so Not ready — scariness on guard duty

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I always have to laugh when I see the Army commercials. They promise Action! They promise Adventure! Trust me. If you have those things, you’re probably in trouble and don’t want it.

One of the standard details I had was guard duty. It went to all the lower enlisted (of course), and a sergeant of the guard was in charge of us. We’d go out on two hour shifts, and it always seemed like one of those was in the middle of the night — and during winter. In fact, I saw my first snow on guard duty.

We were on exterior guard, which was manning the gated entrances to the post. The guard post had been plopped at the side of the road, a battered shack with multiple coats of paints to match the post commander’s color preference. This time, it was brown. It was the kind of place where everyone cared enough to have it there and be serviceable, but didn’t care enough to maintain it. A lot of Army stuff is like that.

Inside it was just enough space to turn around in. I remember how my boots clomped on the wooden floor. It was just a plank laid across the bottom. Not even finished or painted. Like I said serviceable. A shelf had been built out for a battered black phone that only called into the guard shack. A heater chugged constantly to push out a wispy bit of warm air, so all we could do was go inside for a few minutes and warm up. It didn’t stay in the shack very long.

We also had a porta-potty twenty feet away or so. Around, the road was lined with telephone trees, the Douglas firs. The trees were like patient sentries, brown and green in the darkness.

Mostly we spend our duty bouncing around, trying to stay warm.

Then the phone rang, a harsh jangle in the darkness. I thump back into the guard shack and pick up the receiver. Instantly, I get a staccato of a man machine-gunning out an alert. There’s an armed and dangerous criminal roaming around in the woods!

It’s a one way call and might even be a recording. His only instructions are not to approach Mr. Armed and Dangerous. Hey! But what if Mr. Armed and Dangerous approaches us? We’re, like, you know, in the middle of nowhere and all alone.

So we wait and watch the woods, and eventually the sergeant of the guard comes and picks us up. It’s a bit anticlimactic, but seriously, Action and Adventure isn’t always a good thing.

Next up will be “there’s Organizing my way and then there’s the army way,” same military channel, same military time tomorrow.

When I saw snow the first time, I was an army private

It’s the first day of winter, or the winter solstice, and I thought it would be appropriate to write about the first time I saw snow, since it was when I was in the army.  I was 25 years old.

I grew up in Los Angeles.  It’s blistering hot during the summer, and winters are milder and dry.  Or to say, it was quite shocking one year when it actually got cold enough to freeze the water in the pipes.  It just never gets the traditional temperatures associated with winter, and snow is maybe once every 25 years or so.

My first duty assignment after going active duty was at Fort Lewis, Washington (now known as Joint Base Lewis-McChord).  Fort Lewis is located in the Tacoma area, near the Puget Sound.  At the time, I was less than a year in the army and had one of the details every private gets: Guard duty.

Then, we were pulling the guard duty on the gates, and I was assigned to one way out in the middle of nowhere.  The sergeant of the guard dropped us off in a Deuce and half, then rumbled away on the road, the red rear lights eventually fading from view.  The guard gate was so far in the boonies that I wondered why anyone was going off post in that direction.  There was nothing out there but trees.

These trees were the glorious conifers that lumber state Washington is known for– pines that grew tall and taller, reaching high above the other trees.  From my vantage point at the bottom, they looked like giant telephone poles all lined up.  The browns were deep and rustic, and the greens of Christmas.  They were silent sentries watching over us.

It was just me and another private.   Stand out on the road by a brown shack with a tiny space heater spitting out bits of warmth and try not to be too cold while we waited for our two hours to end.

Then the snow started to fall, all white and pristine.  It was as if it quieted the world around us as it fell, white against the dark colors of winter.  It was a moment of serenity from nature.