The Soldier’s Christmas Poem


I’ve always found there’s something magical about Christmas.  It’s a time where hope comes out and reminds us that things can be better if we make the effort.  This is The Soldier’s Christmas Poem about Santa visiting the house of a soldier.

 

As I write this, we’re in single digits outside.  That’s early for Washington DC.  We usually hit that in January or February.  Snow–evil word that it is–is possible tonight and Saturday.  Brr!

 

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.

What it’s like for a soldier to parachute (video)


No!  It’s not me!  I’d be too scared to do this, and I don’t know how the former President Bush did something like this at the age of 90.  Several airborne soldiers I knew reported that the experience was terrifying.

But jumping out of planes is a volunteer thing; it’s not like the army will point at Jane Private Truck Driver and say, “You just ‘volunteered’ to jump out of a plane.”  The soldier has to sign up for and be accepted for Airborne, and then they go to school.  Before Desert Storm, one of the women soldiers had signed up for it.

So enjoy the video!

LANGUAGE WARNING: The Canadian soldier discovers about halfway through that he’s headed for the trees, so there’s some language about halfway.

Would you volunteer to parachute of a plane?

 

The Lonely Sounds of War


One question everyone always asked me when I got back from Desert Storm was “What was it like?”  It’s a tough question to answer, because there’s so much of it, and it’s hard to convey the sense of it in words.  But The Daily Post had a prompt about doing lists, and since I was practicing writing the sense of sound at a local waterfall, I’m going to do the sounds of war.  But I’m also going to avoid all the usual trappings, like gunfire and artillery.

1.

War is thunder and lightning rolling across the sky. A rumble in the distance, then violent booms. It leaves us worn down, impatient for something to happen. Yet, we dread the moment it will.

2.

War is the silence that comes out with the chill of the night as stars crowd into the sky. It looks like it should be peaceful, but the war is ever present, hiding in the darkness while he waits for us.

3.

War is the two voices drifting past the tent and fading out. People I thought I knew, and people I know too well, and people I don’t know at all, all wrapped up into one. I listen to my voice. Do I even know me any more?

4.

War is suddenness: a boom, a hand holding down a truck horn, anything that sounds like an alarm. We jump up, our senses jarring loose and scattering to the wind. Where’s the danger? What direction is coming from? Has it come for us now?

5.

War is what’s in our voices. It’s what we don’t say, what we don’t talk about. It’s everything but war, what might happen to us. We talk, but we don’t connect any more. It’s like we’re all trying to pretend like this isn’t happening to us.

A to Z Challenge Wrap Up


A to Z Challenge Badge
A to Z Challenge Participant

I’m wrapping up the A to Z challenge with a list of my posts about military in case you missed any of them:

Least Likely to be in the Army

First Day at Basic Training

Hauling Soldiers in a Cattle Car

Drill and Ceremonies, or all that marching

Explosive ordnance, pilots, and other things women do in the military

Do MREs count as Food?

What it’s like to wear a Gas mask

What it’s like when the war takes you away from Home

The day I got a Red Cross message during Desert Storm

Just a minute — I’m a ghost soldier?

Keeping up with the services: Reserves, Army, Oh My!

Lost in the woods with a Lieutenant

what it’s like to carry an M16

so Not ready — scariness on army guard duty

There’s Organizing my way and then there’s the army’s way

The Practicality of the army uniform

living Quarters in desert storm

The military wake up call: Revillie

Scariest thing that happened to me in the army

Tent fire in desert storm

Air war: Unknown in the distance

Where are the voices of the Women veterans

Washing clothes in Desert Storm

Xray! Xray! The military alphabet

Yes, It takes 20 years to talk about War

Watch for my A to Z Reflections on May 5.  Then I’ll resume military posts on May 12 with “What it’s like coming home from war.”

If you want to read about my continuing military adventures (or misadventures as the case may be), check out the blog on Mondays.

Plus some of my publications with women soldiers:

War Happens – part of a collection called Red, White, and True, which is being published in August, 2014.

