Saturday, July 28, 2012

Talkin' Bout My Mobe-lization...

Without going into OPSEC-defying detail, it looks like I will be returning to active duty for an extended period of time. That's the Yin and Yang of being a military reservist these days...our sacrifices  are fewer in frequency and duration than our active duty brothers and sisters, but sometimes it's more jolting when transitioning between civilian life and full-time soldier.

I am definitely not whining about this situation. It remains a distinct privilege to be able to serve at my rather advanced age, and hopefully contribute something worthwhile. Re-orienting my mind always takes time, but at least it won't be the complete shock I experienced in 2008 by returning to a completely different Army!

One BIG improvement over my last adventure (which spawned this blog), is that I will be attached to an installation very close to home, so life will be relatively normal. Should be a minimum of foolishness as well, which will be most welcome.

I'll keep y'all posted as this next military experience develops. Besides, until I have orders in hand, and complete mobilization in-processing, nothing is for certain, right?

UPDATE: I definitely spoke too soon with the "Should be a minimum of foolishness..." comment. Although I have a current HIV test result on file, good until 2015, according to the Army Medical System, I apparently need a NEW test, like yesterday, not to mention a new physical. Guess someone must have dimed me out when they saw me eating a couple of sweet potato fries with my salad the other day. As for the HIV thing, at my age, "risky behavior" is defined as setting the treadmill speed to over 5 mph...and while that may require me to start a "Motrin Cocktail", it's a far cry from any unauthorized boinkery. Plus, I hate dang blood draws. Okay, my Olympic Whining event is finished...

Thursday, July 12, 2012

I'll "Reserve" Judgement...For Now.

As I finish gathering my equipment together for a day of "fun" doing Army weapons qualification tomorrow, I have been reflecting on the latest news from the Department of Defense, or "DoD" for short. I've been reading in a number of online and print articles about how the DoD is seriously considering a radical change to how drilling reservists (like yours truly) are paid, and receive drill points. Currently, and for as long as I've been a reservist (1983), drills consist of two full days of work, but we receive a total of four days pay (just base pay, no other allowances or benefits such as Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), leave accrual, or medical benefits.). We also accrue four "points" per drill (which is now called "Battle Assembly" because evidently that sounds significantly more awesome?). Reservists must accrue between 48-50 points per year in order for that year to count for reserve retirement, which is usually referred to as a "Good Year". We also receive 15 "membership points" annually, and if we go to Annual Training, or Active Duty for Training, (usually 14 days), or an Army school, we receive one point per day of training. Once a reservist has credit for 20 "Good Years", then he or she can retire, and start drawing retirement pay at age 60. (The more combat deployments a reservist has, the earlier he or she can start drawing that retired pay.) Reserve retirement pay is calculated by multiplying the number of total points accrued during service by a factor depending on the highest rank held. Unlike an active duty retirement, it's not enough to live on, but a reserve retirement provides a nice cushion to supplement our civilian retirement income.
This current method of points accrual helps us to balance our reserve obligation and our civilian jobs, by allowing us to skip some drills, especially when they conflict with important projects in our normal lives. The majority of us also contribute a significant amount of time preparing for Battle Assemblies on our off time. For example, I put in about 10 hours this month, writing the operations order, coordinating medical support, and setting up additional classes for our unit's rifle and pistol qualifications, which culminates on the firing range tomorrow. Some unit commanders and leaders, or staff folks average significantly more extra time every month. We do it (usually without complaint) because we are soldiers, and we are just as liable to be called up for combat duty as many of our active duty brothers and sisters.

So it came as a shock and disappointment when I read about the new proposal from a DoD committee tasked with cutting the budget. They proposed a radical change: Reservists would be paid one day's base pay and "one thirtieth" of the BAH per drill day, and receive half the points they do under the current system.  This plan is predicted to significantly reduce Reserve compensation, both while serving and upon retirement.
Without exception, every reservist I have heard commenting on this proposal is strongly against it. It'll potentially have the effect of mid-career reserve soldiers, most with at least one combat deployment, deciding that the continued sacrifice is no longer worth it. That's the consensus I've observed, anyway.

