Thursday Feb 10th
Derek and I met Ingrid at 6:00am in the Chaplain’s building. We’d been told to fast and not have breakfast because we might have to have some blood work done today. Ingrid drove us in her car, something she tells us she doesn’t “have to do and doesn’t do very often because that’s her own private vehicle”. She talked quite a bit about herself, her kids (especially gifted apparently), her philosophy of raising kids (very, very strict with no TV at all) and about her future business plans of using her RN status, which she’s currently working on, to be a kind of social worker/nurse helper to single mothers.
We went to a US government office somewhere in Fort Benning where we were processed to get our FIN (Social Ins. number for ‘foreigners’). Because Ingrid had got us there very early – before almost all the gov’t employees who start work at 7am and long before the very large group of people who came about an hour after us – we were first to be processed. Ingrid sat us on a couple of chairs at the back of the room and told us to stay there and wait until we were called. “When you do go to see the government employee, be sure to say to her, ‘Thank you very much Ma’am!’.” Then, having given the Canadians a lesson in good manners and courtesy, she disappeared somewhere.
When we were finished and had properly thanked the gov’t employee, we went outside to look for Ingrid. She came from her car to meet us and transferred us to a DYNCORP driver who took us to ACE Medical Facility in Columbus, Georgia where we were met by – Ingrid! I wondered why she hadn’t just driven us there but perhaps use of her own private vehicle had a daily limit and we’d exceeded it. We spent the whole morning at ACE, mostly waiting and then, eventually, having the medical data we’d brought with us gone through with a fine-tooth comb. Derek had to get a vaccination and a lot of people from the other group had problems but I was fine. My (American) doctor from Oasis Hospital in Al Ain had known exactly what they would want and I breezed through fairly easily. This was just the dress rehearsal though; all of this checking was in just in preparation for the visit to the CRC medical facility next week, which could make us non-deployable if even one little problem was noted. We didn’t leave there until almost 2; we were both starving and were taken to a place called “Sharks” which specialized in fish and chicken – all of it deep-fried. On the recommendation of the cashier, I had fried catfish and chicken tenders. I wouldn’t personally pass on the recommendation but it did the job; we weren’t hungry any more.
Ingrid had told us when we left ACE that we’d have the next day off. I paid $25.00 for a week of internet access which we can access in our rooms.
Friday Feb 11th
Whole day off – I spent it on my computer and resting, mostly. 3 squares a day, whether I’m hungry or not.
Saturday Feb 12th
A new DYNCORP employee joined us today – Gill Howard, an intelligence officer. Ingrid had told us to meet her at 6am; I was there at 5:59 – Gill was already there. Ingrid was quite unfriendly towards me and wanted to know if I’d seen “Mr. Korobkin” (Derek). I told her I thought I’d just seen him coming down the path and, sure enough, he came in about 6:05. Well, Ingrid let loose – mainly on him but kind of on me too. A looooong hectoring rampage followed, all about how easygoing she is about most things but not about timing and how she’s never, EVER been late for work in blah blah years of working for the company; you guys had THE WHOLE DAY OFF yesterday! I was confused because I’d felt quite virtuous in being one minute early and Derek was barely late. Turns out, though, whatever time is requested in the military, 10 – 15 minutes early is expected; but with Ingrid it’s a minimum of 15 minutes early and half an hour is much better. Alrighty, then!
Sunday Feb 13th
All three of us showed up much earlier than had been requested; Derek wasn’t taking any chances and had come over with a book 45 minutes early. I was about 30 minutes early and Gill squeaked in at 15 minutes early. Ingrid was back to the friendlier version of herself this time. I wonder what it’s like to be her child.
Monday Feb 14th
We went to get our CAC cards (ID cards that all gov’t employees need and can’t function without) started and did our ISO Prep. Don’t know what ISO Prep stands for but you write four little paragraphs about yourself, each with 4 pieces of information that someone could ask you about if you were in trouble and they were trying to verify that it was really you.
The power all went off for awhile all over CRC – apparently it does that sometimes.
Tuesday Feb 15th
We went to CRC’s medical facility and spent several hours there, getting everything checked over and getting some vaccinations. Some people had smallpox but I just had anthrax. All clear – I got a ‘green’ sticker for my badge, which means I’m deployable.
Wednesday Feb 16th
We went to CIF (no idea what it stands for but they seem to issue supplies) today, early in the morning to get all our gear: duffel bags and body armour (helmet, vest with plates, gas mask). Feels a bit weird. And now I understand why everyone kept talking about how heavy it is; it is really heavy. Looked at it back in the room and was confused about what all the various pieces of ceramic plates were for and where they were supposed to go inside the vest. Decided tomorrow was another day and wrote Arthur a note.