Review of the book Redeployment – Washington Independent Review of Books.

Six Bullets – a fantasy short story in the anthology A Princess, A Boatman, and a Lizard.

A Soldier’s Magic – a contemporary fantasy short story in the anthology The Darkness Within.

Grateful Gift to Any Soldier – Washington Post.

hauling soldiers in a Cattle Car (video)


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A to Z Challenge Participant

If we couldn’t march somewhere in Basic Training because it was too far, we used a cattle car. Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Here’s a video, though we did not moo:

The drill sergeants put 87 women on the one we used in Basic Training.  One time we were in the green rain ponchos (if you’ve seen Private Benjamin, those are it), and it was a sea of blackness inside the cattle car with all of us jammed together.

We also used the cattle car on my first duty station at Fort Lewis, but they never took the cattle cars off post.  They’re illegal!

Next up will be “Drill and ceremonies, or all that marching,” so tune in, same military channel, same military time tomorrow.

Thanksgiving During War


We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.  ~Thornton Wilder

A pilgrim woman holds a pumpkin, with a turkey in the foreground.  A banner says, "Thanksgiving Joys."I always think it’s strange to have a sit down Thanksgiving indoors.  When I was growing up in Southern California, our neighbor had a potluck outside — yes, outside!  We’d haul out the lawn chairs or sit on the asphalt as Candy, their black dog, wandered around, collar jingling.

But when I was in Desert Storm, Thanksgiving was another thing entirely.  We’d been over there maybe a month and were still at the exposition center in Dhahran.  We called the building “the white house,” because it was white, because it was air conditioned, and because the officers took it over.  We stayed in tents on the sand and ate meals in a gigantic tent.  Meals were catered, and repeated themselves about every three days.  Usually chicken, salad, and fingers of cake.  The food was pretty good, but tiresome because it was always the same.  No fresh fruit because of the heat — everything went bad too fast.

But because we were in Dhahran, we had the opportunity to see President Bush when he came to visit the troops.   Each platoon picked a person to go, and I got picked.  We had to stand in a long line that ran next to a runway.  Air Force One sat on the runway, sharply outlined against the blue sky.   It was hard to believe I would be so close to the President of the United States!  Granted, President Bush was too far away from me to see much more than an ant-sized version — there were a lot of soldiers out there!

Afterwards, we were treated to a huge Thanksgiving feast — really, all you could eat.  They’d done a lot of work getting all the food out to us and serving it to us.  A table in the center of the tent had Thanksgiving decorations, and scattered at the base were Mars Bars.  I hadn’t seen candy bars in a month, which doesn’t seem long now.  But then, time was longer because each day was the same.  It felt like ages.  So I was pocketing as many as I could manage for later.  Then, at last, the meal was over, and we all had to return to reality.

 

Linda Adams – Solider, Storyteller

Cover for A Princes, A Boatman, and A Lizard, showing a silhouette of a princess holding a lizard in the palm of her hand.Yay!  My short story “Six Bullets” is now available from Starcatcher Publishing in the the anthology A Princess, A Boatman, and A Lizard.

The GI Party — No, it’s not what you just thought


I bet you had an immediate image of a soldiers out there partying things up.  The term G.I. party comes from World War II.  Then it was an intensive cleanup of the barracks on Friday evening (!) for an inspection on Saturday morning.  Ours was done during the week, and we didn’t have a choice in participating.

What would happen is the first sergeant, who was the senior enlisted in the company, would do random inspections of the barracks.  If he was unhappy with a section, then the platoon sergeant would be notified, and next thing the soldiers knew, it was time for a G.I. Party.  With the female section, it was a little different because there were only about seven of us.  No platoon sergeant was in charge of our area because we were a mix of platoons.

But we heard about it at final formation when the first sergeant declared our area “Fubar,” which means (fowled) up beyond all recognition.  No one told us what was wrong, so launched into massive cleanup for several hours.  We didn’t do it with toothbrushes or anything weird like that — it was all floor stripper, wax, bleach, pine oil, green scrubbing pads, mops, and brooms.  We had to do both our rooms and the common areas, which were the hallways and the latrine.

