Military Service - Month #4

October 2013

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Week #14 (01 - 06 October)

The training of the new SBC course starts with the officers teaching the freshmen how to stand (attention / at ease) and look sharp during the morning exercise. It’s a… cool / smug / superior / proud feeling, being the older ones. DSC (Drivers Specialty Course) allows us much freedom both in terms of free time and discipline and is of stark contrast to the new SBC: I walk past the formation where SFC As speaks LOUDLY, we politely greet and he continues. There’s this strange unspoken peace with the officers now, they don’t bother us (DSC), we keep out of their way as they deal with the SBC. All the crap (equipment checks, bed-making exercises, formation drills) they did to us is now done to the new guys with a vengeance.

I’m allowed to go to the city whenever I need to do something driving-school related. The trips outside are little bites of freedom and normality. Went to the DMV to get my expired B-category licence renewed: the army will pay for everything and I already started with C theory.

The new SBC brought with them privates Rk and Roots (we now have two versions of each, one younger, one older). I was down again and just a little suicidal and went looking for trouble. The new SBC had taped their names to their chests with white painters tape (as did we). This looks ugly so I gave pvt Roots one of my spare embroidered name tags. The older pvt Rk did the same. SFC As caught us later and made a remark, to which I replied that the tag was borrowed from me. Much to my surprise, there was no punishment for anyone involved.

“Poisid puuksutavad siin” - enne öörahu voodist. Rms Re

Theory lessons for a jeep and a truck, got to drive a few laps. Already the guys cross reasonable speed limits and the battalion looked like a race track. SFC Ss had to remind everyone of the speed limits.

Wrinkled bed

We’ve taken over the baseball lot for the morning exercise and take it easy, much like the older drivers used to. The new guys do everything at full power, of course.

SFC As walked into our room as we were getting ready to sleep. The DSC has always been a thorn in the eye for the officers and he came to take preventive action. The location of each mans phone was checked (we’re technically not allowed to use it at night) and some got busted. The room is divided by a wall of closets from the center and he started from the others side, which gave me the opportunity to make a few necessary corrections. All the drivers are on probation for a week, the first misconduct means no weekend pass for the entire unit.

Twenty volunteers went to celebrate the birthday of the 21nd school at the Tallinn song festival grounds, my first visit there. Also a first, being conducted by a famous and beloved conductor and singing under the dome.

Singing group photo

Marched back though the city, lead by an intern-officer: we have three interns, who practice being an officer with the new SBC. One of them is a woman.

I got a weekend pass for recharging. Stayed at a friends place, met with people and was invited to the premiere of NO99’s wonderfully dark Ilona. Rosetta. Sue. Bought a jar of Chai tea (small luxuries). The SBC looks at the returning drivers with big eyes, they don’t get out for some time still.

Week #15 (07 - 13 October)

Much, much driving theory. We learn legislation and the mechanics of diesel trucks. Allowed to use a personal laptop to solve quizzes online, we sit with them in the common room and in hallways. I wonder what the SBC thinks when we walk around with coffee and laptops while they are drilled and yelled at. I’m glad I came during the summer, they seem to have it much worse than we did. Actually, this is my advise to all who have to go to the service: consider being a driver. It’s an extra three months, but the perks are worth it.

Life has slowed down considerably now that the SBC is over and on some days, I find myself with nothing to write. SFC Ss is anxious to put me in the C-cat roster.

“Tuvastasin, et proua kadetil on B-korv” - Rms Re

The SBC gets weapon lessons while we wash the cars, several jeeps and trucks. I get to drive and park, the first is cool, I’m still having difficulty with parking. Being busy with the cars while SBC watches and wonders gives a real driver-y feeling, which is nice.

Finally, after three years, I get the official, plastic drivers licence, having done all the compulsory B-cat things. It’s awesome that I can say to the guys, “Okay, I’m going out” and they let me walk through the gate into the city.

The SBC does a 2k test hike in full gear (this was a torture for me) while we march off to see an opera in the National Opera house: La Traviata (first opera experience). We’re greeted by an Italian-speaking Verdi himself, the lobby is old-fashioned and the man himself has such demeanor…

A friend who works at the opera house later sent me this:

At the opera

On duty

Yes, again. I’ve honestly lost count on how many times now (while some top out at one time, max!). The military police flies in and deploys dogs to search for… stuff. All are sniffed at and finally, let go. Taking over the weapons room took over two hours, I was extremely through - we were warned of an upcoming audit that did not happen. SFC To tells me he trusts my word, coming from him, that’s big. I feel competent, discovering and solving several incidents.

Of course I screw up the nightly count again, I’ve lost all hope of doing it right. The positive side - I’m allowed to use my laptop during the night, behind my desk. This basically means four hours of coffee and whatever I want to do online.

The aid of the duty officer is a woman. Many say Mr to her, just out of habit. I have the wrongdoers write the correct lines on paper five times.