While this possible change would have little effect on me personally, I choose to comment because of the potential for gutting a major segment of our armed forces. If other proposals to restructure active duty military pay, benefits, and retirement also come to pass, we could very well see the best fighting force in the world slide into decline. This probably isn't the best time in our history to cause that decline to occur.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Fourth of July Fireworks!

I am lucky to live in a small town which does traditional stuff like Salmon Bakes, summer concerts in the park overlooking Puget Sound, farmers markets, an apple squeeze, and my personal favorite, the old-fashioned Fourth of July celebration. For as long as I've lived here (over 30 years now), there has been a street fair and parade, followed by a big fireworks display paid for by town residents' donations.

When I was a cop working for our town, I really looked forward to this holiday, as all hands were on deck, and we public safety types had as much fun as the visitors. About six years ago, I began serving as the parade announcer, which as my Spousal Unit will tell you is my favorite activity because I have a microphone. (A stint as a DJ for a community college radio station in the early 70s was the start of that particular weakness, but that's fodder for another blog post down the road, maybe.) My deployment to Iraq kind of messed up that gig, but this year I was asked by the parade coordinator to be the traffic director for the groups as they passed by the "reviewing stand". (There isn't really an actual stand, but it sounds more awesome than "the cement stairs by the post office parking lot.") So, decked out in what I  call my "Traffic Clown" outfit, (fluorescent orange gloves, orange reflective vest, and a bright orange whistle), I prepared for this crucial assignment by downing a plate of pork carnitas, obtained from one of the street fair food vendors. It was a tasty lunch, accompanied by refritos, arroz, and guacamole, and a fresh flour tortilla.

 My hunger sated, I had plenty of energy to wrangle the parade participants into moving along the street at the prescribed pace. Only two glitches: a group of tiny Tae Kwon Do students and their instructor, armed with nunchuks, apparently decided to stop every 50 yards and put on a demonstration, which created a HUGE gap in the parade. Since the parade route is a long rectangle using parallel streets, I had no idea what the problem was until the mini Chuck Norris wannabes appeared at the end of the block, with a long line of classic cars and other groups backed up behind them. By this time, the spectators lining the street assumed the parade was over, so they started wandering up the middle of the street. Once I figured out what was going on, I had to clear the street by waving my orange-gloved hands, blowing my whistle, and generally making an ass of myself. Of course, the diminutive martial artists ignored my instructions to "keep moving, no more stops!" I figured that being outnumbered by the 30 or so nunchuk-waving little tykes made that a non-winnable argument, which proved correct.

The other glitch was provided at the tail end of the parade by the town's volunteer firefighters, who traditionally mark the end of the groups with a fire engine and an aid rig. This year's young crews were apparently so focused on checking out the hot babes lining the route that they opened up a 400-meter gap. Once again, the spectators figured the parade was over and filled the street, and once again I had to  "head 'em up and move 'em out, Rawhide!" So that was 5% awesome.

My assignment complete, (after being yelled at by the parade coordinator about letting the gaps develop, but whatever), I walked home to pick up my Spousal Unit and head to our friend's house for the traditional 4th of July BBQ, and to watch the fireworks from their house overlooking the Puget Sound. After a fine meal of grilled burgers, chopped vegetable salad, and fresh strawberries, we all chatted while waiting for dusk and the fireworks show to commence. That's when my innards began to swell and my stomach became really queasy. So here's another life lesson: If you ever need to camouflage serious gastric distress, there is nothing better than a commercial fireworks display. It's just a matter of timing your own explosions in sync to the airbursts, and the drifting clouds of cordite definitely mask any other sulphur-based aromas.

Fortunately, I didn't experience the full onslaught of what turned out to be "Revenge of the Carnitas" until we got home...I ended up taking a sick day in order to recover. I do believe that next year I will eat lunch at home before the parade, despite having gained another tactic to maintain social poise under difficult conditions.