Military Service - Month #10

April 2014

Published on . Takes about 22 minutes to read.

Week #40 (01 - 06 of April)

Two days in the forest and the battery of my phone is dead: the cold zapped away most of its energy. The officers have a generator and many sneak their phones there to charge during the night (the risk is worth it), I think I’ll do the same.

Today we learn about different ways of getting into a building: climbing through windows with ladders, lifting a man up on a board or using another man as a stepping stone. I accidentally hit pvt An in the crouch while doing this. Went to the medics with a bleeding finger that was more annoying than serious, they bandaged it up nice and quick. The medics are competent, I have faith that should something happen, I’m in good hands.

We learn about moving up the stairs: assaulting and capturing a staircase. I’m in Counter Strike mode, this is so cool. Again, we’re armed with blanks (they don’t hold back on ammunition, we’re always loaded full) while the officers play the opponent. The sound of indoors fire exchange is exhilarating, both listening from afar and being the one shooting. I’m quick with the trigger too, the officers often comment that as soon as they peeked around the corner to shoot at us they got nailed.

My gun hasn’t seen so much continuous activity, ever, so I do a quick field maintenance (it’s like a chimney from inside) before sleep.

We practice assault formations inside a building: moving in corridors, entering rooms. The enemy fights back fiercely, using rubble to barricade corridors, hiding in shadows and shooting from behind corners. The corridors are tight and we huddle near walls for protection. I get hit in the face with the hot shells from my weapon as they bounce off the wall back towards me. I don’t feel pain or surprise though, the adrenaline takes care of that.

I lead an assault into a new building and realize quite quickly that I’m not born for leadership positions. There are so many small things to pay attention to, six men to command, every mistake could cost us our lives. True enough, I leave one blind corner unchecked and the lt shoots us all.

Another time, I don’t notice a stationary target and get wounded in the leg: the attack is aborted and the men evacuate (carry) me outside for safety.

I’m paired with srs Pu for two-man patrol shooting with live rounds. We move in the woods, on the lookout for the enemy. Not nervous at all, we move with a fast pace, every time a target appears, we dispatch it within seconds. I’m praised for my skill with the weapon.

"Tuli välja, et Roots on päris täpne käsi" - Srs Pu, patrulllaskmise kohta

The final exercise of the course involves capturing the entire city (~4 houses) and planning a 3-squad attack. I’m put into the unit that captures the first building and provides cover for the rest. The sergeants are in command and direct fire and movement against the officers. We do well.

Afterwards, we clean up: there are empty shells everywhere, the men collect several bags of them. We’re taken to a nearby battalion for a quick wash.

The next day brings two exercises: throwing a real grenade and defensive firing with a squad. The grenade part wasn’t as scary as I’d imagined: you take the explosive, arm it, throw it. Bang! Done. Got hit by a small piece of shrapnel (no injury).

The men are most annoying, like children: farting, giggling, making low jokes, never shutting up.

Guarding the Fire

It’s one of the rememberable, you-must-experience-it-to-understand experiences. One squad tent for seven - fifteen men, cold night and a hot fire. The men take turns guarding the fire - adding firewood and preventing anyones boots or feet catching on fire - throught the night, one shift is usually around one to two hours, depending on the number of men currently sleeping in the tent.

The shift is lonely, quiet and totally at your disposal. There’s time to reflect on your thoughts, plot, philosophize, read a book or pass the time with your smartphone. New firewood must be added every eight…fifteen minutes and occasionally the patrol from outside the tent checks whether you fell asleep (a certainty, should you lie down).

Ahjuvalves (2014-04-05)

Ahjus, siin ahjus, seal praksatas oks
on unel, mu unel, nüüd tänaseks ots
ärkan üles, vaatan üles, taevas tähti on täis
kuid telgis ma näen vaid jao magavaid päid.

Valvan ahju ma tunni, vahest isegi kaks
kuulen väljaspoolt samme, müt-müt-müt, praks-praks
ning kui tunnimees uurib, kas olen ka siin
vastan "mina!" ning mõtteis end ära taas viin.

Mul meeles on päike, on suvi ja tuul
ja punapeast tüdruku meelitav suu
kaks sõpra, kel sõprus on suurem kui suur
kõigest sellest mind lahutab veel vaid kaks kuud.

Siin ahjus, mu ahjus nüüd pragiseb leek
on jäänud mul valvata veidike veel
siis väravast välja viib koidu eel tee
ning elu, mis minu, ma leian sealt eest.

It’s the last day of the camp. We pack the tents early in the morning and head to the 300m shooting range to practice defensive squad fire. There are remote-controlled targets set up at various distances, we must collectively suppress them as they appear and prevent the enemy from reaching our positions. Everyone gets four clips of live rounds. I’m on the outermost position, halfway behind a hill and use only one clip. The officers later make use of my leftovers to shoot from their own guns.

We head to the forest range to do one more squad attack exercise with live rounds and dynamic targets. All goes well and we pack our gear just as the rain starts. It’s a four hour drive to the capital, across the country. I’m carpooling in the cabin with pvt Re again while most of the guys are forced to sit in the windy/cold crate.

The battalion offers supper, showers and a oh-so-comfortable bed.

Week #41 (07 - 13 of April)

The drivers are tasked with prepping sixteen cars and generators for driving out. Theis mostly involves fueling the cars and fuel canisters, but is still time-consuming and boring.