We’re trying to organize a programming / IT group, with many of us being of tech background. 43 people have signed up so far, that’s a lot. Unfortunately, none of them are willing to take on the leader role so nothing happens.

Handed off my duties and got to sleep during cleaning day - Friday is the best day to be on duty. Pvt Pr taught me to play Magic The Gathering, that was fun, although I lost a lot.

  • I put a thorny chestnut under pvt Re's (previously known as Konstantin) sheets as a practical trolling joke. He wasn't amused.
  • They took the piano away!
  • The NCO treat us like one of their own. They might be tough to the new SBC, but the experiences of the past months still bind us and there is no formality, not yet, especially in the common room.
  • The NCO course gets out every weekend. I should have joined them just for that.
  • There are plenty of organized events / out-of-battalion field trips to do during weekends. The SBC is not allowed to partake, for now. They don't have many privileges.
  • SBC asked permission to watch baseball and indeed, a baseball they did watch, for twenty minutes. Not exactly as they'd intended. Army humor.
  • I visited an army base when I was still in high school. There were tall, grim-looking soldiers in big shiny boots, marching around. I looked and wondered and was afraid. By now, I've grown a beard, experienced things and have become one of those men, taking dignified steps with singing men all around me.

Week #16 (14 - 20 October)

Õhtune rivistus.

Pataljoni korrapidaja: “Nii! Nüüd lõpetame tänase päeva ilusalt ja laulame Eesti Vabariigi hümni… ilma muusikata!”

Kõik laulavad valjult hümni. Autojuhid valjult, julgelt, õigete sõnadega (ja esimest korda muusikata).

Pataljoni korrapidaja: “Autojuhid - viis pluss! SBK - teil on veel palju õppida!”

Üksus on klassis.

Rühmaülem, vbl Ps: “Vastutav - kas kõik on kohal?”

Vastutav: “Just nii!”

Samal hetkel koputan uksele ja küsisin luba tunniga liituda. Vbl Ps vaatab muiates vastutavale otsa ja küsib, kus olin.

Mina: “Korrapidaja nabis mu koridorist kinni ja andis luua kätte, pani korrapidamisruumi korisitama!”

Vbl Ps: “Nii, vastutav? Ütlesite, et kõik on kohal!”

Vastutav: “Kõik, kes pidid olema, olidki!”

Vbl Ps, muiates: “Õige vastus!”

Iga sõdur on kohustatud vastutavat oma asukohast ja tegevusest informeerima (“Lähen linnaloale, autokooli sõidueksamile!”). Mõnikord aga ei jõuta seda teha, sest keegi pistab sõna otseses mõttes luua kätte. Rms Mk oli kiire improviseerija.

We learn to check the cars for oil and mechanical faults, to do simpler maintenance tasks: changing bulbs, cleaning filters. To start the engine when it’s freezing. To tow a broken car.

It’s 0400 when the alarm sounds. Everyone packs their backpacks and is ready to move out. The quick response unit hops into battle gear and runs out to duty. Lots of high-ranking people move about, including the major. Two hours of waiting and we’re allowed to resume with normal activities. What was that about?

I drive a big truck in the streets of Tallinn for two hours, quite successfully, too. Funny, how I once swore never to drive here even with a small car…

We sit in the corridor with our laptops and study, SBC runs past in battle gear (“First unit, two minutes!”). They will never know our current life.

It’s my turn to be in charge of the unit, again. A day full of stress, but there’s a bright side: I get out at 1700 and go straight to the First Ever Estonian International Improv Festival! I have an hour to wash and pack. There is a long line of men in front of the duty officers door. Transportation fails, I miss buses and there’s a malfunction… but I make it to TILT only 30 minutes late. The weekend of improv was epic fun. Epic, epic fun. Senja, Trent and other familiar improvisers from Western Europe were present. I took an improv workshop and helped clean the venue afterwards.


I rented a locker (it has a bear-hug sticker on it) at the college and store some of my electronics prototyping equipment there. The plan is to go there on weekends and mess around with #arduino.

The hours of pre-post return to the barracks are, as always, depressing.

  • Sügis on ajateenijate lehtede riisumise aeg. Seda tehakse hommikuvõimlemise ajal (mõnikord), peale hommikusööki (alati) ja majanduspäeval (iga nädal) eriti põhjalikult.
  • NAK õpib kapi- ja voodiralli korraldamist, huvitav, kelle peal nad seda praktiseerima hakkavad...
  • Pvt Kr notices that I've been more depressed than usually. He's the only one to care.

Week #17 (21 - 27 October)

Our life is divided into two-week cycles: one week is for theory lessons (not a lot to do, quite a bit of free time), one for practical things (car maintenance, mechanics lessons, driving in woods). I’m doing quite well with C-cat driving lessons. The practice field is right behind my friend’s house, but I dare not go over for tea. Still, driving past her windows behind a wheel of a long truck every other day…

Had an awkward conversation with my CO to get a few hours in the city to visit a private psychologist: I’m just too depressed, constantly. Any small thing can get me down and powerless for hours… or I just wake up like this. I’m emotionally intelligent enough to know what’s happening, but don’t know what to do about it.

