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Archive for September, 2009

So I noticed a sudden and inexplicable blip in traffic on my fledgling little blog of blah recently – which I found strange, since a) I’ve barely had time to feed and water the little tyke, and b) I’ve done exactly zero to drum up traffic. So I checked the search terms … and shock me, shock me, shock me – it’s all from soldiers Googling their little green fingers off trying to figure out whether or not BOLC II has been canceled.

Well? Is it canceled or what? C'mon, LT ... I didn't Google for silly pictures and random drivel. Spill it already.

Well? Is it canceled or what? C'mon, LT ... I didn't Google for silly pictures and random drivel. Spill it already.

It’s not surprising, I suppose. As my beautiful era of OCS innocence was drawing to a close, the rumor that BOLC II was set to be canceled was the subject of much discussion. There are doubtless hundreds of young soon-to-be Lieutenants out there right this very minute, desperate to determine their BOLC II-related future. But before I get to that, I’d just like to point out that Googling “canceled” brought up a strangely impressive number of boobie pictures. Like this one:

Maybe its just me, but I would not cancel her.

Maybe its just me, but I would not cancel her.

Then again, every search on any search engine brings up lots of boobs. That’s what they invented the Internet for.

But back to the subject at hand: is BOLC II canceled? (Hey – I’ll bet if I keep typing that little phrase, I could climb right up the search rankings. But that would be silly.)

So is it? BOLC II – canceled?

Now you're just being mean.

Now you're just being mean.

All right, here’s the ice cream scoop, the straight poop, the goopety-goop: yes. Sort of. Probably.

We’ve had briefings from both our battalion commander and our brigade commander, and both have mentioned the impending disappearance of the slutty evil that is BOLC II. Huzzah! I have good intel that they’re transition to something they’re calling “BOLC-B” … which is basically a new name for the same old, same old OBC system – in which newly commissioned officers were sent straight to their branch school without this strange purgatory of BOLC II.

Even our platoon mentor and cadre NCO’s have mentioned it. We are supposed to be among the very last BOLC II classes: some say there will be one more starting in October; others suggest there will be one more – for this company – starting in November. Then its buh bye BOLC, catch you on the flip side, don’t let the door hit you where the good lord split you!

So … yes. If you have orders to BOLC II that put you in Ft. Benning or Ft. Sill later than November of this year, you probably ain’t coming. Get ready for the FRAGO that’s headed your way. Yeah, you!

Aw. Sad. No BOLC II for you.

Aw. Sad. No BOLC II for you.

But … wait. Simple answers are for softies and sissies, and I hate to send you out into that good night completely unprepared for yet another FRAGO that may be headed in your direction (plus, I can’t resist stirring the rumor pot just a little myself). So let me complicate your complexity:

While all of the above is true – that BOLC II should be canceled very, very soon – I happened to have a very interesting conversation with an officer who was, strangely enough, assessing the BOLC II program. Which, of course, makes no sense, even by Army standards … since you don’t usually assess courses that are disappearing.

Unless they aren’t.

And this particular officer told me that BOLC II was actually going to be reconstituted, down-sized, and moved entirely to Ft. Knox.

True? Not true? You decide. All I know is what I heard, straight from a superior officer’s rumor-creating orifice. So tell your friends and keep the rumor mill spinning round and round. You know you want to.

Is BOLC II canceled? (Ha!) Probably. Almost certainly. Unless, of course, its not.

Welcome to the Army. Enjoy your stay.

Things change around here. FRAGO's are fun.

Things change around here. FRAGO's are fun.

I feel so dirty right now. Blogging for five minutes and already a traffic whore. Very sad.

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So remember that promised “gentleman’s course” with banker’s hours – off every night by 1700, plenty of free time, all that jazz? Well, yeah. Not so much. It turns out that I had no weekend … instead we spent 20 hours on the rifle range on Saturday. And while being company commander made it worse, of course, the truth is nobody has gotten much free time thus far.

It is an amazingly relaxed place – at least in comparison with OCS. We are “sir” to everyone, and even when the cadre NCO’s are calling you stupid … they do it respectfully. Cell phones are ubiquitous, and texting is rampant; we spent most of the first day at the range sleeping.

But time is limited. Saturday began at 0500 and ended at 0200 on Sunday morning … then one day off, and another full day at the range, ended at dinner time only because of a God-blessed thunderstorm that sent us all scurrying for cover.

There is a point here, and the point is this: blogging time is very short. At least so far – I have hopes that next week will be different (of course, somehow I got stuck being Platoon Leader (PL) for next week! So that free time thing may be limited then, too). It appears that the rumor mills got Ball-Lick II very, very wrong. Of course, that same rumor mill swears its all Alpha Company’s fault … and it does appear that Bravo Company is actually having short days and long, sweet nights of freedom.

