Thursday, November 22, 2007

TBOLC - some misc. notes

I sporadically took some notes about what life was like in TBOLC. The experience was pretty annoying, and I guess the following reflects that. It mostly seemed like a waste of time, just like BOLC II. The notes were sporadically written, and since I have no interest in thinking about TBOLC again, I have not bothered to edit them. So here they are.

--I finished BOLC II. That means that I now start the final phase of training in my officer basic course. I'm now back in Fort Eustis, Virginia. I drove up here from Fort Benning Georgia.

I stopped off in Charlotte, NC where I met up with "D" and we drove to Virginia Beach. It was a fun trip.

-- I have been in my final phase of officer training. To be honest, it really sucks. I have been sort of hesitant to write about this, but the army wasted most of the past three months of my life. The army's training environment is designed to do something, but I am really unsure what. They more or less keep you here for a while and treat you like a fourth grader, and that somehow makes you an officer.

It sort of makes me lose respect for people who have been through too many of these. I suppose now when I meet a general I will wonder what it was like to go to Army school after Army school and get treated like a child when you are middle aged, or older. I am pretty amazed that there are people who see this as a normal way of life. These schools breed immaturity. Perhaps their function is to keep you in the Army by making it difficult for officers to interact with adult civilians.

--Some stuff you should know: Everyone here cares about football. Not sure why, but they do.

--A typical day is as follows: you wake up at around 0430 or so. Show up at PT at 0520. Salute the flag at 0530. Do PT till about 0630. Shower, eat or do some extra working out till 0750. 0750 show up in the classroom and sing a rather stupid song that was pretty creepy even when I sang it each day when I was here in Fort Eustis as an enlisted soldier. 0800 till about 1130 we stare at power point slides and listen to lecturers of various levels of competence talk about whatever is on the slide he is showing. (Disclaimer: some of the instructors are technically competent, though still boring.) 1130 till about 1300 is lunch, followed by another three to five hours of more boring powerpoint slides. Then we are free for the rest of the day.

(Added note: The song singing stopped after a week or so.)

The tests are pretty easy. Make sure that your notes and the notes they give you are in order. Look them over the night before while you put them in order. Most of the tests are open book, so you just have to make sure you know how to find everything. I'd recommend a good hilighter.

The history assignment is pretty easy, as is the letter/memo writing. The history assignment requires reading an 85 page book and answering some dumb questions. No sweat. The memo and letter writing assignment was designed to show us how to write an Army memo. Of course Army memos are written a thousand different ways, and the FMs are not exactly consistent or up-to-date. My memo was graded by someone who was both annoying and not very adept with the English language.

Whoever it was inserted lots of commas where they didn't belong, and then took off a point for every comma he inserted. What an idiot. The ethics paper (and accompanying brief) at the end of the course was kind of useless too. I happen to know a lot about ethics, and ethics teaching, and I can assure you that the Army does not.

--Lucky dip is one of those team-building exercises. It lasts a day, and is not bad. A bit annoying, but basically there is a bunch of walking, and you have to accomplish some stuff. When you hear an "IED" give medical aid. When you hear "gas gas gas" you put on your masks. . . (test yours the day before, we had someone pass out because her mask did not work right.) These events are all timed. The final obstacle course is actually a bit fun. (It involves some water.) It was weird how the cadre kept telling us how much we needed to be hydrated, and how it will challenge us and stuff. eh. The whole things was actually kinda fun, though the PT was annoying, and so was a lot of the walking around.

--We had a dining in. Personally I thought it sucked. I actually didn't really think this dining in sucked, I just think that dinings in suck in general. Ours seemed fairly tolerable. I thought that a dining in resembled what would pass as a frat dinner of about 100 years ago - an event I certainly would not have wanted to attend. It is just not my thing. I assume that there are a lot of people who enjoy that, but I am not one of them. We put on a skit. I was in it. People laughed. If you like this sort of thing, it wasn't all that bad.

--Everyone with any rank, or anyone that ever had any rank on Fort Eustis thinks they need to give the TBOLC class a speech. They all think they are doing us some big favor, so they get us to class an hour early and give us a speech on leadership or whatever they want to talk about it.

