Miss USA has largely become of those events that time has passed by, but still hangs around. But the winner of last night’s event was a military reservist. When she was asked about women in combat, this is what she said:
“As a woman in the United States Army, I think it was an amazing job by our government to allow women to integrate to every branch of the military. We are just as tough as men,” she said to lots of cheers from the crowd. “As a commander of my unit, I am powerful. I am dedicated. And it is important that we recognize that gender does not limit us in the United States Army.”
I don’t have an opinion on women in combat one way or another, other than if the doors had been opened to the infantry while I was in the service, I wouldn’t have volunteered. However, there was something inherently wrong with the old system. Combat was always ranked higher in importance, and soldiers got more awards—and promotion opportunities—for it.
But honestly, it all boils down to this:
If you have two people on the same incident involving guns, artillery, and things blowing up do the same things to save lives, there’s something wrong with giving one of those people medals and recognition and telling the other person, “Sorry, women aren’t allowed in combat, so it doesn’t count.”
If you’ve been following this story, I’d been deployed to Desert Storm with my active duty Army unit, and then the Reserves issued orders to mobilize me for them. I couldn’t exist in both systems, so the Army dropped my paycheck.
* Runs screaming from the room *
It was pretty scary not getting a paycheck, and I’d already been in the Army long enough to know this wasn’t going to be easy to fix. Probably only being declared dead would be worse. People were telling me that it might always be a problem and to save all the paperwork.
Now the Reserves and the Army are both military. This should be easy to fix. They’re both Army.
They’re actually separate systems. All the same parts, but the Army and Reserve do not talk to each other. The only place they seemed to talk was cutting off my paycheck.
I just needed to get off the Reserve books, so I started with them. They were deployed, and they had a rear detachment sergeant who pretty much didn’t care. That’s a big problem with the Reserves and paperwork, and also the National Guard. Saying it was dysfunctional would be giving them praise. People will say they’ll get to the paperwork next time, which is a month later, and then they go off on something else, and nothing ever gets done.
So I wandered around, trying to figure out how to fix this thing. I went to the Inspector General, which is like a watch dog for the military, but I ran into the same problem. The Army and the Reserves don’t talk. So no one could confirm that anyone had actually removed me from the rolls. My paycheck had been restarted, but I didn’t have any confidence that there wouldn’t be more problems coming.
Three months later …
My paycheck goes into accrual. They didn’t pay me, but the money’s not available to me. The Army is apparently trying to figure out why I’m in both the Reserves and the Army and the logic’s not entirely working.
This time I go to the legal beagles. Same problem. Things just don’t cross over from the two services. We’re all military! Why is this a problem? So a Sergeant Major gets involved. That’s one of the highest enlisted ranks, so we’re working our way up here. He’s able to get in contact with the right people and confirms that they’ve removed my name.
One year later …
Yeah, you didn’t really think it ended there, did you?
I got a bill from the Army in the mail. I stare at the number and I’m thinking that it sounds like the amount that was on the first paycheck that got eaten by this mess. Check it, and yup, that’s the one. So I send them an explanation of what happened along with a stack of paperwork, to prove I’m actually in the Army.
I still have the paperwork. You never know…
Next up will be “Lost in the woods with a Lieutenant,” so tune in, same military channel, same military time tomorrow.
I’m trying to stay within the alphabet requirements here, and parts of this story are all tangled up because they all happened at the same time. So make sure you tune in K as well for the last part of story.
I’d just gotten a Red Cross message that said my mother was dying. A driver in a military truck came by our company and picked me up, and the war dropped away behind me as we drove the airport. I think it was in Riyadh, but I wasn’t processing much. This wasn’t supposed to happen!
Before I left, my mother had discovered breast cancer. She’d had the lump removed and then the rounds of chemo. She had been doing okay when I left and it looked like there weren’t any more problems. What had happened?
But she’d been in California, and I’d been stationed in Washington State, and then off to Saudi Arabia. My parents had kept quite a bit from me because I wasn’t actually present.
The Army flew me out of the country on a cargo jet, complete with the cargo netting seats. I shared the compartment with a giant jet engine being flown back. There wasn’t anyone else on the plane with me except that engine and the pilots.
I ended up in one of the Carolinas, and there I ran into the military bureaucracy. The ticket to Los Angeles cost $20 more than flying to the duty station in Washington State. Same coastline. So I would have to fly to Washington State and then buy another ticket to get down to Los Angeles?
Red Cross Message. Mother dying. What part of that do you not understand?
I said I’d pay for the extra $20. Nope. I finally ended up paying for the entire plane fare.
And it was a good thing I did, because I barely got there in time before my mother died. The cancer had gone into her lungs, and it was very fast.
The Army didn’t really tell me what to do after my emergency leave ended. I thought I was going back to Saudi Arabia, but they ended up sending me back to Fort Lewis. The war was over, so the Army didn’t want people coming back in-country.
Turned out it was a lucky thing because I didn’t get paid.
Remember those mobilization orders I got from the Reserves? I’d become what’s called a ghost soldier. This is a term I saw in the Washington Post when I was in the National Guard. What happens is that commanders of units have to keep up a certain percentage of readiness. If they can’t, they can get into trouble, and it can affect future career prospects. So sometimes they will lie.
When I was in the National Guard, we had soldiers who decided they didn’t like the military and stopped showing up for drill. They were AWOL, but the unit would keep them on the books as present to keep the numbers within the required margins. We did have some problems during Desert Storm because commanders had so lied about their readiness that their units actually could not deploy.
Evidently, the Army Reserve had not removed me from their rolls. Either it was the above issue, or sloppy paperwork keeping, which was also possible. So I was in the Army, and the Reserves had me on their bad list because I’d missed deployment by being deployed.