Back to my point. Which is this: if I plan to blog this journey, I better do it in short posts when I have the chance. So here’s short post number one – submitted for your reading pleasure, as we prepare to go hop on a Disneyland-type convoy ops simulator, and sit in air-conditioned (fingers crossed!) comfort as we blow away bad guys. Should be fun.

For now, here are some educational photos. Note that these are random pieces of Google thievery – I’ll post my own shots from the range once I get the film in my ultra-cheap disposable camera developed.

This is not a rifle range at Ft. Benning. But still ... its a picture. Quit being so pushy.

This is not a rifle range at Ft. Benning. But still ... its a picture. Quit being so pushy.

Also not a Benning range. Not our rifle, either - that's a sniper rifle. But its a cool picture, now ain't it?

Also not a Benning range. Not our rifle, either - that's a sniper rifle. But its a cool picture, now ain't it?

Nope. Still not our range. But the targets look like that. Well, sort of. Just squint, okay?

Nope. Still not our range. But the targets look like that. Well, sort of. Just squint, okay?

Hey, an actually relevant picture! That's the rifle we're using: the M-4 carbine with collapsible stock, with the M-68 Close Combat Optic (CCO). It basically has a frickin' laser. Sweet.

Hey, an actually relevant picture! That's the rifle we're using: the M-4 carbine with collapsible stock, with the M-68 Close Combat Optic (CCO). It basically has a frickin' laser. Sweet.

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It is 0625 … we’ve been up for hours so we could gather in a homo-erotic semi-circle and spill our urine in front of our watching comrades. This strange ritual is known as a “piss test” – civilians might call it a urinalysis. In the Army, it must be done as early as possible; no fair if the sun is up! And of course they arrange it so you have to go so bad your bladder will explode by the time you get to the front of the line.

One of the (few) perks of this company commander gig is that I went to the front of the line, in case the cadre (that would be the NCO’s and officers who actually run the company, as opposed to student leaders like yours truly) issued a FRAGO (that would be “fragmentary order” – which is Army-speak for “we changed our mind about something now we’ll watch and laugh while you try to adjust your plans for 200+ people)”.

So now I have a few minutes to spare while the rest of the poor schmoes stand outside in the dark and do the I-gotta-pee dance.

There are already a thousand stories to tell, but for now I thought I’ll point my readers – both of them – to some other resources on BOLC II. Again, I realize the absolute futility of blogging about a course that may soon be shut down (although not as soon as some might think! More on that later …), but it amuses me.

There isn’t much out there, but there are a few good blogs and resources. So start clicking the links and read your way around to find out more than you’d ever want to know about what I’m up to.

The best blog, by far, is this one. He is very much not anonymous, which means he keeps it professional (read: dry), but its still the best source of information out there on BOLC II and IBOLC.

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It’s Wednesday night already. Reported into Ft. Benning late Monday night. By Tuesday afternoon, I discovered I had the unadulterated joy of serving as Alpha Company’s first commander.

After I picked my heart up off the floor – it actually hasn’t been that bad. Just time consuming; and what little extra time I have is needed for things like sleep.

Most tragic of all has been the news that I won’t get to see Kelly this weekend. We’ll be at the rifle range all day Saturday.

This post … sucks. But I am at Benning, I am in-processing, I am surviving leadership … and I’ll try to post something pithy and entertaining on Sunday, if not sooner.

Must sleep now.

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That’s where I’m headed – Ft. Benning, Georgia, for the 7 weeks of BOLC II, followed by 13 weeks of BOLC III (infantry BOLC), then off to somewhere sandy and unseasonably warm.

Here’s the short scoop on BOLC (basic officer leadership course):

BOLC I is your commissioning source. That can be ROTC, one of the service academies (West Point/USMA for the Army), or – as in my case – OCS.

BOLC II is where I’m headed next. It’s a course that should apparently be renamed “Officer Stuff for Dummies.” Which, you know, is perfect for me.

BOLC III is your branch school, where you learn what you actually need to know. If your a Military Police type, you go learn cop stuff; if your Military Intelligence, you go do crossword puzzles all day or something; if you’re branching Engineer, you apparently drink heavily and sleep in late; and if you’re foolish enough to branch Infantry – ahem – you sleep in muddy holes while people try to blow you up.

You get the idea.

If you want the Army’s version, you can follow links to learn all you’d like about BOLC II at Ft. Benning. They have it (for the moment) at Ft. Sill in Oklahoma, too; Google it if you’re curious. And of course there’s a lovely site all about infantry BOLC III at Benning.

The short version of the story on BOLC II is this: they started it a few years back (2005? 2006?) because they realized that all the Transportation and Quartermaster officers – the in-the-rear-with-the-gear types – were getting shot at in Iraq and Afghanistan and had almost no idea what to do about it. Some NCO had to show them which end of the rifle to point at the angry guys named Ahmed.