Each and every one of the dozen or so people who have each wasted an hour of our time gave us the identical speech with the same advice that anyone who has been in the army for more than 5 minutes or so already knows - like listen to your PS, and don't walk in to a unit and change everything your first day. . . It is all just a way of boosting the egos of the speakers, making them believe they have some wisdom to pass on to new 2LTs. They don't. They are all so full of it, and themselves.

--We had a few days of some exercise (DDEPEX) that involved planning out a marshalling yard. It was OK. We ended up having to brief an Australian exchange Major who is in charge of something or other here. I am not sure how worthwhile the exercise was, but it was almost fun to do, and the briefing part was fairly painless.

--We had to fill out a stupid survey yesterday. It was a climate survey, so that brass could pretend that they are concerned about what goes on. They made us wait around after class for about two hours so we can spend about 30 seconds filling out a form. For some reason the 1SGT

spent 20 minutes after formation the following day accusing us of not being polite enough when the SSG came in to administer the survey. Apparently we wasted too much of HIS time in that three minutes it took him to give out the survey itself.

I have discovered that here when someone perceives that they are somehow slighted, they cry to their superiors. If someone nods off in class the instructors take it personally. If someone talks out of turn, whoever is in front of the room cries to the 1SGT or the CPT or whomever. The instructors here are quite childish. They mostly have the mentality of six year-olds. It is disappointing to see soldiers who are so incapable of dealing with the world that every perceived slight is grounds for wasting an hour of class time and have a slew of people bitch and whine like little girls. Sad. The Army is training its officers to be less mature, rather than more.

I've taught for years. My students sleep, send text messages, pass notes or whatever. If they ever get disruptive, I ask them to stop. I have had very little trouble. I do not get offended. TRADOC somehow breeds this kind of juvenile behavior.

--We had a class on the MTS system. That is the system that the Army uses to keep track of a lot of their vehicles and stuff. It was a pretty good day and a half of classes. So far the guy who taught it was the best instructor yet. He was genuinely concerned to just teach the material and not waste our time or his. He made sure to teach us everything that was pertinent, and I now have a good idea of how to use all the associated MTS equipment. The class was partly powerpoint and partly hands-on. If only all the classes were this good. I think the course could have been more extensive and had a better segment on using the hand-held scanner.

--Some Chaplain gave us a 4 hour bloc of instruction on combat stress and suicide prevention. It made me give suicide a real thought. It was awful. I am absolutely no better off now than when I started. I have no idea what to do if I have a stressed out or suicidal soldier. I cannot really identify combat stress any better than I was able to before hand, and we got this generic advice like: refer the soldier to a chaplain, or a mental-health counselor. As if that is always possible! The stress management was even worse. We didn't even get generic advice about how to
help soldiers.

Wasting half of my day today was the Army's way of telling soldiers and the public that they are doing something to help soldiers without having to actually do anything. Combat stress, combat fatigue and suicide are real problems, especially now in Iraq. Why can't the Army hire a real psychologist to teach a course on this stuff in a way that will prepare us, someone who can perhaps give real advice? Maybe some role-playing supervised by someone knowledgeable. Maybe tell us a list of things not so say.

I actually do care about my soldiers. I have known some of them for years. I can't believe how cavalier the Army is being about preparing me to take care of their mental health.

--We had a counseling class. It seems like it was one of those things that should be in BOLC II. The point was basically that you should counsel your soldiers. That class could have been streamlined.

--We spent a week on boats. We went to one pier for half of one day and saw a large ship, then the next day we spent at another pier taking a tour of various military ships. Then a third half of a day was spent looking at a motorpool. There was a test at the end of the week. The whole thing was not too bad. Even a bit fun.

This is in direct contrast to the week after that. First someone wasted a whole day of our lives explaining what an OPORDER is. Anyone who does not know that by now, should not be as far as they are in the army. It was dreary and tiresome. The following day some of us had to present an OPORDER with a sand table. More dreariness, especially since we heard the same one four times.

