Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Until You've Experienced It....

Sometimes….folks discover things….and then act shocked….but you could have forecasted it.

This week, a report came out by some University of Minnesota folks. They’ve surveyed the Army guys coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan….and they’ve discovered that aggressive driving habits come back home with them….and they are more prone to accidents in the US.

Shocking, itsn’t it?

They used 150 members of the Minnesota Nation Guard as their study group.

Twenty-five percent of them admitting driving down the middle of a civilian street upon return….or running a stop sign. Ten percent even admitted that they drove a bit erratic through underpasses or tunnels.

Some of the guys even continued to have issues after 90 days back in the states. The Army came to view the study as an interesting tool.

It doesn’t really surprise me that much. Everyone has issues like this. When guys came back from a year in Vietnam….they all had adjustment issues in getting onto the road. I can remember a WW II vet talking once about the act of adjusting after two years of non-driving as he ventured through basic training and then across France and into Germany.

I did four months in Turkey toward the end of my career in the Air Force. The only vehicle I drove the whole time….was a 1974 Ford Pick-up with no power-steering, no power-brakes, and an automatic transmission that would not switch from gear to gear….so you had to thump the gear shift down or up for each change in speed. I came to have several weeks of problems upon return.

The thing is...folks arrive in Iraq or Afghanistan with "bad" habits and have to readjust there as well. Driving is just of those things.

Several years ago….I was given a sheet by a guy who had done time in Iraq and his group had cooked up this list of things you needed to do….to prepare yourself for a tour in the “sandbox”. These were all things you should do the month prior to the deployment:

1. Sleep on a cot in the garage.

2. Replace the garage door with a curtain.

3. Six hours after you go to sleep, have your wife or girlfriend whip open the curtain, shine a flashlight in your eyes and mumble, "Sorry, wrong cot."

4. Renovate your bathroom. Hang a green plastic sheet down from the middle of your bathtub and move the showerhead down to chest level. Keep four inches of soapy cold water on the floor. Stop cleaning the toilet and pee everywhere but in the toilet itself. Leave two to three sheets of toilet paper. Or for best effect, remove it altogether. For a more realistic deployed bathroom experience, stop using your bathroom and use a neighbor's. Choose a neighbor who lives at least a quarter mile away.

5. When you take showers, wear flip-flops and keep the lights off.

6. Every time there is a thunderstorm, go sit in a wobbly rocking chair and dump dirt on your head.

7. Put lube oil in your humidifier instead of water and set it on "HIGH" for that tactical generator smell.

8. Don't watch TV except for movies in the middle of the night. Have your family vote on which movie to watch and then show a different one.

9. Leave a lawnmower running in your living room 24 hours a day for proper noise level.

10. Have the paperboy give you a haircut.

11. Once a week, blow compressed air up through your chimney making sure the wind carries the soot across and on to your neighbor's house. Laugh at him when he curses you.

12. Buy a trash compactor and only use it once a week. Store up garbage in the other side of your bathtub.

13. Wake up every night at midnight and have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on a saltine cracker.

14. Make up your family menu a week ahead of time without looking in your food cabinets or refrigerator. Then serve some kind of meat in an unidentifiable sauce poured over noodles. Do this for every meal.

15. Set your alarm clock to go off at random times during the night. When it goes off, jump out of bed and get to the shower as fast as you can. Simulate there is no hot water by running out into your yard and breaking out the garden hose.

16. Once during the month, take every major appliance completely apart and put it back together again.

17. Use 18 scoops of coffee per pot and allow it to sit for five or six hours before drinking.

18. Invite at least 185 people you don't really like because of their strange hygiene habits to come and visit for a couple of days. Exchange clothes with them.

19. Have a fluorescent lamp installed on the bottom of your coffee table and lie under it to read books.

20. Raise the thresholds and lower the top sills of your front and back doors so that you either trip over the threshold or hit your head on the sill every time you pass through one of them.

21. Keep a roll of toilet paper on your night stand and bring it to the bathroom with you. And bring your gun and a flashlight.

22. Go to the bathroom when you just have to pass gas, "just in case." Every time.

23. Announce to your family that they have mail, have them report to you as you stand outside your open garage door after supper and then say, "Sorry, it's for the other Smith."

24. Wash only 15 items of laundry per week. Roll up the semi-wet clean clothes in a ball. Place them in a cloth sack in the corner of the garage where the cat pees. After a week, unroll them and without ironing or removing the mildew, proudly wear them to professional meetings and family gatherings. Pretend you don't know what you look or smell like. Enthusiastically repeat the process for another week.

25. Go to the worst crime-infested place you can find, go heavily armed, wearing a flak jacket and a Kevlar helmet. Set up shop in a tent in a vacant lot. Announce to the residents that you are there to help them.

