Navy discontinues its blueberry uniforms

Uniforms are an important part of life for both soldiers and the military.  For the soldiers, it’s what they wear, every day that they report to duty.  For the military, and especially the higher ups, it’s a way to make their mark on the service, and a very visible one, before they retire.

And usually, it’s not for the better.

Navy Discontinues Navy Working Uniform Type I Uniform

Last week, the Navy announced that they would be discontinuing their blue camouflage uniforms, nicknamed “blueberries.”

Trust soldiers to come up with an insulting nickname.

The uniform popped up when all the services were trying to show they were unique by coming up with their own camouflage (blame the Marines.  They started it).  But if you served on a ship, what good would camouflage do?

Needless to say, the uniform wasn’t much liked.  The Army also changed its uniform not too long ago.

The Army excursion into uniform change: the beret

I was still in the Army when the much hated berets were introduced.  It was a hat that never made sense.  The one we originally wore was like a square off ball cap with a brim.  Perfect for doing details and grubby work.  It wasn’t very expensive, and it could be thrown in the wash when the brim got all sweaty.   Also could be folded up and stuck in a pocket.

But beret?

It was wool and had this leather band around the bottom.  Cost a lot for a hat.  Had to be dry cleaned.  Really?  Let’s see, I went to the field and it rained for the entire week.  Then there was Desert Storm where the sweat didn’t just transfer to the hat; it imprinted.  A fussy beret would not have worked.

Somehow, no one thought about anything beyond what it looked like.

How do military personal get the new uniforms?

The military does not make the soldiers rush out and buy the new uniforms, which would be quite a hardship.  There’s a fairly long period where the old uniforms can wear out and be replaced by the new styles.

An interesting bit of trivia:  Despite being in the military for so many years, I cannot spell camouflage!  I had it three times above, and not one was spelled correctly.  It’s a very confusing word!

U.S. Army Veteran and Paralympic Swimmer

This is a great story about Sergeant Elizabeth Marks, who was injured in the war and became a Paralympic swimmer.  Usually when I see stories about wounded veterans, they’re always about men, and they describe in excruciating detail how they were injured and then all the medical procedures, like their life ended at that moment.  This one focuses on her journey becoming a Paralympic swimmer.

The first sergeant, the private, and the potato

One of the events my company always had every year was organization day. Like the office Christmas party, except it was on the weekend and we were directed to attend. For this one, the new first sergeant, a woman, decided that a work detail was going to make potato salad in the mess hall. Since I was in a platoon of sergeants, I got the detail.

I was a mixture of worried and annoyed. Worried because I didn’t know how to cook that well. I didn’t exactly grow up in a cooking environment, and there are a few family horror stories (see my Thursday post for one). When I ate in the mess hall in basic training, I was shocked at how good food could taste.

And I was annoyed because the work detail was on the day of the mandatory party. I had to get up before dawn on the day when I usually got to sleep a little later. Grumble, gumble.
Half-asleep, I showed up at the mess hall, more zombie than human being. The mess hall was way too bright, even if the walls were dingy.

“First Sergeant,” I told her, “I don’t know how to cook.”

“Of course you do,” she said. I could hear it in her voice: Silly! All women know how to cook.

But I was stuck. The Army’s primary goal was ‘accomplish the mission.’ When we are told to do something, no one wants to hear why you couldn’t do it. They just wanted to know it was done.

“You’re all going to peel the potatoes,” the first sergeant said.

Oh, okay. I could do this. Just give me a potato peeler.

No potato peeler. The mess hall did not have any!

“Use this.” The first sergeant handed out chef’s knives with eight inch blades.

It was a big freaking knife! I’d never even seen one that large before. How I was going to peel potatos with it? So I studied the russet potato on the cutting board.

Ah ha! I had a solution. I turned the potato sideways and sliced off the end. Then I turned it again and cut off the side, and I kept turning it and cutting off where I saw potato skin. Soon I had this rectangular-shaped potato, and glue-like starchiness all over my hands, the blade, and the knife handle.

It was a slow process. Everyone else had piles of peeled potatoes while I was working on my second. By the time I finished it, the first sergeant saw how I was peeling and was quite horrified. Now she believed me.