So the Army in its infinite wisdom created the new BOLC system to replace the old OBC (Officer Basic Course) system, in which everyone went straight from commissioning to their branch schools.

The idea is a simple and good one: all officers, from all branches, get together for 7 weeks (well, 5 once you get rid of in-processing and out-processing) of very basic infantry training. The infantry types, of course, tend to hate it and view it as a waste of time they could be spending in infantry school, or sending long whistful e-mails to Jessica Alba.

For everybody else, however, its a pretty sweet deal. All the admin types and JAG officers get to actually play with things that go boom. All sorts of weapons get to be fondled, and there is much exploding. Sounds fun, right?

Personally, I think its a great idea. Since I’m far removed from my active duty days, I see it as a very user-friendly introduction to infantry BOLC that is awaiting me right around the corner … I’ll take all the reviews and practice I can get.

But since its a good idea, the Army is, of course, canceling it. Or at least that’s the very strong rumor: word on the street (I’m so ghetto) has it that we’ll be one of the very last classes to go through BOLC II; by next year they should be back to a system like the old one.

Which means two things:

1) They obviously don’t care about those finance and supply officers getting shot at. Which is perfectly understandable.

2) The next 7 weeks of blogging will be almost entirely useless, since I’ll be chronicling a training environment that will soon cease to exist.

I find that amusing. I dig irony. And I have no intention of letting logic or good sense stop me from journaling the experience.

Take that, universe.

Next stop: Ft. Benning.

FOLMECRIF

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At some point I’ll have to tell the long, tedious, tawdry tale of Officer Candidate School (OCS).

OCS Symbol

This is not that post.

The short version: at the Moses-like age of 38, I re-enlisted to attend OCS and earn a commission as an officer in my state’s National Guard. I was a prior service active duty Marine and returned to the military as a SGT (E-5) specifically to attend OCS. I “chose” (heh! At some point I’ll explain the irony of my word choice there) to attend the traditional 18-month program. It’s comprised of a Phase 0 of a couple introductory drill weekends, then phase I requires a two-week vacation¬† in a Hell known as Ft. McClellan, Alabama (sweet home, my ass), followed by a long, long, long year of monthly drills for phase 2 (each weekend resembles a return to the worst day of boot camp, but with worse food and less sleep), followed by – oh, joy! – a final 2 week trip to Alabama (sweet home, my ass … did I say that already?) for phase 3.

It is a long, arduous, painful process. Much of the training is excellent – and they do an outstanding job of weeding out those who don’t want the gold bar badly enough.

I’ll start with the OCS stories at some point. But for now, it’ll all be about my happy days and blissful nights at Ft. Benning, starting in just 48 hours.

The OCS journey was worth it, by the way. And there are stories galore. But you’ll just have to wait on those, won’t you?

rank_12

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I assume its a universal question for anyone with a web presence: do I remain anonymous? If not, to what degree do I share private identifying information? And why are Ramen noodles so good yet so cheap?

The Ramen noodle question is a good one. The rest of it has been beaten to death in a thousand forums. Beaten like bad, bad horses that just refused to lay down and sleep.

beating-a-dead-horse

For most amatuer blagographers, the potential perils of unmasking on the Internet are rather obvious:

FIRED

Of course to be fair, the invisible shield of Internet anonymity holds plenty of benefits. Especially if you’re really freaky-deaky:

633664852493137404-anonymity

anon-poster

And everyone knows the dark side of the free-hate/free-love-with-no-consequences Wild Wild West nature of the Internet, from cyber stalking to all kinds of naughty nastiness and nasty naughtiness …

Um. Yeah. Not sure if this is an argument for anonymity or strongly against it.

Um. Yeah. Not sure if this is an argument for anonymity or strongly against it.

… to the ubiquitous trolls and safely sheltered Internet tough guys:

e-thug

And just to prove how serious and scholarly I am, here’s a graph. I don’t know what it means, but clearly I’ve done my research:

privacy_Opinions_Of_Anonymity-dg1

Now that I’ve had enough fun goofing and Googling, here’s the dilly yo. And I won’t belabor all the obvious problems and potential benefits associated with anonymity or the lack thereof; the visual aids up there cover it pretty well.

Here are my concerns: this blog will be primarily military for the next couple years, and that raises several issues. The first is that while dishing dirt on your civilian boss gets you fired, in the military it gets you imprisoned, or shot, or ostracized. I’m opposed to those things.

But here’s the problem: as mentioned in an earlier post, the sole essential ingredient of all compelling writing (and entertainment of all forms) is drama. Conflict. Human interest. Now while I realize this is a concern bordering on lunacy when my readership consists entirely of me, my dog, and this hand puppet named Steve … the truth is that perhaps someday, some poor soul might want to read this tripe.

