Adventures Around the Web August 12-18, 2017

Fall is continuing into Washington DC.  Last week, I saw the first fall squash at the farmer’s market.  I’ll be visiting an end of summer tradition, the local county fare, today, and I decided to take the day off for the eclipse, in case everyone goes nuts.  In DC, you never know . These are the same people who, when a single drop of a sprinkle hits their windshield, goes into full panic mode.

The Military Yearbook Project

USA Military Platoon and Personal Photos

This site takes the concept of a school yearbook and puts up the group photos from Basic Training.  Some great history here.  One of the earliest photos is 1934!.  Mine’s not on here, but I would have been Fort Dix, 1989.  From Tracy Jordan, Desert Storm veteran.

K. Gitter on Do You Remember?

These Vintage Photos Show the History of the Supermarket

Shopping for food has changed quite a bit over the years.  I found it fascinating to see that in the early days, it was a series of small shops specializing in produce or fish, not a general store of everything.  I also remember in Los Angeles the grocery store, Mrs. Gooch’s, which was also a precursor to Whole Foods and got bought out when they started growing.

Joanna Penn on Creative Penn

Writing Christian Fiction and Success Over a Long Career with Jerry Jenkins

(Link Corrected) Under the process question, he describes how he cycles through his writing to get a clean first draft.  He calls it revising, but it is a form of cycling.  I used to call it revising when I write, but that leads to thinking it’s actual revision, which isn’t, so I’ve just called it moving around in the story.

Harvey Stanbrough

Why Do You Write?

This is an interesting look at the different categories of people coming into writing and all their reasons.  When I first got on the internet and joined up with writing communities, I ran afoul of what I call hobby/lottery writers–people who wanted to write a best seller so they could quit their day job.  I thought everyone was like me–wanting to write full time, always wanting to improve as a writer.  It ended up being the reason I dropped off writing communities, because they were also the same people passing around a lot of bad information.

Melissa Ragsdale on Bustle

7 Things People Who Use Bookmarks Will Never Understand About People Who Dog Ear Books

Waves!  Yes, I dog ear my books.  Don’t know why. Just always have.  Might be that, being an INTP, it’s easier than tracking down a bookmark.  If I had one.  The writer of this might be able to find free bookmarks, but I usually don’t see that many around.

And since I mentioned dog ears, here’s a dog doing a Marilyn Monroe imitation.


Writer’s Smart Book

I published three new stories over the weekend, and it made me realize I needed some kind of information sheet for them.  There were a lot of moving parts!

The military had what was called a “Smart Book.”  It refers to a book the trainees were given in Basic Training.  We kept it in our cargo pocket, where it got all sweaty and smashed up.  Any time we stood in line, we were supposed to have it out and be reading it.

What did it contain?  Basic things about the military, like rank.  Designed as a reference for the trainee and easy to read.

I decided I needed a “smart book” for my indie publishing.  The three stories below make ten (woo-hoo!).  Partially, the reason was that the process was starting to get complicated, and I didn’t want multiple files.  For example, I just downloaded an image for Rogue God, my novel.  I haven’t done anything else yet, but I needed to save the cover credit somewhere.

Smart Book.

Then there’s the keywords, which I can dash off at any time.

Smart Book.

So I have all the following:

  • Title
  • Original Title (because I have some stories I retitled, for various reasons.  Devil Winds was originally called The Devil Dances on Whisky Flats.  It sounded too much like a Western, and the new title is a much better one).
  • Type of manuscript (short story, novel, etc.)
  • Blurb
  • Submission History (where I submitted and dates rejected.  I hate, hate, hate keeping a spreadsheet).
  • Epublishing History (includes the price and the dates I published it; the categories for each vendor, since some of them varied, particularly on Foggy Paws; ISBN; Cover Image Credit; Keywords)

I like having it Evernote because it’s not much effort to access it.  I don’t fuss with tags; I just put them in a folder called Smart Book.  Meanwhile, here’s the covers to the three books.

Cover for Foggy Paws showing a girl and a dog Cover for Booby-Trap at Beaver River showing a woman standing on a cliff Cover for Devil Lands showing a desert planet

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.

Daily Life in the Military: Breakfast

Even with something like breakfast, which seems simple, the Army had its own way of doing things. Once we got done with physical training (PT), we had 90 minutes to eat and get dressed. Some of the married soldiers went home to eat and change. For the soldiers living in the barracks, we came back all sweaty and hot from the run and went straight to the mess hall.

