Hollywood Military: Turning Down Promotions

Still picking on Star Trek here, though I’ve seen this example on shows like Criminal Minds where a really good promotion is offered to a character and they turn it down to stay with the ship/group/etc.

The Hollywood Version:

In one of the early episodes of Star Trek the Next Generation, Riker is offered command of a ship and turns it down so can stay on the Enterprise.  He is later offered command again and turns it down again, for the same reasons. After the second time, Starfleet warns him he might not have another opportunity.

In a way, it’s kind of a pointless episode because we all know the actor isn’t leaving, so Riker’s going to turn it down.  But they make it kind of noble, like he’s turning down opportunities because he’s doing good where he is.

The Military Version:

The Army—and probably the other services—want you to progress in your career.  So much so that they provide opportunities for going to college, such as a program on Fort Lewis where you could go to school on work time.

In fact, you’re expected to progress.

If you don’t, that’s a big problem.  The Army has a time in service/time in grade thing set up, so if you have too much time and haven’t progressed, they’ll kick you out.  There is no option other than to progress.  You can’t homestead where you are.

We had a first sergeant in charge of our company (first sergeant is like a high up personnel manager).  He liked working with the troops, and being a first sergeant gave him first hand experience with that.  A promotion opportunity opened itself up so that he could be a command sergeant major, which would have put him in a more administrative position.

He didn’t want it.  He wanted to stay where he was.

The battalion’s sergeant major told he had two choices: Take it or retire.

So my first sergeant retired.

Hollywood makes it sound like it’s a noble thing to turn down a promotion, but to the Army it’s more like “What’s wrong with you?”

Mandatory Fun in the Military

We’ve got a summer office party in a few weeks.  Hopefully the weather will be nice.

It’s scheduled for a workday, but attendance is optional.  I know a lot of my coworkers won’t go, preferring to work.  I’ll be attending, for the very reason it’s optional and honestly, no work!

But when I was in the army, a day like that was quite a bit different.  They were called unit organizational days.  Always indoors at someplace like the enlisted club or community center.  Food, music, dancing.  You could bring your spouses.

It was always on Saturday, when we were off. We were REQUIRED to attend.

And, of course, for those, we had to stay there for the entire time, like we were punching a time clock.  Usually they bussed us over, so we really had no choice about how long we stayed.  I’m an introvert, which means I get my energy from solitude and quiet, not from crowds, so it was exhausting to stay that long.

Mandatory fun is not fun.

Military Readings around the Web

Way too many articles I see in the press sensationalize some negative aspect of being a veteran or being in the military.  The worst offense for me is portraying women veterans as victims.  So I always look for articles that are more positive.

Why Women Veterans have Become so Entrepreneurial – from Inc Magazine

V-Wise – This is a program that brings women veterans together at a conference for training on both how to start a business and how to grow one.  I wish I’d seen this last year, since they had one in my area.  I shall have to monitor the site, since I’m not flying across country in January!

A soldier and her Kevlar helmet

When I was in the Army, I wore a helmet that was made of Kelvar.  We called it a Kevlar, rather than a helmet.  Like any piece of a soldier’s uniform, it took on a second life, and there were some tall tales …

Rumors were sometimes passed down the convey lines during Desert Storm.  One of the soldiers was said to come from a convoy, removed his Kevlar and discovered a bullet hole in it.  Doubtful if it was true—if it was hard enough to lodge in the Kevlar, he would have felt the impact.

Another story that circulated—much to the chagrin of the woman soldier who was in my unit—was that she had mixed up her Kevlar with a four star general’s, so she was wearing his.  It was not true.  Trust me, she would have noticed.  Just soldier boredom.

But an interesting fact is that the material used for our Kevlar helmets, and in the flak vests was invented by a woman, Stephanie Kwolek.

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.