Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Six months down - six more to go!

Two days ago, while updating my calendar, I realized that we were halfway through this deployment. Now it is just a matter of patience and tolerating six months of summer heat, and we will be out of here. Well, some of us will be out of here...

The soldier in this picture is SPC McPhail, one of my roommates and a good friend even though Jad and I like to joke about kicking him out of the room. He has been in the Army National Guard for seven years (out of Petersburg, Alaska), and just signed a contract to extend it by another six. In exchange, the Army will give him an extra $15000.

He will also spend an extra year out here, which will enable him to qualify for even more money. He is not the only one to make a carreer of sorts out of what is meant to be a part-time job responding to contingencies. So many reservists are extending their tours and volunteering for extra deployments that they often make up about a third of the units out here, which makes for very experienced reservist elements. On the other hand, there are many reserve soldiers signing up to spend significant portions of their lives in the National Guard and the Middle East in exchange for money that in the end doesn't amount to very much back in Alaska.

We have been working on improving our equipment and skills for the last two weeks. I got to fire hundreds of rounds on nearly all the weapon systems, and I am learning a lot about a radio system that I am not yet very familiar with. Thankfully, we have been provided with adequate time and resources by our upper chain of command. The talk about US soldiers not being adequately equipped does no in any way apply here; we have everything we need and more.

As for time off, it has been quite hot and birdless outside lately so I spent a lot of time reading. I finished Winter World and a really good book about camels, and read a little in Spanish. I am developping a real appreciation for camels, and I hope I will get to spend more time with the herds in the next six months.

Today's quote also comes from Bernd Heinrich's Winter World. It is about the maggots of an African desert fly:

“The larvae are adapted to survive losing 92 percent of their body water, and such desiccated larvae are essentially immortal and can survive immersion in liquid helium (to -269 degrees C), within 4 degrees or potentially at absolute zero, or zero degrees K, the lowest temperature in the universe. When rehydrated by dropping them into water they become “instant insects.” They then again have only narrow temperature tolerances, surviving only from 10 to 42 degrees C.”

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