Tag Archives: National Guard

The Mythology of the Weekend Warrior

In some circles, the National Guard has acquired the unfair stigma of producing “Weekend Warriors”. The common belief is that the Guard’s military commitment is limited to one weekend a month and two weeks out of the year.

Tee hee. It is to laugh.

In other words, Um, no.

That may or may not have been the case fifteen years ago. I wouldn’t know since I met my husband during wartime and virtually on the eve of his first deployment; a time when he was very active in the military. The fact of the matter is that these days, the commitment involves much, much more than that. And, quite frankly, that causes some problems.

Please allow me to elaborate.*

*Note that the following are from my own experiences and observations. I’m sure situations can differ widely, but you’ll at least get the drift of where I’ve gisted. (Ew).

1. Drill weekend is a sleepover.
The armory where my husband drills is a two and a half hour drive from where we live. This makes showing up for 0700 formation on Saturday morning rather difficult. T generally opts to go up Friday night in lieu of getting up at 0330 to make the long, sleepy, dark drive. It is also almost impossible for T to come home in the evenings once dismissed, so he needs to stay overnight.

2. A drill weekend is not just Saturday and Sunday.
My husband is an occifer, as I fondly refer to him, so drill weekend often starts, not with formation on Saturday at 0700, but with a leaders’ meeting at 1800 on Friday evening. T– like many members of the National Guard – holds a civilian job. He works in the world of finance, so most weekdays he sits behind a computer until 5:00 p.m.

Let’s review: T gets out of work at 5:00 p.m. It’s a two and a half hour drive to the armory. Leaders’ meeting starts at 1800.

If you do the math, you will find that it is logistically impossible for T to be at the armory in time for his meeting unless he gets out of work an hour and a half early.

Further, not all drill weekends are MUTA 4s (Saturday and Sunday). Some are MUTA 5s (starting Friday night, pushing the leaders meeting to Friday afternoon), some are MUTA 6s (starting Friday at 0700) and there is even the odd MUTA 8 thrown into the schedule (starting Thursday at 0700).

3. The armory is not equipped with barracks or housing.
T’s unit does not provide lodging for soldiers who travel great distances to drill (and there are some who come from further away than T). When they aren’t sleeping in the field, this leaves those soldiers two options: sleep on the concrete floor in the armory or get a hotel room.

EconoLodge logo

My husband, at the advanced age of thirty-nine, chooses to rest his creaky old bones in such luxurious accommodations such as the EconoLodge or the Super8. The cost of a hotel room in this area is approximately $70 per night, so T is essentially paying $140 to go to drill – about half of the salary he makes for being there. Factor in the price of the gas needed to get to and fro and the amount is even less.

4. Using civilian vacation time.
Civilian employers are required by law to give soldiers the time off needed to attend drills, Annual Training (AT), military schools or deployment. However, the manner in which they handle these leaves of absence is left largely up to the individual company or corporation. For example, while my husband has never been given any grief about being gone so often, his employer fully expects that T will use his vacation time towards these leaves until it is gone.

What this means for T (and for me) is that in a typical year, he uses his two weeks of vacation time during AT. (In a non-typical year it’s burned up in other ways.) The advantage is that during this time, T is “double-dipping”, as he calls it. In other words, he gets vacation pay and he gets paid by the military. The downside (which far outweighs the advantage, in my all-important opinion) is that AT is not summer camp. We’re not out sunning ourselves on the beach or rowing blissfully on a lake. It’s my husband’s second job. He works hard and he’s away from home.

Once his vacation time is gone, it’s gone, and we don’t get to spend any time off of work together.

And that just stinks.

5. Taking time to train.
I mentioned that the idea of “one weekend a month and two weeks a year” may have been a schedule conceived during peacetime. These days, National Guard units deploy regularly. Since 2006 my husband’s unit has served a 15-month stint in Iraq and a 12-month in Afghanistan. Those 27-months right there should be enough to debunk the myth of the weekend warrior. Should anyone need more convincing, let me make them aware that in the six months before my husband deployed in December of 2009, he was gone for nine of the 27 weeks. Nine. That’s about two additional months of missed work and missed wife.

6. Attending military schools.
Most soldiers in the Guard take their commitment very seriously. They strive for excellence and, in fact, some of them work twice as hard in order to prove their competence when stacked against active duty personnel. They fight hard to dispel the weekend warrior stereotype and to be taken seriously. They want to do well.