The G.I. Party included bleaching the bathroom floor because that kept the grout from discoloring.  I also liked bleach because you knew when you walked in the door that it had been cleaned, and with luck, maybe an inspection for the area was bypassed.  Sinks, toilets, and showers were cleaned.

For the hallway, we stripped the wax off the floor, cleaned it, and then waxed it again.  After that, we buffed the floor with our buffer (which we sometimes had to hide, since the males stole it on occasion).  The buffer isn’t like the ones you see in the office — those are easy to handle.  With the ones the army had, it was like a bucking bronco.  Very hard to control.  Sometimes it seemed like it had a mind of its own and would smash from wall to wall.

The floors in the rooms were also stripped, cleaned, waxed, and buffed.  We wiped off the top of the wall lockers, window sills, and anything else we could find.  The barracks gleamed.  There’s really nothing like a freshly polished floor.

Next day: Fubar again.  Another G.I. Party.  What else can we clean?  It seemed to be something in the common area, but what?  We renew our efforts and make everything shinier and cleaner.

Next day: Fubar again.  Another G.I. Party.  Now we’re begging our sergeants to tell us what he’s finding so we can get it taken care of and no one will tell us.  No one wants to be responsible for the female area..

Next day: Fubar again, and now the first sergeant is threatening to put all our belongings out in the parking lot.  I’m envisioning my TV set sitting out, either waiting for a Washington state rainstorm or a thief to steal it.

One of the women drags in her squad leader, and he reluctantly tells us the problem.

Paint.

On the hallway light fixtures.

You have to be kidding.  It had been there years.

We got an exacto knife and scraped it off.  First sergeant was happy.

 

Life as a Single Soldier


Since I’m going to be teaching a class on Forward Motion called “Basic Training on Military Culture” starting November 5 (tomorrow!), I thought it would be appropriate to have a military theme for this month.  So drag off the combat boots and join us for a spell to learn about the military.

If a soldier comes into the military single/unmarried, the army puts them into the barracks.  They don’t have a choice about it and will stay into the barracks until they get married.  While I’ve never lived in a college dorm, I believe the best description of barracks life is probably close to dorm life.  You have a bunch of teenagers living together, though also with a mix of older soldiers.  All enlisted — the officers were never in the barracks.

What did the rooms look like?

The rooms came in two sizes.  One was like a large bedroom, and that was for two soldiers.  A larger room was for three soldiers.  We each got a wall locker, a small 3-drawer chest (the size of a nightstand), and a twin bed — really a bunk bed.   The bed had two drawers underneath for additional storage.  We also had a refrigerator and a desk.  Yeah, it wasn’t much space.

Particularly from the old-timer soldiers, there was an attitude that the single soldiers didn’t need much of anything.   I particularly saw this during the numerous moves we had to do.  Everyone kept thinking that all we had was a duffel bag, so we were often told to move in one day and expected to be military perfect instantly.  I had books.  I had a computer.  It was never simple.  I often had to throw everything in a box to make the move happen and could never unpack.  The worst move was when we were told to move across post in the middle of a hurricane!

Extra furniture beyond what the army provided also drove the old timers crazy.  We had a soldier senior enough to have a room by herself, and she had a sofa in it.  One of the sergeants wanted her to get rid of it — believe it or not — because other soldiers couldn’t have a sofa.  Her response was that it wasn’t her fault if they couldn’t afford one.

What were the facilities like?

We had one washing machine and one dryer.  If you didn’t stick around in the room and guard your laundry, someone would come in, take your clothes out of the dryer, and put theirs in.

For bathrooms, I was in two different barracks.  The first had shower stalls with tile, which seemed like a luxury compared to the World War II barracks we later stayed in.  We were lucky we had toilet stalls.  The showers were in bays of three, with the kind of tile that’s never going to look clean no matter how much you bleach it.  I didn’t take a bath for six years, except for occasional visits to hotels when I was on leave.