To get our food, we had to sign in with the “headcount.” That was a soldier detailed for the day to sign people in and take money from the officers. I did that on occasion. Got to miss PT, which I didn’t mind, but was pretty much boring duty. The headcount reports in at meal time, sits in a chair as the soldiers file in, flash a meal card, and then sign their name.

They probably have an electronic version of this today, but the headcount was to help the mess sergeant (head cook) get an idea of how many soldiers he had to plan to feed.

The mess hall was a small room with a serving line and tables to eat at. The room didn’t look nice at all. Think cafeteria, and then knock it off a couple notches on the quality scale. Well, maybe more than a couple of notches. The Army made no effort to try to make it better. Functional. That was it.

The trays were like what you’d find in a cafeteria, with the top corners cut off so four can fit on a table. The plates were white, though I doubt if the Army was thinking of using the color to make the food look better.

One of the shifts of the cooks served the food on the line. The eggs would already be cracked and sitting out on the line in bowls, waiting to be used. Most of the food was pretty standard to what you’d find. One of the typical Army breakfasts was chipped beef, which was beef in a creamy gravy. It didn’t look very good, but actually wasn’t too bad. The nickname for it was “Shit on a Shingle.”

Fruit was usually bananas and Red Delicious apples. There was also had a small section of bagels, but very limited choices on what do with them. At one point, I was on the Dining Facility Council and got the mess sergeant to add things like cream cheese. One day we got a new mess sergeant and all of that was gone overnight. Disappointing.

Drinks were coffee, tea, water and juice. The juice was usually in a pitcher on ice. No sweet rolls, donuts, pastries, or anything like that.

We didn’t have to race through the food like we did in Basic Training (there, we were often headed to the washing line still eating our food!). Once we were finished, we took the trays to a rack next to the kitchen. Soldiers did not work in the back on kitchen duty. Contractors — usually women — did that. The only time I did kitchen duty was while I was at Reception Station before Basic Training. Never saw that again while I was in the Army.

After breakfast, a walk back to the barracks to clean up and get ready for the next formation.

Waking up, Military Style

The image everyone probably has of the army waking up in the morning is what you see in the movies.

Drill Sergeant flips on the lights to an open barracks of bunk bears. He marches down the middle, banging an aluminum trash and scream for the soldiers to wake up. Maybe upending a soldier’s mattress and dumping him on the floor.

That’s basic training and the job training that follows.

Though I was in a women’s class, and we just had the lights and screaming. No trashcans. Can’t speak for what the guys had.

But it’s different for the regular army.

We had to be out for physical training formation ten minutes prior to 6:30 a.m., dressed in the proper uniform for designated time of the year. Right now, at Fort Lewis, we’d be in shorts and t-shirts and probably would still be freezing.

The time that we actually woke up was not important as long as we could be out there by the ten minutes prior. Usually there would be one who would get up at like 5:30. First, I’d hear the alarm going off down the hall, behind a closed door. Then a door slamming. Muted light coming from the crack under my door, from what was coming out of the bathroom down the hall. No one turned on the hall light yet.

Then at 6:00, that was when the rest of the alarms went off. The hallway light came on. Lots of banging of doors. Grumbling, too.

At the time, the women didn’t have to put up their hair for physical training. I just put mine in a ponytail and done. The African-American women usually tried to hide the night’s hair because their hair texture required more time than they had before formation.

They hated when we went to shorts. No more watch cap to hide the hair!

Then we stumbled outside and tried to look awake.

Time, Military Style

The Desert Storm veterans have been discussing military time. Some still use it 25 years later. My father uses it off and on, though he was never in the military.

Military time is 24 hour time. That is, once you hit 1:00 in the afternoon, military time continues the numbers, so 1:00 becomes 1300. It’s pronounced thirteen hundred hours.

There are probably two reasons behind it:

  1. It’s easy to mix up the times. In most cases in civilian life, context is kind of obvious. If you have a doctor appointment at 10:00, it’s reasonable to assume that it’s probably in the morning. But during Desert Storm, the airwar started at 0300, so 3:00 wouldn’t have had any context.
  2. The 24 hour time further moves the soldier into the military culture and forces her to think differently than the civilian world.

When I first entered Basic Training at Fort Dix (I enlisted about now, 25 years ago), the drill sergeants immediately got us onto the 24 hour time.

