

"And we keep driving through the night,
It's a late goodbye, such a late goodbye..."

--Poets of the Fall, "Late Goodbye"

I got my leave form yesterday. Liz and I are frantically trying to pack and run last-minute errands. We fly out of Germany tomorrow morning, and will arrive back in Michigan sometime in the early afternoon. We've got a rental car lined up, and after we land, we'll have a two-hour drive up north to my family's home in the Thumb area.

I'm stressed out about the preparations, but on the other hand I'm also ecstatic. I've been waiting for this for a long time. It's always natural for one to pine for
the places where one grew up, but for me this is different. I didn't have many friends growing up, so as a child, it was effectively the place, rather than the people, that sustained and raised me. Some might call this a bad thing, but I don't. I feel that the long periods alone ("on walkabout," as my father jokingly called it) gave me an appreciation for solitude and reflection, an appreciation that I don't think many of my comrades share. The last few nights, I've dreamed of the shores of Lake Huron; sunrises on the pier. I've dreamt of keening gulls and water. I've dreamt of air that smells of purple lilac. These things, even all these years, have stayed fresh in my memory. I've made my wife promise me that, no matter what, I'll get at least one good long "walkabout," alone, while back in the States. She understands. This is something personal; an obligation I feel compelled to uphold.

I feel relieved. I feel scared. I feel free. This is no mere vacation. This is a pilgrimage. Possibly the last.

Photo: "Port Austin Sunset," copyright William McCain.

I can never afford to forget that.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Bad Day

I fucked up tonight, argued with my wife and said some pretty cruel things. Even though I'm still mad at her, I'm mainly worried about her. She left without saying where she was going, and I just want to make sure she's okay. I'm scared and upset right now, and I just want her to be back home. I want things in general to be better; even myself.

It's only because of her that I've been able to deal with going to Iraq. It's only because of her that I feel like anyone thinks I'm worth anything.

I've always fucked up with the people I love. I don't want to repeat that trend with her.


Friday, August 11, 2006

Long Week

My posting is becoming less frequent, and I feel badly about that. Still, it's been a looooong week. I spent most of it "in the field," which should say about enough on that subject, really. For those, however, who wish for further clarification, let me explain:

Ruck march... 80-some pound combat load. 20-odd pound body armor. 7-pound M-16. Convoy exercises. Simulated firefights. 20+ hour workdays.

'Nuff said? Good. I thought so. Also, my Internet shit out. The person I was scamming wireless from must have moved. Oh well. Sucks to be me.

Upside, though? I just booked a flight home. Going to be returning to the States for a few weeks later this month. Get to see my family for a time before I ship out for Iraq. This makes me happy, but there's too much heavy stuff there to cover in this post. I promise I'll have something a little more substantive for hungry readers over the next few days. Meanwhile, keep hope alive. I'll catch y'all bitches at tha crossroads. For rill.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Rise, Lord Vader

And now, I reveal my secret identity:

"Gasp..... Hiss..... Gasp.... Hissss..."

Ha! Gotcha!

Sorry about that. I just finally finished putting together my gear, and I was feeling in a playful mood. After my wife got home from work, I stomped around in this shit loudly humming The Imperial March from "Star Wars" for about twenty minutes. I'm sure my sex life is going to be nonexistent for a great deal longer than that.

Seriously, though, there is something truly fascinating about the nature of combat gear. Your identity is lost within it, hidden in ways that, before I had joined the Army, I don't think I would have been able to understand. Admittedly, I could probably draw a few choice parallels between "Star Wars" and the nature of our struggle against a ragtag enemy opposed to our hegemonic order of world affairs, and the ancient religious beliefs which underpin that conflict. But then again, I'd be too busy trying to Force-choke people. I'm sure that in the past, many soldiers have used this anonymous empowerment to abandon all notions of civility or compassion. I'm sure the uniform does that to a lot of people, as does any symbol of power.

"I find your lack of faith disturbing."

But rest easy, men and women of America! The rest of us just goose-step around our living rooms, making loud fake respirator noises through our mouths! These are the brave souls who keep your country safe, folks! Make sure to show your support!

I am the biggest fucking dork ever.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Green to Grey

This past week, our company finally made the transition into the twenty-first century.