The bad part? Two other people brought potato salad to the party, and no one touched the first sergeant’s version.

First Sergeant – 0; Private – 0; Potato – 1.

Organizing vs. Organizing

I just saw another one of those posts where an outliner writer tried to describe a pantser (person who doesn’t outline), and ended up making it sound like the pantser was terribly disorganized because they didn’t outline. It’s nothing new actually, but it hit me differently this time.

It was on organizing itself, where there’s about the same response to people who are creative and messy. Organization tends to be associated with being neat, though that’s not a qualification of being organized. Yet, if you travel the organization sites, a lot of them pound their fist and say that being messy is a sign of disorganization.

Whereas, for anyone creative, the process functions in a very different way.

When I was in the Army, I got a lot of this from my squad leader. I never quite understood it at the time; I knew where everything was, and I was working on it besides. And it didn’t help that HIS desk was disorganized and messy. What was he complaining about?

I even had another sergeant hover—actually hover—over my shoulder while I was cleaning up two supply drawers, then go back and “straighten” everything out after I was finished. Like I hadn’t done it right.


So I came out of the Army thinking I was horribly disorganized. Every time I tried to organize in the “proper” way, I would lose everything.

One day, a coworker in my civilian job admired how organized I was. I was flabbergasted!

The perception is like the outliner seeing the pantser: They can’t see how it can work the way it does, so it must be wrong.

I’ve been looking at organization these last few weeks because it’s the end of the year, and also because I do need to look at things from the perspective of starting my own publishing business eventually. Honestly, it’s best to do it now while it doesn’t count, then learn how at the wrong time. And I still see how much all the advice that I’ve heard over the years that doesn’t work for me gets into how I do things.

Things I’m trying for working out my process:

Simplify, simplify, simplify.

Most systems get pretty complicated pretty fast. I’ve found over the years that too many digital subfolders means I have to remember where things go, and sometimes I don’t always remember the same thing later on. The result has been that essentially stuff gets into an “inbox” and never comes out. I created an info dump digital file, renaming individual files and dropping them in there. Only files currently being worked on stay elsewhere. I’ve been amazed at how much old stuff I was storing with current stuff. And also how much disappeared behind layers of subfolders.

Top Drawer Current; Bottom Drawer Last Year.

Bookkeeping files are hard to save because you’re always going to have more past files than current ones. For the creative person, they become part of the big picture, rather than the logical sequential order of things. Moving the older files to the bottom drawer keeps them available but out of sight, and out of mind.

Separate folders for bookkeeping years

About five years ago, I bought a system called Filing Solutions, which works great. It’s prelabeled files so it was easy to set up. The one flaw is there’s one folder for, say, all the phone bills. Because everything was in one file, all the years got mixed together. It took quite a while to make sure I got all the old records that needed to be shredded, because I had to touch everything. I separated them by year in the bottom drawer, so next year, I can just pull one folder.

10 Stories in 10 Weeks Update

This next story was a time travel story, which was for a specific call. When I got the idea, I thought it was going to a particular type of story, kind of nice and feel good.

Then, as I started it, I stopped to read the guidelines and thought that I needed to get time in up front. So I typed the first sentence, and it was a different story.

So the other one can also be a story as well …

Learning Thing: Writing science fiction and time travel. I typically write more fantasy, but I want to venture into science fiction. That’s a muscle I’m going to work again.

Combat Doesn’t Respect Anything

I find a lot of veteran articles and videos posted on Facebook–curiously, not by the veterans.  This one is on a woman who served during the Vietnam War and shows some of the unrealistic expectations the military had when they say “Women are not allowed in combat.”

The problem is that combat doesn’t respect that declaration.

Star Wars Goes Navy

Star Wars takes on the Army-Navy game.  Darth Vader is Army.  Hmm.  Not sure what I think of that.

Tangling with the Obstacle Course

This is a rare photo of a woman soldier in an action shot.  The original photo is on the DOD Website.