The day after that was even more unbelievable. We had about four SAWs and 240Bs and enough M16A2s. We had a class on how to disassemble them. Wasting our day explaining the M16 to us was another big waste of time. That is three days in a row of torturous redundancy learning things that any private with more than two weeks in the army knows. (Some people actually have not had much practice on the SAW and the 240B, so they did find it a bit useful to get to take it apart. Our civilians were pretty lost though.) The week was wrapped up with dismount drills. We learned how to get off of a truck. Thankfully I missed part of the last day doing something else somewhat Army related, but I was back in time for a written test on the past two weeks worth of stuff. It was a test designed for morons. I assume that the mode grade was 100.

--Last week was spent on Monassas Run. This is a practical field convoy exercise. It was actually somewhat realistic. The people who ran the exercise were somewhat annoying, but it was interesting running a real convoy. The whole experience might have been more useful if we were taught convoy procedures as part of our training here. We were not. So we were left to run these convoys making stuff up as we went along. Some of us followed doctrine and others were . . . more creative.

It is bizarre. We hear the following four phrases about 100 times each day:
1) "Who here knows they are going to Iraq? You know you better learn this, because you'll be needing it soon"
2) "We are not training you to be an expert on this, we are just familiarizing you. You will not be an expert. At your unit, the'll teach you this."

3) "Train as you fight."
4) "We train according to doctrine. Doctrine is very different from the way things actually are."

First, if I am going to Iraq I damned well better be an expert on something. No, I damned well better be an expert on anything I am doing. If TBOLC cut out the crap and stopped wasting my time, I could be an expert on a lot of things. And if there are people leaving for Iraq and Afghanistan next month, which there are, when will they have time to learn this stuff? And reservists and guardsmen certainly will not have time to learn this - ever.

Second, why doesn't doctrine resemble what soldiers are doing in theater?

Just a note: I am still waiting to find someone in this branch of the Army who actually has logistics experience in the field. Almost everyone in charge of anything here tells me that they are really from some other branch - mostly infantry. Why have I not met a 1LT who has recently been in Iraq or Afghanistan who can tell me what things are like? We were promised some repeatedly, but they never showed.

This place is full of people who are full of it.

--Speaking of time wasting, we had three days of out-processing. Out-processing involved spending about 40 minutes running from building to building on post getting signatures from offices whose sole purpose is probably to sign people's out-processing forms. The rest of the time was spend doing our own thing.

I guess wasting time is good for the active duty Army people. After all, it is like a day off.

You do nothing, and you get paid. I too did nothing and I got paid for it, but the Army is not my job and not my life. I really do resent the Army forcing me to do nothing and get paid. The Army I signed up for - the Army Reserve - implicitly promised that it would call me when there is a military need for me to be called, and when there is training that needs to be done. When I am not in training and not in war I want to be back home with my own life and my own job and not in the Army. I don't want to get paid to sit around.

--Bull Run was the main field exercise for TBOLC. It was perhaps the only useful thing we've done so far. After that exercise everything that we learned made sense. That should totally be extended to about a week instead of the three days. Moreover, everyone should have the opportunity to be both an OIC and NCOIC at least once. I happened to have had both, and they were both very useful experiences.

--The final course AAR was kind of a joke. You fill out these forms with the standard dumb questions like "were the course objectives laid out clearly before the course?" I am not sure what the point of questions like that are - and that question in particular. Again, it is the Army's way of showing you that they pretend to care. They don't. No wonder people think this branch sucks.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


I am finally done with TBOLC. My brief review is forthcoming. For now I will just say that I am pretty amazed I made it through. It was the worst pedagogical experience of my life.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Tests and a conference

Last Thursday I took the Army DLPT in Hebrew. I hope I did well. It was a long and tiring test. I rushed it so I could make it to another test in the T-school here at Fort Eustis.

Then I went to Indiana for the weekend. I never thought I would be in Indiana. I was at a conference in Notre Dame. It was a good conference. It was hard to adjust to being around philosophers again, after being in the Army this long. But before I got used to it I was back in the Army. I then spent the next week in the field. More about that another time.