We had most of the rest of the day off, to do laundry or whatever. Gill helped me with my armour – I still couldn’t figure out what went where. He sorted it out for me and then helped further by putting it in my duffel bag in a way that made sense when I’d need to get it out. But, oh lord, it is WAY too heavy! I took the shuttle bus to the big PX in Ft. Benning, just for a change of scene and to buy a few things (coloured tape to mark up my duffel bag, a few toiletries, etc. It’s pretty big – the PX itself is like a Walmart or Zeller’s and it’s part of a little mall with a variety of shops. There was even a Starbuck’s so I had a caramel macchiato and people-watched. Couple of characters there who could have starred in ‘Duelling Banjos’ and one would-be Lothario who had the girls behind the counter in stitches, although I must admit, I didn’t get any of his jokes.
Thursday Feb 17th
This was a long, tiring day of TSIRT training (Theatre-specific ___ ___ Training? I forget). We had briefs and trainings starting at 6:00am formation in the Big Pavillion and didn’t end until almost 6:00pm. Most of the morning was taken up with first aid training – learning some basic first aid and some not-so-basic first aid, like how to bandage a head wound, an abdominal wound and a chest wound. Right. They bussed us all down to the DFac for lunch at 11:30 and bussed us back again at 12:30. Apparently in the past, people often just didn’t come back after lunch so the general in charge wasn’t taking any chances and there were armed guards preventing us from getting anywhere near the barracks.
After lunch we had more first aid and then we all filed into the main tent to be briefed on IEDs (home-made bombs, basically). After that we were all taken outside, military separated from non-military and after being told that there was just a possibility of wild boars appearing out of the woods and charging us and being told to “never hold eye-to-eye contact with a wild boar”, we were sent on our way, in small groups of 8 or so, to the IED workshops. These were held outside, each location had a workshop facilitator and were highly – and far too realistically for comfort – kinesthetic in nature. There were tripwires which triggered pyrotechnics and fireworks. Booby traps were set everywhere: on the ground, in trees, apparently harmless looking pieces of wood people would step on, bicycles, paint cans, groupings of rocks, and on and on. I felt like I daren’t move, at all. All the while the facilitator – ex military guys with hard-ass-yet-kind attitudes scaring the bejezzus out of some of us. Even some ex-military guys fell for the booby trips. It was nerve-wracking and the reality of what “going into theatre” really means kind of hit home.
Felt pretty solitary for the rest of the evening.
Friday Feb 18th
Last day at CRC. I guess some people know what’s going on; I’m definitely not one of them. That doesn’t bother me; minute by minute someone else is in charge and, at the moment, that’s fine with me. Even relaxing. Woke up at 4am this morning, lay in bed for awhile and then got up, showered, and got ready. Was dressed and had breakfasted by 5:30.
Came back and finished up stuffing all my worldly goods for the next 7-8 months into 2 duffel bags (3/4 of one was taken up by the armour) and my one small backpack which is my carry-on. We had to have our duffel bags all packed and out on the road by 8am at the latest. After that, the barracks were locked down for us. Gill had offered to help me carry my stuff out because he knows I can’t manage it; however, just after 7, a woman in my barracks that I’d talked to a few times offered to help. So I quickly finished up my stuffing and she and her roommate carried my duffels out to the road where we’d been told to place our bags. In return, I shared my duct tape and red electrician’s tape with them – everyone tries to mark up their bags as much as possible because on the military flights only military-issue green duffels are allowed and they’re all identical. There were over 300 of us so making your own bag stand out was important. I wrapped the silver duct tape and the red electrical tape all around my bags, put some more on the bottom in a particular configuration, wrote my name with liquid paper on the bottom and side and put some red tape on the top. I also added a couple of hot pink luggage tags but those weren’t allowed to stay since they could catch on something.
We were all ready by 8am but then we wound up just standing around for about two and a half hours, chatting and taking turns going over to the PX. Finally, about 10:30 we were told to all take our own duffel bags over the the big pavilion and place them neatly in rows for the sniffer dogs to inspect. By now, several people know I can’t carry my own bags so I had help despite the ‘no help’ policy. Charlie Company, who’d been in charge of processing that week were a really nice bunch of people and have given me a downright warm and fuzzy feeling about the US military. I was hoping to see the dogs – because I like dogs and I just thought it would be interesting – but we then had to line up to get on buses. After filing on to the buses, we wound up sitting there and waiting for quite a while – at least ¾ of an hour; maybe the sniffer dogs were doing their thing.
Eventually, we were off to Lawson Air Base where we filed out and went inside.