A woman soldier climbs across a horizonal ladder

U.S. Army Spc. Julie Neff participates in the “team reaction lane” during the 2015 European Best Warrior Competition at the Grafenwoehr Training Area in Germany, Sept. 14, 2015. Neff is assigned to the 5th Battalion, 148th Aviation Regiment. U.S. Army photo by Gertrud Zach

The “obstacle course” is what everyone outside the military calls this course, because it has obstacles that a soldier has to get through.  It’s actually called a Confidence Course.  This is a video of the Army showing male and female soldiers going through a course. Watch at about the 3 minute watch during a balance test at what the soldiers use to aid in their balance.

Part of the teamwork aspect is everyone cheering you on to get over one of the obstacles.

As you can see, a lot of this really pushes the soldier’s skills. Everything about military training is preparation for war, since you will never know what you need.

Drill Sergeants–Respect Them and Hate Them

I had to work pretty hard to find this photo.  I went through 15 pages of Air Force photos, and I could only find one of a woman that wasn’t very good.  Fortunately, DOD did have the photo below, though it was the same problem–a lot of awesome photos, but women were nowhere to be found.

14378351610_6ef14c0d55_zU.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Ben Sedlacek, a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft boom operator with the 350th Air Refueling Squadron, directs the boom to connect with approaching aircraft for midair refueling June 26, 2014, during Red Flag-Alaska 14-2 at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. Red Flag-Alaska is a series of Pacific Air Forces commander-directed field training exercises for U.S. and partner nation forces, providing combined offensive counter-air, interdiction, close air support, and large force employment training in a simulated combat environment. (DoD photo by Tech. Sgt. William Buchanan, U.S. Air National Guard/Released)

I had two male drill sergeants in Basic Training and one for the training.  Both classes were all women.

It’s quite a shock getting off the bus, and these people are screaming at you.  Their screaming prompted us to race off the bus, and then race up two or three flights of stairs in the barracks, and then race down the stairs again.

Even in the Mess Hall line, the drill sergeants stalked back and forth next to us in the line, telling us to hurry, hurry, hurry.  We’d sit down and barely get the first fork in, and then the drill sergeant was screaming at us to go, so we’d be in line to turn the tray in and still gulping down all the food.

At one time, we saw the drill sergeant’s hat on the table, and we were like cats checking out something that we didn’t trust wouldn’t attack us.  Of course, no one touched it.

But by the end of basic training, some of women were starting to imitate the drill sergeants, which was a shift in how we thought about them.  We’d survived, and they’d helped.

Veteran Wins Espy Award

Danielle Green, a woman Iraq War veteran, received an Espy Award (Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Award.  She played for Notre Dame, then enlisted in the military, was wounded, and then got a Masters Degree.

The Army was always trying to get the soldiers to get better educated.  They wanted the soldiers to go to college classes.  Fort Lewis even offered an education program where if you re-enlisted, you could go to school full time for a year on the Army’s dime.  But there was a time limit on it–the soldier had to do it the first year after the re-enlistment.

That resulted, curiously, in the only time I’ve ever seen a soldier claim the Army broke their contract–and won the battle.  The soldier had re-enlisted for the college, and then his platoon sergeant kept putting him on missions so he couldn’t go to school during that first year.  The soldier complained, and at the end of the year, asked to be discharged because the Army had broken the contract–and they did!

For me, I didn’t use any of the Army’s college offerings.  I’d gone to college before I enlisted, but I had trouble making up my mind about what I wanted to do.  I wanted to write full time, even then, but I was told by a lot of people that writers never make any money.  So I wandered from major to major–accounting, broadcasting, journalism, theater–trying to figure out what I wanted.

All Fort Lewis offered was college for people who hadn’t taken it before.  I could have done more wandering, so I didn’t take any more.  The only thing I regret is signing up for the GI bill anyway.  It’s hard because you have to make the decision right away, and it may be the wrong decision. Part of the GI Bill is paid from your paycheck, and part of it is by the Army–but it also expires.  So I got it and never used it.

Even today, I wouldn’t go back to college.  Not the right thing for me.

Daily Life in the Military: The Workday Starts

We went back out for another formation at 9:00. Usually the first sergeant or the company commander will put out some information, then send us on our way to work. We were a transportation company, so most of the soldiers would head out to the motor pool to work on trucks. Some would go on missions to haul equipment or supplies. I worked as a training clerk, so I stayed in the company area.