Doing well and advancing in the military often requires that the soldier attend different schools. These schools can last anywhere from a week to eight weeks or longer, tacking on even more time to the “one weekend a month” commitment.

So, what do you think? Have I dispelled the myth yet?

Maybe, but I’m just getting warmed up! Watch for numbers 7 -12 over the next few days.

How about you? Are you or is anyone you know in the Guard? What has your or their experience been?

SMURF-P

Smurf-P is not a small blue hip-hop artist who wears baggy footy pants. Nor is it a urine sample from a tiny person who lives in a mushroom house.

Smurf-P is the nickname given by my husband to a specific military team he recently joined. The proper acronym is CERFP (pronounced “surf-pee”), which stands for (and no, I’m not kidding): Chemical, Biological, Radiological/Nuclear, and Explosive Enhanced Response Force Package.

See? CERFP. It’s easy. And Smurfy.Brainy Smurf

Or Smurf-P, as the case may be.

Smurf-P and I are already at odds. The training that comes with my husband’s new role generally occurs on weekends that are not drill weekends. That means T is now gone two weekends a month instead of one. Since we both work fulltime, it’s not like we just sit around during the week soaking each other in. We’re working, commuting, running errands and doing housework. Weekends are when we’re supposed to relax, see friends or plan a fun activity together – in between laundry, taking the trash to the dump, grocery shopping and vacuuming up the dog hair and cat litter that threatens to bury the house on a daily basis.

What I wouldn’t give just to go see a movie with my husband.

As if that wasn’t irritating enough, this week is a full week of training for the Smurf-P. The training takes place near the armory where T drills – the one that is two and a half hours away from where we live. It doesn’t make sense for T to drive five hours a day for a full schedule of classes, so he’s staying in the area.

From wikipedia; originally uploaded to wikiped...

Image via Wikipedia

In case anyone is new to this blog, I’ll also mention here that my husband got home from a year in Afghanistan last December. Oh, and he’s also National Guard, which means all this is in addition to his civilian job. That’s right. He’s not fulltime military, which means we don’t get housing pay, he doesn’t get health insurance through the military and he doesn’t get comp days for a drill weekend. The only thing we regularly get from the military is the shaft.

What was I talking about? Oh, yeah. Smurf-P. Sorry, got a little off-track.

Last week we were discussing T’s military plans and I got on a roll then, too. I commented on how often he’s been gone and will be gone in the coming months. I listed off this training and that inventory and this drill and that whatever. T ignored me as best he could, but when I didn’t get the reaction I was looking for, I kept going.

With as much distain as I could muster – using diminutives to minimalize its importance – I scoffed, “And what about your little Smurf-P-ness?”

Which sounded completely different out loud than it did in my head.

Good thing T doesn’t have a fragile ego.

Walk With Me: Our Story, Part XII

Three months into his first deployment, two soldiers from T’s unit were killed in action and a third was wounded. Shortly after the incident, in a fit of alcohol-induced despair, I drunk emailed a message to my then-boyfriend with the subject line “BREAKING UP WITH YOU”…or did I?

Read Our Story from the beginning.

The screen went to a blank Hotmail page.

“Oh shit.” I said, stricken.

I looked at K and Laurie Loo. Their faces mirrored my horror, but I tried to swallow my panic.

“Did that go through?” I asked. “It doesn’t look like the regular ‘sent message’ screen.”

“It might not have,” K said, always the one to give solace. “I’ve had that happen before and the email didn’t send. It does that sometimes. I don’t know why.”

I wasn’t convinced and my stomach felt leaden, but I laughed anyway. What else could I do? I’d just pulled the world’s most bone-headed move, but there was no way I was going to admit it.

I got up from the computer and we went about with our evening. We played some cards. We laughed. We drank some more.

At one point I remember lying on the kitchen floor staring through my haze up at the ceiling. I think K was on one side of me and Laurie Loo on the other, but I wouldn’t swear to it in court. We lay there talking and laughing.

“I can’t believe you’re laughing about it,” Laurie Loo said. “I would be devastated.”

“Well, I am,” I said. “But I can’t take it back. If it went through, it went through.”

“Is that how you want things to end?”

I was quiet for a moment.

“No.”