Below is a photo of the type of World War II building I stayed in from TPB, Esq.  Inside the buildings were signs that warned, “Maximum weight per square foot is 100 pounds.”  Think about that for a while.

Ft. Lewis No. 8

Screen reader: Photo shows an old World War 2-story building.  The buildings were intended to be temporary and they look temporary.  The walls are wood siding painted white.  Three sixteen pane windows are on the top floor and one on the bottom floor, along with two four pane windows.  The photographer identifies this building as condemned, so the paint is flaking off.

What were the rules of living in the barracks?

There were also rules associated with barracks life.  When I left Fort Lewis, they were working on changing some of them, because there were clearly rules that were just plain dumb:

  1. No hard liquor, but you could have a 6-pack of beer.  I didn’t get this one because you can get drunk off both.
  2. You couldn’t have anything out on the desk.  At all.  So if you had a magazine that you were reading, you had to put it in a drawer.  You couldn’t leave on the desk, no matter how neat it was.  I couldn’t even save soda cans to recycle because that was leaving trash out!
  3. Door checks.  At night, the staff duty officer would come through the female barracks and try the doors to see if they were locked.  Imagine lying in bed asleep and being awakened by someone unknown turning your doorknob.  Then, maybe I’ve been writing fiction, too long!

The worst thing about barracks life was really the music.  There were always several people who had to play their music at full volume, as if they were daring someone to complain about their music.  Sometimes two would get into music dueling wars and turn the volume up to try drown each other out.

Getting Shot At on Paragon Trail


This post was inspired by Reetta Raitanen, who was interested in several gun articles that I mentioned I’d read.  I started thinking about when I was in the army, because it’s still a little unusual for women to handle guns.  Then I started thinking about when I had gotten shot at.  It was military training, and not war.  But that didn’t make it any less terrifying.

As part of the last few weeks of basic training, we went on Paragon Trail at Fort Dix, New Jersey.  It was a live fire exercise with real bullets flying overhead and grenades going off.  While it was controlled, it was still dangerous.  A soldier from the last cycle had been struck by grenade shrapnel.  We could get hurt!

And I nearly did.

It was so dark out when we went on the trail that it was hard to see anything. But we heard everything, from the staccato of the bullets and the booms of explosions. It was all around us, and we had to get across, while in full gear — helmet, equipment belt, gas mask, and rifle — navigating around various obstacles.

I remember bits and pieces of it. It was like my whole world narrowed to getting across the trail and away from the danger. It’s one thing to hear bullets on TV. It’s another thing to have them firing over my head, and the only thing I’m thinking is, “I’m going to get shot! I’m going to die!”

It was my turn to go, and I ran, faster than I’ve run in my life, the rifle clunking against my legs.  I didn’t breathe, I didn’t think — I just reacted.  There were flashes of light from the tracer rounds above my head, and the gunfire. That’s what I remember the most, because sound punctuated how close those bullets really were.

A video of tracer rounds from a machine gun.:

Part of the trail was getting through an obstacle of concertina wire.

Soldier uses gloves to unroll concertina wireIt’s nasty stuff, with lots of pointy parts.  We had a soldier fall into several years later, and it took the fire department two hours to get him out.  And I had to crawl under it on my back?!  I had to lay the rifle on my stomach, and I kept envisioning that my hands would get cut up by it.   The tracers were still streaking through the sky above me as I scraped along the ground.  At last I was free of the concertina and bolting toward the end of the trail.

By then, I was sweating so much that it was pouring down my face like Robert Hayes on Airplane!  I needed windshield washers for my glasses, because I could not see anything.  I took them off, but now the sweat was getting into my eyes.  My eyes stung, and between the dark and the sweat, I couldn’t see much.  But  I’m still running, because I have to keep moving.  I had to get to safety now!

I’m almost there.  And then this shape darted at me, and it’s screaming.  The words didn’t make any sense.  The shape grabs me and drags me in another direction.  It’s the drill sergeant, and I scared him.  I’d almost run into the concertina wire!

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