It was hard for me because I was always have to add the time up in my head to translate it into 24 hour time. I had sort of landmarks, like 1600, which is 4:00 p.m. That was because I watched the TV series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, which had an episode called “The Sky’s on Fire.” In it, the submarine crew has to fire a missile at the Van Allen Radiation Belt to keep a fire from burning up the world. Guess what time they had to fire the missile?

Then there’s 2000 hours (twenty-hundred), which I’ve always associated with 10:00 p.m. because of all the zeroes I guess, but 10:00 p.m. is actually 2200 hours.

What no soldier ever wanted to hear was the phrase “Oh-dark-thirty” coming out of a first sergeant’s mouth. The first sergeant is kind of a personnel manager, but he also serves as a parent to the younger soldiers. “Oh-dark-thirty” tended to me something like, “I’d better not be coming at oh-dark-thirty to bail your ass out of jail.”

The time never really took for me in a way that stuck. It probably was because I never really wrote it down a lot, which would have etched it more solidly. But I always knew I wasn’t going to stay in the military forever, and a lot of times I was trying to get away from it when I was not on duty.

The result:

  1. On duty, I thought civilian time, mapped it in my head, and used the military time aloud. This wasn’t as hard as it sounds. We started work at 6:00 a.m. and ended worked at 5:00 p.m. Most of the harder times were after that, and I always knew that getting off work was at 1700!There are priorities.:)
  2. Off duty, I reverted to civilian time.

And when I got out, it was easy to go back to civilian time.

But times have changed. You can now go online and use a time converter!

Desert Storm: We Move Yet Again

We weren’t long at Camel Race Track before we had to move again. Apparently, the Saudis were getting ready to race the camels, so we were outta there! Our next stop put us within 70 kilometers of the border of Kuwait, which translates out as 43 miles. I’m very glad I didn’t translate that number while I was there! Seventy sounded a lot better.

We were staying inside the King Khalid Wildlife Research Center in Thumamah. Everyone was there, including the Marines, who stole one of our latrines with a forklift. The border of our camp was a water tower that was used to gravity feed three giant concrete pools, each one lower than the last one. The pools were empty this time of the year, so we set up a defensive position in the corner of the one closest to the water tower. We put sandbags on the concrete railing and topped it with a corrugated tin roof, making a nice, shady spot.

It gave us a clear view of the flat expanse of desert horizon, broken up only by a rock formation. It must have been quite large, because it looked big even far away. It was rectangular-shaped, poking out right in the middle of nowhere. It still seemed like we couldn’t see enough, so our sergeants decided to put a guard post on a platform under the water tower.

I was put on a work detail to help build the position with sand bags. The moment I heard where I would be doing the work, I was terrified. I’m afraid of heights.

When I was in 7th grade, our class cycled into gymnastics. Yeah, me with flat feet trying to do gymnastics. It consisted of a balance beam and unparallel bars. The teacher required each of the students to try each piece of equipment out and decide which one we were going to be tested on. I looked at how high the balance beam was and then at how really high the bars were.


I got stuck up on high bar and had to be talked down. Though I had a spotter, I did not trust that person to keep me from falling. The balance beam was the lesser of the two evils, and I didn’t do well on it. I was terrified of falling off that narrow beam.

I repeated the same problem in Basic Training with a cargo net. Those are evil things. We were supposed to climb all the way to the top and touch the beam, then climb down. I got stuck halfway up, with drill sergeants screaming at me. I finally got moving, managed to touch the beam, and got down safely.

Here, I had to climb a fifteen foot ladder. The first ladder that came with the water tower, made everyone nervous. It was made of pipe and quite flexible, so it moved when the soldiers stepped on it. Some industrious soldier build a new, more steady one out of rebar welded together.

One small problem.

The soldiers didn’t measure out the rungs, so some rungs were pretty close together and others were awfully big steps. Especially for someone short like me.

I was okay going up the ladder and managing on the platform. Going down was the problem. It’s hard making that transition over the ladder, and I had the added weight of my flak vest, helmet, and rifle. The first time I did it, I was a mess. One of the men had to climb down behind me and help me get my feet on the rungs.

I was on the detail for about a week, so I had to go up and down each day. I got better at it the more I did it — I wasn’t freezing up — but it was still a nerve-racking experience. On the last day, I gratefully started to climb down for the last time.
Third run from the top, my legs decided they’d had enough of all the weight I was carrying, and they gave out.
Instantly, I gripped that ladder in a bear hug until, trying to not imagine being splattered all over the ground as I waited for my legs to cooperate again. At least, they were working, and I descended until my feet hit the ground.