Yup. Military logic. Tune for the last part of this story tomorrow.
Next up will be “Keeping up with the services: Reserves, Army, Oh My!” so tune in, same military channel, same military time tomorrow.
I’m trying to stay within the alphabet requirements here, and parts of this story are all tangled up because they all happened at the same time. So make sure you tune in J as well for the next part of story.
A message had been passed along from the rear detachment sergeant that my parents had received a call that I was AWOL. I thought terrorists had called my parents, but I wasn’t getting any letters from home and communications moved slower than a snail.
Then I got a most puzzling brown envelope from the Reserves. It was handwritten, with the address for my active duty unit, and an official envelope. If you read my first A to Z Challenge post, you’ll recall that I was in the Reserves in California, and then went active duty.
Inside was a single sheet of paper.
It was February, and the orders were dated for December. At the point those orders had been issued, I’d been deployed for two months.
You’d think someone would have noticed the address it was being sent to. You think?
Okay, so now the AWOL thing made sense. The rear detachment sergeant had probably received a phone call from the Reserve unit because I’d, well, missed movement because I was deployed.
Still, you’d think someone would have noticed they were calling an army unit, and army unit’s rear detachment. You think?
First Sergeant looked at the orders. “No problem. I’ll take care of it.”
So I didn’t think anything further than that.
We now entered early March, and the war had ended. I got a chance to be out in one of the Saudi cities, and we stopped off a pay phone on the street. It was the first time I’d seen a phone almost since about November. I called my parents collect.
First words out of my father’s mouth: “Did you get the Red Cross message?”
I was pole axed. I’d told him about the Red Cross message process in case he needed it, but I hadn’t actually expected that he would need it!
My squad leader knew something was wrong when I came back, and the moment I told him, I broke down. It was just too much all at once. The first sergeant and captain went on a search for the Red Cross message. We’d moved eight times, and the army no longer kept morning reports, so no one knew where we are. They got the message in record time, and all I could do was stare at the message written by my family doctor. My mother was dying.
Next up will be “Just a minute — i’m a ghost soldier,” so tune in, same military channel, same military time tomorrow.
1. I was in the Army Reserve, the Army, and the Army National Guard.
Those are three different services. I started out with the Reserve because it helped me make the decision and decided to enlist in the regular Army after Basic Training. The National Guard was a big mistake, and I was glad to be finished with it.
2. I was the least likely soldier to be in the military.
I have “Adams Feet,” or flat feet. The whole family on my father’s side has them. In my case, I have high arches and they drop. It makes me a terrible runner, and I can’t march well either. They debated about me, then decided to let me in. The debate happened again during Basic Training, and then again at my first duty station. No one ever told me I had flat feet!
3. I went to war.
It was Desert Storm, when the thought of women deploying was strange and new and different. The photo above was taken when President Bush visited us for Thanksgiving.
4. I was enlisted.
With the way everyone talks about the military in movies and film, you would think that everyone is an officer. They make up only a small percentage of the military. Enlisted are the bulk of the service. Because I had a degree from a community college, I came in as a Private First Class (still a private) and left the military as a Specialist. I’m afraid I didn’t aspire much to come up in the ranks!
5. My Basic Training was at Fort Dix, NJ.
I went during the summer. Hot, really humid. Imagine a heavy cotton jacket soaked with sweat, and that was what it was like for us. Most alarming though were the signs posted on the words warning us about ticks. Yikes!
This time of the year is always about the food. We go over to family’s house and load up on turkey, stuffing, cranberries, and my favorite, pumpkin pie, and repeat again at Christmas. The food’s always delicious. But what about the military? When I was growing up, I watched MASH and saw Hawkeye Pierce inciting a strike because the food was so bad. Was it really that bad?
The field is a challenging environment even for the most experienced of cooks. The Next Iron Chef recently aired where the chiefs all had to cook on a beach. They had limited resources, which not only included the types of food available, but the equipment, and environment. These were extremely experienced chefs, and they struggled with the environment at times. Now imagine someone inexperienced in the harsh environment of the desert, where food spoils quickly and they’re using portable stoves.
We left Dhahran after about six weeks, leaving our catered food behind. Our cooks had to prepare the meals for our battalion. The battalion had two active duty units, one National Guard, and one Reserve. The latter two met once a month and trained two weeks a year, so not much experience cooking in the field.
In a logic only the army could have, the battalion pared the two experienced units on one shift and the two inexperienced ones on the other. The result was two meals that were great, and two meals that were … well, bad seems kind. How the heck can you botch up hamburgers and hot dogs?!
Then there was the chili mac, which was the most common army meal. Tim Dugan, an army cook, notes:
Sometimes we get to change it up, but as a whole, we are required to follow the recipe card exactly. As a result, when you eat at an Army quality dining facility, you get the same product. Cooks want to “flex” and make the product a little different, taste a little better, or have a little more flavor. However, a good shift leader, first cook or DFAC [Dining Facility Manager] manager will keep his or her eye out, and will prevent that from happening. Non-cooks should know that the Army sets these standard recipe cards to limit cost, control nutrition and prevent allergens.
As a result the soldiers will add hot sauce. So we’re having chili mac in the mess tent. We sit down, and there’s this guy across from us pouring on the hot sauce. He eats a spoonful of it and then takes off his hat and slams into the table.
Oh, dear. Seems someone got a little too creative with the seasoning …
Yup. Military meals can have their moments of serious badness.
Linda Adams – Solider, Storyteller
Yay! My short story “Six Bullets” is now available from Starcatcher Publishing in the the anthology A Princess, A Boatman, and A Lizard. The story is about a princess who enlists in the military and then must battle her way up a river with only six bullets.