The Army has been going through some big changes over the last few years, part of a larger transformation effort set in motion by the Secretary of the Army Francis J. Harvey. Among other things, these changes include base closures, equipment modifications, and the reorganization of the Army's structure from the current division-based model into one focused on smaller, more self-sufficient Brigade Combat Teams. The most obvious change for soldiers, however, is the most visible one--the switch from the twenty-five year old Battle Dress Uniform to the newer, more ergonomic Army Combat Uniform.

Most people recognize the BDU. It first entered service in 1981, and has been in steady use by all branches of the military ever since. The familiar getup features a mottled woodland color scheme of green, tan, brown, and black, and is worn with the traditional "spit-shine" black combat boots. Over the years, soldiers have learned to take great pride in this uniform, spending many a Sunday afternoon laboriously starching and pressing in preparation for Monday's in-ranks inspections. The boots, likewise, have warranted much attention as well. One could write a book covering all the competing methods for obtaining the best shine. But after twenty-five years, and a shift away from traditional jungle warfare, the Army has decided it's time for something newer; something better-suited to the needs of the modern warfighter. This decision has led to the creation of the new Army Combat Uniform, or ACU.

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Above: Detail, Army Combat Uniform (M.Freeman)

The ACU was first announced back when I was in Basic. Ever since, the new threads have met up with controversy. The ACU is a complete redesign of the Army uniform, boasting an array of changes, some well-received, others less so. Most obviously, the ACU features a color scheme that, rather than distinguishing between Woodland and Desert, blends the two into a universal pattern intended to protect the soldier between shifting environments, both rural and urban. This new color scheme consists of a mottled digital pattern mixing dark grey, moss-green, and tan. Ostensibly, Army leaders hope that, by keeping the pattern color-neutral and low-key, soldiers will blend in better wherever they go, even if the color matching isn't always a perfect fit.

There are other big changes as well. The traditional black boots are out, and have now been replaced by the beige desert boots commonly seen these days in Iraq and Afghanistan. These boots, of course, require no polishing, and furthermore the uniform itself is significantly lighter, and has been designed to be wrinkle-free, wash-and-wear. There will be no long starch-sessions with this uniform; no Sundays wasted or money spent on dry-cleaning. The pocket layout has been changed, relocating several and angling others so that soldiers in full "battle-rattle" can more easily access the things they need. Name tapes and patches now are removable, held in place by velcro, and in addition most of the buttons on the uniform have been replaced by velcro and heavy-duty plastic zippers. I've heard it said that the velcro is noisy in combat situations, but honestly, if you're in a situation where reaching into your pocket will violate "noise discipline," I'd say you're pretty much fucked anyway.

Like I said before, I've heard a lot of carping about this uniform. I've heard it said that the velcro is noisy, and wears out over time. I've heard that the patches can be easily ripped off or lost. I've heard complaints about the color pattern, and about soldiers looking, at a distance, like pieces of chalk. I've heard complaining about how rolling of the sleeves in hot weather is not authorized. I've even heard complaining about how the ease of maintenance violates Army tradition. But honestly? I like the new uniforms. I like the look of the uniforms, and I like the other changes that affect functionality. I'll agree, the pattern isn't perfect, but I've tested it myself at home, and I find that, on the whole, the overall effect is remarkably versatile. Soldiers now won't have to stand out like sore thumbs when viewed walking up over the edge of a dune, or when moving through shady environments that don't always look perfectly green or perfectly tan. I also like the fact that that I no longer have to shine boots, and can spend more of my downtime on hobbies, or with my wife. I like the the fact that this uniform was designed with practicality, not tradition, in mind, and despite a few minor gripes--the new fabric doesn't always breathe like it should, and the boots are difficult to really care for--I'm happy. Plus, I'm glad to be serving in the Army during a time of such profound change, and I view the new look as emblematic of that change. I feel like I'm standing on the leading edge of something, and to be honest, that's a nice feeling. I'm sure we'll get used to the new gear over time, and I imagine that one day we'll even come to be fond of the slightly Gestapo-looking color scheme, and complain just as vocally when something new comes along the way.

Now, if only the Army would spend the money to outfit me with an M-4 carbine instead of the cumbersome and fickle M-16. Then we'd really be in business.