I jumped up and sat back down at the computer and I typed this email to my soldier:

Subject Line: Okay, that was bad…

I’m sitting at K’s computer right now and I am obviously upset and alcohol has a lot to do with this.
 
This is why alcohol and computers don’t mix. It’s sort of like drinking and driving and I think I just crashed my car.
 
I really was trying to express my frustration but I obviously meant to change the subject line. Unfortunately I’m not really all that coordinated right now and I totally hit the wrong button. I don’t truly feel that way. I’m sorry.
 
I also don’t remember everything I typed and I sent it before it was complete so I’m sure it was way worse than I actually remember it being. Please forgive my ignorance. I’m retarded and drunk.
 
I hope that you will just disregard that entire email and realize that drunk, emotional people should not be allowed near the computer.
 
Sorry, baby. I still love you. That’s why it hurts so much.
 
Sarah
 
P.S. I’m not really sure if that actually went through but just in case…
P.P.S. I’m not really a twat, like Laurie Loo says.
P.P.P.S. Okay, maybe I am, if I actually sent that.
P.P.P.P.S. Actually, I am, anyway, whether I sent it or not, because I’m sending you this.
P.P.P.P.P.S. But I love you.

Then I logged off and waited with a churning stomach for a reply.

I don’t remember when I heard back from T. I don’t remember whether it was the following day or later that week. I don’t even remember whether we addressed it by phone or by email.

What I do remember is that when I did hear from him, he had no idea what email I was talking about, though he quickly put two and two together. I told him I was most upset about the subject line and how hurtful that would be. He asked what I had written and, with quaking guts, I told him.

I think he may have laughed, but I was too busy trying not to throw up to remember. But my head swam with relief; I hadn’t made the fatal mistake I thought I had. And we would go on enduring.

That week was a time of record rainfall. Rivers swelled and crept over their banks. The water tables leapt up, basements flooded and roads washed away. People were forced to take alternate routes and were urged to stay home if at all possible.

It seemed to me that the whole world was crying for our fallen soldiers.

And still the rain came down. The National Guard was called out to keep people away from the roads and rivers and I glared at the irony with bitterness, wishing my boyfriend could be standing the cold rain he hated so much instead of sweating in an arid desert that was beset with a strife that seemed so, well, foreign to me.

That weekend at the funeral the FRG came together for one last time before it came apart for good. It is a day that is etched in many images in my mind, both powerful and horrible. It is a day that none who were there will ever forget.

But I wish no one had to remember.

Because Nothing Says Romance like EconoLodge

This is our anniversary weekend. So, naturally T is drilling with the military.

The armory where T’s unit drills is almost a three-hour drive from where we live, so coming home in the evenings is not an option. In fact, he often has to report so early on Saturday that he leaves Friday night after work and he doesn’t usually get home until late Sunday.

I have this thing where I want to be with him on our anniversary. I couldn’t last year, because he was in Afghanistan. And before that…oh wait, we weren’t married before that. This is only our second anniversary.

So it is that I find myself at an EconoLodge somewhere in Maine on a rainy day in early March. If you’ve never had the pleasure of experiencing a March in Maine, allow me to elaborate:

The air is soaked with the dampness of melting snow and penetrates every layer with which you attempt to block it out. It is about 35 degrees, but feels much, much colder. The sky hangs low in a dingy layer of white, smothering any happy thought you ever had about spring and red-breasted robins and flowers, while mud from two months of salted roads runs in chocolate rivulets along high banks parfait-ed with alternating layers of sand and snow.

Here’s the view from our window:

muddy parking lot

It’s delicious.

The EconoLodge is, well, economical, but even so, after expenses T won’t end up earning much this weekend. That’s part of the reason we’re here. The other part is that we plan on celebrating next weekend. I just wanted to be with him now.

EconoLodge logo

You know, it’s actually not that bad. The room is tiny: there’s a bed, a dresser, a teeny table and not much else. There’s not even a closet. But it’s got a medium-sized refrigerator and a microwave. There’s only one sink, but the shower has a tub with lots of places to put your toiletries without having to bend into the water stream to pick them up (I hate that) and the water pressure is decent.

 More importantly, it’s clean and they allow pets!

Owen in our tiny hotel room

The pillows suck, but I went to Walmart today while T did his thing and picked up a couple of better quality. I also had trouble working out because there just isn’t room, but if that’s the worst thing that happens today, I’m doing pretty well.