Our room was cleared of beds and closets (now in the hallways): we’re moving into big command tents, outside the barracks: the rooms will be renovated. Twenty men with beds fit comfortably into one tent - there’s twice the leg room now. The tent is heated 24/7 by a diesel heater and we have a rotating nightly tent/heater duty. The conditions might seem worse, but I like it: we have light, warmth (can use the sleeping bag as an extra blanket), space and most importantly, privacy.

Command tent

The officers don’t come into tents often. Unzipping the door takes time. We’ve agreed that all who enter, knock, this helps to identify an officer before the door is fully open. Needless to say we don’t obey all the house rules (no sleeping on the floor!) as strictly.

There’s a lot to do to keep the cars running: checking and re-assembling the toolkit, switching to winter fuel, checking that all the extra equipment is there, cleaning filters…

There have been small accidents with reckless drivers: pvt Rk had another car parked behind him, forgot to check the gear stick and went backwards instead of forwards. I now get the practical reason why military cars are so old (from the 80-s!): they are simple and durable and the resulting dent was easy to bend back.

“Mis kellaks seletuskirja vennad pidid kirjutama seletuskirja?”

In the quick response unit for the 2nd time, this has the added benefit of not being used for tasks outside the battalion: some volunteers are still not back after six hours of work.

Pvt Si smuggled his laptop into the tent and plays Civilization V while guarding the heater. The tents are just outside the mess hall and we get to walk 1/10th of what SBC does every time they go to eat. They don’t appreciate our privilege, but we can get away with it - for now.

Started looking for freelancer developer jobs (oDesk). I have enough time with the laptop to do some pretty rewarding jobs, if I can find them. The reality is that the military “salary” of 100€ / month isn’t enough to keep me minimally entertained during the weekends, always have something edible in my closet (cookies!) AND have enough money for the first rent when I get out of here.

  • Passed the practical C-cat driving exam of the school. Don't have a reason to go out now, that's new.
  • A quality smartphone is almost a must. Example: maybe you are wide awake at night and have this awesome movie you'd like to watch...

Week #18 (28 - 31 October)

Sandy road

First off-road exercise. We take jeeps and trucks and head out of the city to the practice range. The track is… oh! I can’t believe it’s possible to pass such high rises. There are really big rocks and steep falls, some mud… but both the low-bottomed jeep and the large beast of a truck make the laps easily. I drive both and am scared to tip the car over. You have to really push the gas at some points and there is a lot of constant up-and-down jumping. Scary as hell… but also very cool.

Sandy road 2

Another off-road track features sand - lots of it. We learn to keep the vehicle moving when stuck in sand (which I did manage, a truck had to pull me out). We practice hand signals for driving with no mirrors (they can be folded) in tight spots. My day looks like my brothers dream on a motorcycle racing track: lots of cars, lots of driving over hills and rocks and branches and sand. Pvt Re is insane, I don’t want to be in a car with him, he laughs harder for every jump the car makes.

In the woods

We’ve driven on hills and in sand, the next challenge was mud. Lots and lots of mud. I’d purchased a portable speaker and enjoyed music while driving a jeep through holes and water and mud.

In the mud

The whole point of these driving lessons is to make us realize the limits of the cars and our driving capabilities, so I decided to push it. I went into a turn - there was slippery mud everywhere, the car acted as if on ice - and lost control. The result: one of the front wheels on a hill, the car tilted dangerously to the side. The engine stalled and all was still. I held my breath - the car felt as if it might fall to its side with the next wrong movement.

I panicked and signaled SOS with the horn. The guys who observed laughed and came to offer aid. Pvt Kn calmed me and gave instructions, I managed to reverse the car into a smooth surface.

At the end of the day, the cars looked like gray lumps of mud. We had to stop on the way back, mud had gotten to the radiator grille and the engine overheated.

I’m feeling more confident and like a macho-bad-ass military truck driver. The truth is that I’m still afraid, but can pull of a reasonable I-can-do-it look.

  • Pvt Si says the cooks put something in the food to make men less horny. It's either untrue or isn't working well enough.
  • SBC gets their asses whooped again, must stand still for half and hour and tell jokes to their unit.
  • SFC As saw to it that we can't go the short way to the mess hall any more.
  • The men act increasingly disciplined as the weekend draws closer.
  • Everyone behaves super-well when SGM Tm is on duty, he seems to pay special attention to the drivers... and no-one wants to be on his bad side.
  • I pass DMV theory exam for C-cat.
  • Pvt Kr brings me a bar of chocolate for cutting his hair - we could use more of such politeness.


The first month of DSC was relaxing, fun and practical. We had plenty of free time, saw SBC get grilled on a daily basis and best of all - got to drive. A lot.