26. Eat a single M&M every Sunday and convince yourself it's for Malaria.

27. Demand each family member be limited to 10 minutes per week for a morale phone call. Enforce this with your teenage daughter.

28. Shoot a few bullet holes in the walls of your home for proper ambiance.

29. Sandbag the floor of your car to protect from mine blasts and fragmentation.

30. While traveling down roads in your car, stop at each overpass and culvert and inspect them for remotely detonated explosives before proceeding.

31. Fire off 50 cherry bombs simultaneously in your driveway at 3:00 a.m. When startled neighbors appear, tell them all is well, you are just registering mortars. Tell them plastic will make an acceptable substitute for their shattered windows.

32. Drink your milk and sodas warm.

33. Spread gravel throughout your house and yard.

34. Make your children clear their Super Soakers in a clearing barrel you placed outside the front door before they come in.

35. Make your family dig a survivability position with overhead cover in the backyard. Complain that the 4x4s are not 8 inches on center and make them rebuild it.

36. Continuously ask your spouse to allow you to go buy an M-Gator.

37. When your 5-year-old asks for a stick of gum, have him find the exact stick and flavor he wants on the Internet and print out the web page. Type up a Form 9 and staple the web page to the back. Submit the paperwork to your spouse for processing. After two weeks, give your son the gum.

38. Announce to your family that the dog is a vector for disease and shoot it. Throw the dog in a burn pit you dug in your neighbor's back yard.

39. Wait for the coldest/ hottest day of the year and announce to your family that there will be no heat/air conditioning that day so you can perform much needed maintenance on the heater/ air conditioner. Tell them you are doing this so they won't get cold/ hot.

40. Just when you think you're ready to resume a normal life, order yourself to repeat this process for another six months to simulate the next deployment you've been ordered to support.


For the month of September, I'm starting a short series called "Air Force Screw-ups"....which is a short story on how something got really screwed up. I'm probably going to write fifteen to twenty of these short blurbs.

Years ago….I worked in a shop that supported an Air Force operation in Italy, out of Ramstein....which was very active during the Balkan crisis years.

At some point, these guys woke up and realized that they didn’t have recall ability....to get folks from the hotel...back to the office.

So they called our boss....a Colonel back here at Ramstein....and asked for beepers. The Colonel was real quick about this....he forced all of the shops in the organization to cough up their beepers and then had some guy drive from Ramstein to Italy with these beepers.

Our guy drove a rental car all the way down....handed the beepers over and then drove all the way back.

The boys in Italy discovered that the beepers only work on the German telephone net. The Italians have a totally different net and frequency.

Rather than admit their screw-up….which you can never do with a Colonel....they boxed up the beepers and shoved them into a closet, where they sat for four years. They then turned around two months later and asked for cellphones to be bought locally in Italy.

I realized one day as someone brought a box from Italy....full of beepers....that they had belonged to us. The beepers had been reported as “missing” because no one in Italy could remember what happened to them….once they arrived.

Kaiserslautern Murder

This past week....news came to the K-town community....a murder.

There is this South American-German gal....Elizabeth Gartner....who was found out near the Gelterswoog lake area...about five miles south of K-town. She was burnt in some fashion apparently....strange and bizarre episode.

The best we can say is that she was single, working at some local hotel-restaurant....and finished up a shift around midnight. Her car ended back up at the apartment in Landstuhl. Her body ends up being found on a trail behind the lake....where a fair amount of folks go and walk or jog daily. She had friends and connections in the Landstuhl area and apparently on base (at least this is suggested by the cops).

So the only scenario you can dream up on this....someone she knew must have come by and picked her up at home after she drove back from the hotel....and then drove her out there. Whatever discussion or argument occurred out on this trail next to the lake....went badly and then the person involved....burned the body.

What kind of folks do something like this? You can only imagine someone who has something to hide and wants to ensure no evidence off her body comes back to him.

The thing will be....what phone calls did she have....to the house or the cellphone...and who do they lead to from that evening. I’m guessing the cops already are searching those.

K-town is a pretty quiet town. I doubt if they have more than one or two murders in an entire year. We have barfights, and DWI’s...but never much in the murder category.

The base had a murder back in the early 1990s....over at Civil Engineering. Night shift person....alone...female....sexually assaulted and then murdered in the building which was locked. It took several years for this episode to come full circle. It turned out that some guy who worked in the building and had a key to enter....eventually started to drink heavily and say stupid things in front of his wife. The wife eventually connected enough dots to call the cops. The guy fell apart under the intense questions and the mystery was solved.

The cops are leaning toward some base connection because she apparently knew a number of Americans.