Besides, if I stayed home, all I’d do is work around the house. This way, I have a little extra time to spend reading, writing and being lazy.

For a wonder T was released mid-afternoon, but his college aspirations make it necessary for him to study for his GMAT, which is coming up this week. So I’m blogging and he’s studying. If you read my last post, you would think smoke should be coming out of my ears, but he looks so darn cute that I really can’t be mad at the jerk.

T studying

So yeah. I could think of a few ways I’d rather spend my anniversary weekend, but there are compensations:

Compensation #1

Tonight, we’re going to get some delicious Mexican food and a little horchata (that’s a rice milk drink, pervs).

Compensation #2

He’s not in Afghanistan. He’s right here. With me. Where I can talk to him, hug him and bite his nose if I so choose.

Me & T at the EconoLodge!

That’s all the compensation I need.

Besides, I think two sub-par anniversaries in a row get me to Tahiti on our 5th instead of our 10th, don’t you?

A Punch in the Gut

Saturday was the 60-day reintegration event for T’s unit. I’ve had better days.

Like the time I had surgery on my eyelid with a local anesthetic. Or when I fell headfirst into a baling machine in Iowa.

Okay, that last one never actually happened, but if it had, it would probably have been less painful.

Reintegration events are designed to make Guard soldiers aware of their benefits and any changes that may happen to those benefits once the soldier comes off of Title X orders, as well as ensure that they get the help necessary to make the transition to being a normal person again. They happen at 30, 60 and 90 days after the soldiers’ return.

Coincidentally, those are the time frames in which drill would be taking place, were the soldiers drilling. When a Guard unit returns from a deployment, they are not required go back to their regular drill weekends for 90 days. This gives the soldiers a chance to settle into their civilian lives and jobs and spend time with their families. They’re supposed to have 90 days free of anything military, but they keep getting called back every month for these events.

Most of them are not happy about it and on Saturday they did not make much of an attempt to hide it.

I used to look forward to these kinds of things. I really did. In the Guard in general and in T’s unit in particular, the soldiers are spread throughout the state. I know very few of them and only some of the families, so these events are – I thought – a chance to meet the people T works with and their families.

There are two problems with this: 1) T isn’t the best at introductions and 2) Most soldiers I’ve come into contact with over the years are reluctant to even make eye contact, never mind have a conversation with me. Apparently I either have thousands of writhing, hissing snakes growing out of my scalp, I smell like a jug of milk that’s been left out in the sun, or I come across like an over-eager puppy ready to piddle on the floor with excitement.

Or, quite possibly, all three.

At this particular event, folks were supposed to show up between 12:00 and 12:45 for registration. T had a meeting he was supposed to attend at noon, so we had to be there at the early end of the window instead of when the window was slamming shut (my MO).

When we got there, T registered us, picked up our name tags and discovered that his meeting was cancelled.

Well, at least I didn’t have to hang out by myself for 45 minutes.

Instead, we made our way to a table around which a bunch of soldiers and one wife were sitting. As we got there, several of the soldiers greeted T. Not one of them looked at me, said hi or in any way acknowledged my presence. The wife never even looked up from her phone. I threw a few lighthearted comments into the banter, hoping for an in. Nope. Still nothing.

I got up and left the table.

So much for meeting new people. I tossed my name tag in the trash.

The day didn’t get much better. We immediately found out that the night before, several of the guys had gone out on the town and either started or finished something. One of them ended up in the hospital. This seems to happen every time we have an event. Some of the (usually younger) soldiers get drunk and rowdy and there is a fight. Often it’s a very loud and profane fight that happens at 2:00 a.m. in the corridor of the hotel.

This does not endear the younger crowd to me. I’m old. I’m cranky. I like my sleep.

The afternoon wore on and I squirmed through two sessions where the presenters did their best to engage an audience that was almost completely non-responsive, if not downright rude. Some of the leadership was just as bad. Frankly, I was embarrassed by their behavior. I mean, they get paid to be there. The least they could do was be civil. I’d settle for quiet.

To be fair, not all the soldiers were acting like punks. There are quite a few nice guys in the unit who were very pleasant. But for the most part, it was awkward.

Finally, we had a break and everyone crowded into the halls. It was then that the next bomb dropped.

Hmm, maybe that’s a bad metaphor to use with this group.

What I mean is, the next bad thing happened. I was chatting with a soldier and I asked about T’s upcoming training course.