January 26: “I was shaking when I got off, and I shook for quite a while afterwards [sic]. It took me a long time to go to sleep, and even then, I didn’t sleep well.”

To this day, I still don’t like heights. I went to the Paris Casino, which towers above Las Vegas. I wanted to do it anyway. I don’t think I entirely thought it out, actually. I got on the elevator, which was glass so you could see everything, and all I could do was stare up at the ceiling and pretend hard that I wasn’t in the middle of the air. We got out in the tower and I walked around it for a while, telling myself I was in a solid, enclosed space. I wasn’t going to fall, and I was able to look down without any difficulty. I still had to look up when I got back on the elevator. Heights are scary.

The Origins of Military Cadences

One of the first things in Basic Training the Drill Sergeants did was march us.  We marched everywhere — to the mess hall, to the ranges, to the barracks.  To help keep us in step, and in some cases, just to keep going, the Drill Sergeants called cadences.

You’ve probably seen them if you watch any movie that has the characters visit a military post of some kind.  It’s pretty iconic.  Soldiers in formation run past the camera singing something like “Hey, hey, Captain Jack!”

Sometimes the songs were fun, and sometimes they were very sexist.  There was also some humor that the male soldiers found funny and left the women soldiers scratching their head and wondering why the men thought it was funny (a particular song about a canary comes to mind).

Keepers of Tradition calls it a verbal art form:

“…military cadence calls are also a way to take one’s mind off strenuous tasks, vent dissatisfaction, mock one’s superiors, or build morale by boasting, poking  fun, or talking dirty.”

The cadences were actually intended only for men to hear, and even the ones that were screened for a mixed audience sometimes went over the top.  These are the lyrics for some of the cadences.  The majority of these we did sing, though there are a few I haven’t heard of.

But the modern military cadence originated in 1944 with a Black private named Willie Duckworth, who was raised by sharecropper parents in Georgia.  He was a wheeled vehicle mechanic, which is army-speak for a truck mechanic (because there are military vehicles that are not wheeled).  But the cadences were something that were used out in the fields for workers, and it was a logical thing to use for the military as well.

Of course, one of the purposes was to help everyone stay in step, and that never did much for me!



Scariest thing that happened to me in the army

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I’ve had a few really scary things happen to me, one which was intentional on the army’s part, and the others a function of the environment.  So this is going to be the first of three posts on those scary things.

As the last part of basic training at Fort Dix, NJ, we had to do something called Paragon Trail.  It was a live fire exercise, as in real bullets and real grenades.  An Air Force colonel who did the same training noted:

The training was designed to simulate combat with live machine gun fire 40 feet above your head, with flares lighting up the night sky.

I would not have said that was 40 feet.  It felt a lot closer!  But it was dangerous, and things could happen.  A male soldier from another cycle had been hit by shrapnel from one of the explosions.  We could get hurt!

And I nearly did.

I think the drill sergeants planned for it to be a new moon that night.  It was so dark out, in a way that you only get out in the middle of isolation.  We were a crowd of some 90 women, and yet, it seemed like each of us was alone in that field.  The night’s blackness was solid, impenetrable.

Our task was to cross Paragon Trail in full gear — helmet, equipment belt, gas mask, and rifle.  As part of it, we had to go under an obstacle of concertina wire.  This is a razor wire.  If you’ve ever driven by a prison, that’s what you see at the top of the walls.  It’s meant to stop human beings.  Humans can get over regular barbed wire.

Danger everywhere!

Then it was my turn to go and I ran, faster than I’ve run in all my life.  Flat feet didn’t stop me here.  The rifle banged and klunked against my legs. I heard the staccato of the machine gun bullets above and the booms of the grenades all around.

My brain screamed, “I’m going to get shot!  I’m going to die!”

Fear seized me, propelling me forward, faster and faster.  Everything shut down except that one goal: The end of the field.  I didn’t breathe, I didn’t think — I just reacted.

The concertina?  I dropped to the ground, rolled over, put my rifle across my stomach, and slid underneath.  The tracer rounds streaked above me as I scraped along the ground.  At last I was free of the concertina.

By then, though,  I was sweating so much that it just poured down my face in a river.  Think Robert Hayes from Airplane when he’s trying to land.  I think I was worse.  It got onto my glasses, and I could not see anything.  So I took them off, but the sweat poured into my eyes, stinging them.  Between the dark and the sweat, I couldn’t see much.

But I still ran because I had to keep moving.  I had to get to safety!