And I’ve read the blogs, especially military blogs, where the author is revealed … and they tend to be bit bland. Like tuna fish without mayo. Like Oates without Hall.

That’s just too bad in my humble opinion – because its our personal stories that fascinate. It’s the deep, dark, personal truths about us, our relationships and our struggles, our hopes and our fears, that one time our douchebag boss gave his wife the clap after sleeping with an underage Filipino hooker …

That’s the stuff that’s fun to read. It’s interesting. All the best blogs are at least sort of anonymous (which is like being sort of pregnant, I digressulate once again), because the writers bare it all, they throw it all out there, good and bad and ugly.

The saddest part is that the military is so very ripe, pregnant if you will, with endless stories of conflict and drama and angst and bitterness and heartbreak and hope. And Filipino hookers. If a military writer remains anonymous, he gets to share all this stuff! Whee!

If not … well, not.

There are other concerns, of course. OPSEC and COMSEC, among others. (Look it up, civilians. I can’t hold your hand all day long). But mainly the reason to stay anonymous all boils down to a single statement of fact: if I post my pretty face and real name all over these pages, whoever is reading will want to boil their head in yogurt to escape the boredom.

Obviously, I can’t tell stories about my comrades – and there are some juicy ones, most of which involve Filipino hookers. I can’t say bad things about my chain of command. And in the military, I can’t even really delve into politics (not that I’m foolish enough to join that stupidity, but since I once said the same about blogging, I’m just covering my bases).

Clearly, I’m still undecided and indecisive. All of that officer training is paying off. I should probably just ask an NCO what to do and go have some coffee.

The downside of anonymity is obvious, especially on a blog like this – never intended to stir up trouble and sink into the mire of the political/religious/social debates of partisan yuckiness, but in which I might still want to tell a few interesting and ribald tales. Yeah, I said ribald. Hush, you.

That means no good pictures of yours truly. No personal stories with real details. No sharing the blog with friends and family, or at least not those inclined to link to it.

Sigh. Come to think of it, anonymity sucks. But so does blogging, as Mongo here is explaining:

angry_gorilla_small

I guess the choice boils down to a) being able to spill all the beans, dig up all the dirty details, and share stuff that’s truly compelling, including my own deepest feelings and thoughts; or b) keep it to a more civil level of discourse, get to show off pretty pictures and stuff, but skip the 1000 word rants on why my 3rd squad leader is a cockknocker.*

Now its time for some truth. Most of the above is only half-truth; this is real truth, and its hard truth. My biggest concern is my future soldiers, the men I will lead in combat.

To a young soldier, an officer is separate – different – almost non-human. They are not allowed to be too human; they have to be above the fray, calm in the face of conflict, never engaging in the petty or paltry. Officers are leaders and parents, but they are not friends; they are not peers. An officer who forgets that, who lets that boundary slip, loses some critical aura of authority, some mantle of leadership that is absolutely vital both too mission accomplishment and unit cohesion.

Perhaps I state it to strongly – but the division must be there. Or at least the perception of the division must be there. Which is why while you can be human, and you can share feelings and interact with your soldiers – you can’t be their friends, you can’t show real weakness, you can’t reveal just how common and simple and human you really are. Because to follow you, perhaps to their deaths, they must see you as more than that, separate from that.

And blogging reveals too much humanity when its done right.

I guess in the end I have no choice but to compromise. For now, I’ll remain semi-anonymous with no real effort to stay that way – but no effort to call attention to my writing, either. (Besides, the DoD has a history of frowning on blogging that reveals too much).

In the end, while I may try not to be as stale as 3-decade old Twinkies, I’ll have to self-censor. I won’t be able to tell the best stories about my platoon, or my commander, or my colleagues. And I won’t be able to tell the full truth about my fears and hopes during the next few months; no young soldier wants to know just how terrified of failure his leaders are.

Such things can be discussed, but only at the superficial level and in generic terms. I suppose that’s the way it has to be, at least until I can find the right balance there. It may be an interesting journey, and I suppose I’ll get myself in trouble a time or three.

At some point I’ll begin linking to blogs covering similar topics, to show those who have made other choices. There are wonderful ones who have remained anonymous and equally stellar writers who share everything. For me, I’ll be looking for the right middle ground.

And aren’t you tired of all this preliminary babbling? Time to get on with it.

Oh – and let me apologize profusely in advance for all of you who undoubtedly Googled “Filipino hookers.”

My bad.

==================================================================

* Note: as of this writing,¬† I have no 3rd squad leader. Or 1st or 2nd or 4th, either. And I have no idea if any of them will be cockknockers. A word I’ll have to promptly quit using once I lose the anonymity. Because officers do not giggle at words like cocknocker. It says so in the manual.

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