Training is pretty serious business in the Army. The Army’s primary mission is to train for war, so we lived and breathed training every week.

When I first stated in the training office, we kept the records on 5×7 index cards, one for each soldier. Had their name, when they last went to the rifle range, etc. Computers were just starting to come out then, so my squad leader, who was also the training sergeant, bought one and we used DBase IV on that to keep track.

One of my duties was helping to maintain all the training records. In those days, the Army put social security on everything. If you had a sign in sheet to prove you attended a class, your SSN was on it. If you took a PT test, your SSN was on the form. It was just everywhere, and, in hindsight, really didn’t need to be. Towards the end of my time in the service, the Army started removing it from forms unless it was really needed.

I also prepared training schedules. We did one for every week–I think we did it two weeks out. It was a Fort Lewis form on legal size paper and had to be typed (electric typewriter; we weren’t that behind the rest of the world). The schedule planned out every part of the day. We started with “Morning Parade,” which was about 5 minutes at 0600, led by the first sergeant, then went into PT. Even breakfast and lunch went on there.

We also get the planned training for that schedule from the platoon sergeants. We did training on Wednesday, which usually meant going out to a training area. The platoon sergeants would scribble the training on a sheet of paper or in a notebook, tear it out, and give it to us. So we’d get all these different sizes of paper, something with the torn paper hanging off, and try to translate the writing.

Everything had to include the location in case the battalion commander or group commander wanted to inspect us. So if we were going out to a training area, I usually had to drive around during the week and do coordinations. Coordinations were for sites that we shared we other units. It was to keep us from having artillery fired on us, though that did happen once anyway.

I’d make copies and deliver it to the battalion, and we post a copy up on a bulletin board for everyone to read.

I also had to do the quarterly training briefing, which was known as the QTB. Briefings weren’t like they are today where you can keep changing it and changing it until the last minute because it’s all electronic. While we had software to build the briefings–this was initially even before Microsoft PowerPoint–everything had to be printed, and then copied onto transparencies.

That was always a nightmare because the copier would get very hot and start melting the transparencies. If the melting wasn’t too bad, we went with it. Sometimes we ran into problems because the copier at battalion had a set number of copies per month it could run, and we always seemed to run out about a week early!

The slides themselves consisted of what the world refers today as metrics. How many people were qualified on the rifle, how many people needed to do deployment preparation (i.e., make sure shots were up to date, review their emergency contact information, etc.). We did anything specifically training related, and the orderly room (the administration office that handle awards, evaluations, and mail) did the deployment preparation numbers.

We also ended up with this weekly slide that became a horror for a while. The slide was called “ups and downs” and was due to the group commander once a week. We had to put in three good things about the last week’s training, and also three bad things, the downs. The way it was explained was that it was to help figure out how to improve training.

We had to have three each. We couldn’t put down on or two, or leave anything blank. So for the downs, I think we put down something like “Instructor wasn’t prepared for training,” which was true. The sergeant had blown it off and half-assed through it.

We got nuked by the group commander. He pounded his fist and demanded to know why that sergeant had not been prepared. Anything on that down list was trouble coming for us.

And we were required to have three downs each week.

So it was Washington State, and we put used “It rained during training” as a down. I think it was only nearly every week’s slide. We were also constantly trying out different downs, guessing at what the group commander was going to have a melt down over. We were positively elated if the Training and Audio Visual Support Center screwed up with the equipment because we had a great down that no one could nuke us on!

Apparently the group commander got tired of seeing “it rained” from all the companies under him, and the requirement for three went away. We started leaving off the downs entirely, and then the slide was discontinued.

In addition to slides and training schedules, we had a steady stream of people coming in every day, asking for help on something training-related.

Which made it most annoying when the soldiers from the other platoons said we never did any work. I guess they thought paperwork was easy …

We’d break at 11:30 for lunch, so back to the mess hall, then my room to watch TV. Formation was 1:00, then back to work until formation at 5:00, and then I was done for the day. Wednesday of each week was the only day that was different, because it was training day.