Then suddenly a shape jumps out at me, screaming, and drags me in another direction.  It’s the drill sergeant, and I’d scared him (you can fill in your own colorful phrase here).  I’d gotten to the end of the course and had almost run into the concertina wire!

Reading about action is fun.  Being in it … well, not so much.

Next up will be “Tent fire in desert storm” so tune in, same military channel, same military time tomorrow.

Can an MRE be counted as Food?

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One of the things that can really wreck morale or get soldiers complaining are meals. The army generally has thought of feeding soldiers as giving them “three squares.” I’ll bet if you’re thinking about eating, you’re either looking through the fridge for something to make or considering dashing off to a restaurant. If you choose the restaurant, you can go through the menu and find what you like. Every Saturday, I go to IHOP for pancakes. One time, I asked them if I could add bananas. I was thinking as a topping, but the server asked me if I wanted it in the pancake.

But a soldier gets whatever they’re given, regardless of whether they like it, and that’s what they eat.

I remember my first introduction to the MRE — officially, meals-ready-to-eat, but then also called meals rejected by everyone, meals rejected by Ethopia, meals rejected by the enemy — well, you get the idea.

But it was in Basic Training when I got it.  The meal came in this dark brown pouch, and I got the Pork Patty.  This was part of very early MREs issued, and the army evidently didn’t give a lot of thought to doing anything else other than feeding soldiers.  It didn’t actually have to be good…

I remember pulling out the Pork Patty and staring at it.  It was dehydrated and then shrink wrapped.  What did you do with it?  I think a hockey puck would have been more appetizing.  It definitely didn’t taste any better than it looked.

I think at that point, most of the experience of soldiers eating MREs was when they went to the field. We’d have them for lunch, and you didn’t get to pick which one you wanted. A cook stood at the stack of boxes and handed you one. Sometimes there were cheers: “I got spaghetti!” which was pretty good, or “I got the omelet.” Yes, a dehydrated omelet. Just so yummy. There were a few that could be improved with other ingredients like nacho cheese dip, but not that one.

This is what the contents of the MRE looked like after you opened it.  Though this picture shows a “heater” on the left and a hot beverage bag, that was not part of the actual package.  I never even saw the hot beverage bag, and the heater was a luxury item.

The meals usually came with the entree; a side item which might be dehydrated peaches or rice; peanut butter, jelly, or a rubbery white cheese; and a cookie or cake for desert.  Sometimes we got hot sauce, which was a hot item (pun not intended) because everyone wanted to use that to mask the MRE taste.

Desert Storm was what convinced me the army didn’t think beyond feeding soldiers during the field.  At that time, the military had just issued the next line of MREs.  Our daily meals consisted of a hot breakfast and a hot dinner.  Lunch was an MRE.  No choices, of course, which was actually pretty fair.  Otherwise, some people would have always taken the favorite ones that everyone liked and no one else would have had a chance to get them.

Soon, in the center of the dining tables, a pile of rejected MRE parts would begin to appear.  I’d go through those because there were some things that most soldiers didn’t like but that I did.  The dehydrated fruit was like eating Styrofoam, but it tasted pretty good (and for anyone who’s had one and just snorted, all I need to say is Omelet with Ham or Escalloped Potatoes with Ham).  Anything that was desert I claimed.  Sure, the cookie or the cake might be really dry, but taste-wise, it was often a luxury to eat.

When I was at Eskan Village, I was lucky to have access to a small shoppette.  I found some nacho cheese dip for potato chips and used that to improve on the flavors.  It did help the Escalloped Potatoes so they were tolerable, but nothing could help the Omelet with Ham.  That was beyond hope.

But the weirdest part was when I went to Log Base Alpha right before the war started.  It was pretty isolated territory, and we quickly discovered that the mess hall was really, really bad.  By choice, we went to MREs three times a day.  But because of our location, we had the older MREs, like the ones I’d eaten in Basic Training.  It was like they were new and exciting things because we hadn’t been eating them all along!  Better still, we’d managed to get a pallet of MRE bread, which was really good.  Cut the bread in half, hydrate the pork patty, and it made a pretty good sandwich.

Once Desert Storm ended, the military realized that they needed to pay attention to how the meals tasted, and since then, they’ve been developing meals like pizza.  I’ve never had the pizza MRE.  What do you think? Could the army make a dehydrated pizza actually work?

Next up will be “what it’s like to wear a Gas mask” so tune in, same military channel, same military time tomorrow.