Now, we’ve heard about 20 different versions of what this course will look like. First it was a 2-month course down in Fort Benning. Then it was a largely online course with only two weeks in Fort Benning. Then it was four months in Benning. I’ve been on a rollercoaster with this. My husband just got back. I don’t want him to go away again and certainly not for four months.

We decided that if it was for four months that I would go with him. Yay! I would finally not be the one left behind to do the housework and take care of the animals. I could go have a new experience, too! I started to look forward to it, even be excited about it.

Silly me. I broke Army Spouse Rule #1*.

On Saturday, the newest answer that we got was that it would be two weeks in Benning, a 10-day break, then two more weeks. Um, what? That’s the worst option yet: long enough to be a huge disruption (again!) in our lives, but not long enough for it to make sense for me to quit my job and go down there with him.

I never get to go anywhere. I wanted to cry.

As we continued talking, the subject shifted to work. This soldier had just gone back to his job within the last two weeks. As he talked about what that had been like, he reiterated something T has been saying for some time now: things aren’t as exciting back here and nothing I do will be as rewarding or make as much of a difference as what I did there.

I can understand that, I think. I mean, as much as I can understand it. But what really sucked was when he turned to another soldier standing close by and asked whether he missed combat, too. The other guy’s reply?

“Oh, I’d go back in a second. I hate it here. I fucking hate it.”

I must have looked like I just got punched in the stomach, which is exactly how I felt, because the kid then looked at me and said, “Excuse my language.”

Now, I make a concentrated effort not to swear on my blog, but in real life I have a mouth like a longshoreman, so it wasn’t the language that bothered me. It was the vim with which he said it. Like he really, truly couldn’t stand it here. Like he’d never be happy at home again.

He went on to explain that there everything was taken care of for him – his meals, his clothes, everything. The only thing he had to worry about was “staying alive”. But, despite his attempts to elaborate, I went on feeling like the wind had been knocked out of me. I can’t explain exactly why.

Maybe because I know my husband has expressed similar thoughts and I feel like I can’t compete with mortars and helicopters and working with interpreters to make real and important differences in the lives of other people. Maybe because I suddenly felt insignificant. Maybe because I knew I’d never experience anything even close to what these guys experienced or accomplish anything as amazing as what they did. Maybe because it churned up every insecurity I’ve ever felt about the (lack of ) purpose in my own life.

Maybe all of the above. I really can’t say.

All I know is that it hurt. And that I’d be quite happy to slip back into ignorant oblivion again. At least I think I would.

Did I mention that I was not impressed with this day?

The only two bright spots were:

1. K was there, as she always has been through two deployments, and she gets it. Like nobody else gets it.

and

2. George. You don’t know George yet, but you will. Oh yes. I foresee that George will factor greatly into my life now, and most probably on a daily basis.

I love George.

*Rule #1: Don’t. Make. Plans.

Sugar Daddy

Between the dog crunching and munching and gnawing and sawing at a rawhide bone on the rug behind me, and the cat meowing in the hallway for his Second Supper (he’s part Hobbit), I’m finding it difficult to remember what it was I wanted to blog about tonight.

I think it had something to do with deployment, but that’s just a wild guess.

I would like to share that T’s long-awaited and long-overdue promotion finally, finally came through! Yay!

Did I mention it’s been a while in coming?

You see, a soldier in the Guard, no matter how deserving, can be promoted only if there is a position of that rank to fill. There hasn’t been an opening for T’s rank – or one that he was interested in, anyway – for quite a while now.

However, when a Guard unit deploys, they are put on Title 10 orders and are then considered active duty soldiers. At which point, they can be promoted a bit easier. That is my civilian understanding of things, anyway.

The possibility of a promotion was one of the few silver linings on the cloud of this deployment. I had hoped to see it happen much, much sooner, and not just for the money. Okay, mostly for the money. But T is very good at what he does. I’m proud of him no matter what rank he is, but it is nice to see some of his hard work paying off.

I’m very happy for him.

As proof, I offer this transcript of a conversation I had with my mother the other night while we were “jamming”.

My mom: Congratulations! That’s great! I’ll have to send him a card.

Me: A card?

My mom: Yeah! A “congratulations” card!

Me: I was going to send him a “Fork over the bucks, then, Pally,” card.

My mom: Tch! Sarah!

 The End