To combat the dullness, I troll pvt Re: MB 1017 trucks have a lever for selecting the transmission mode: back-wheel drive, neutral, four-wheel drive. It’s rarely used when not in the field. I sneak in the cabin and put it to ‘neutral’ (there is no transmission, the gears are not connected to the wheels). Pvt Re gets behind the wheel and starts to drive out from the gas station, the car doesn’t move. He’s confused, presses the gas harder, switches gears, turns the wheel. Still nothing. Swearing, clueless, he fumbles around for nearly two minutes as I innocently watch his futile struggles. Finally his sight settles on the transmission switch. A moment of realization, embarrassment, anger, “I’ve-been-bested” and laughter later and I’m at the receiving end of half-heated swearing and threats. Ahh, practical jokes…

In the evening, I get an hour behind my laptop. Due to having been deployed to Southern-Estonia, it’s the first time in over a week I’ve been connected.

For two days in a row, we drive to the outskirts of the city with different NODEs to test the equipment that’ll soon go to the hands of the reserve forces, coming in a few weeks for the Spring Storm exercise. Some minor problems are identified and later solved. The days are short, we raise and lower the masts and head back.

Pvt Re, Jä and La, three NODE drivers, were involved in a multiple vehicle collision on the way back to the battalion. There was a road sign in one narrow lane, poorly visible from a distance. The first driver saw it at the last moment and braked, the two following cars hit him from behind. One cart with a generator was upturned, some metal was deformed. Pvt La later mused how he stepped on the brake immediately but the car just wouldn’t stop fast enough. Thankfully, no human victims. The CE trucks are heavy, I’d fear to imagine what would be left should a fragile civilian car get in the way. There was some media coverage and excitement from other drivers. The PR department of the Defense Forces reacted quickly and technician officers were called in from home to clear it up. One of the officers demanded punishment for the involved drivers, but the head of the battalion disagreed, saying the drivers were not at fault for the poorly positioned road sign. The following day, all were reminded to keep appropriate distance between cars.

"Noh Roots, nüüd ma saan aru miks sa ütled alati, et turvavöö peab kinni olema - need poiside seal said raputada." - Rms Hn avarii kohta.

The Last Hike

It was decided that we should have one final, “fun” hike, to remind ourselves that we’re still soldiers (event thought we don’t do many infantry stuff these days) and to bring back good memories from the SBC.

We head out at 0910 from the battalion towards the edge of the city in full battle gear. The length of the track is around ten kilometers. I’m the only driver in the squad, the rest are SBC who set a running pace. I want to enjoy the walk, but they keep pushing up the pace, urging me to get sweaty and spent. Why? I want to have good memories of this, not just another I-pushed-myself-to-exhaustion experience. But no, one can not resist seven people swearing at you to go along with the social pressure. A lot of resentment during the day. I lost all respect for pvt Hn who’s supposed to be a leader but knows nothing about psychology or group dynamics nor positive feedback to motivate people.

Hike

The first checkpoint has us assembling a RJ45 Ethernet cable. Two try and use up nearly all of the allocated time, then ask whether anyone has actually done this before. I’m still resentful and petty and had kept quiet, but give it a try now. Unfortunately, the time runs out and we fail before I finish the cable.

I fall back to my old strategy of survival during too fast hikes: orchestral music.

The second checkpoint is a simple puzzle, but the third has us assembling our assault rifles without vision. We’re lined up, ordered to disassemble our rifles and cover our eyes with scarves. The officers move around and reposition the weapon parts in front of us so that we’d have to locate and identify the correct part by touch. The clock starts and my hands go to work, doing movements unconsciously drilled into me during the past year. The sound of metallic clicking and cocking comes from left and right. I’ve never assembled a weapon by time, let alone without sight before, but my time is two minutes, the second best in our squad. Really cool.

The last assignment is a shooting competition, fifteen rounds, 150, 100 and 50 meters, lying down, squatting and standing positions. Timed and scored. The squad is prepped, when the clock starts everyone runs to their positions, picks a target and fires off five rounds. All move to the next distance in unison and the process is repeated. The clock stops when the last round is fired and points are summarized. I get 57 out of 150. For me, this is a good result, although it’s one of the poorest of the unit.

Every squad got a cake (I reject my piece, I’m still angry at the SBC) and a 72 hour weekend pass. We get two longer weekend passes because our company doesn’t get the extra vacation before Spring Storm. They justify it by saying we need to practice more. Practice what, I ask? Raising the mast? Switching positions? We’ve done this so many times already! So, when others are enjoying a week of vacation, we’ll be out in the field ticking (or jumping) in our NODEs.

I voluntarily delay my weekend pass for an hour, pvt Re cuts my hair: there’s this awesome woman I’m schedule to meet and I want to look soldierly.

Most of the weekend passes at the robotics club with work on my present to the FIIF 2014 festival. The long-expected meeting didn’t happen.

Week #42 (14 - 20 of April)

I sleep longer and wash while others are out doing their mandatory morning exercise: I’m on janitor duty today. The previous guy, pvt Lv is arrogant and lazy, handing over dirty hallways and going to bed instead of listening to my demands of him fulfilling his duties. I don’t leave it like that and report to MSG Ls. Without further ado, he puts pvt Lv on duty after me and allows me to do the same: basically say ‘fuck you’ to him when handing over my duties. I’m glad to find justice in the army.

We’re heading out for yet another camp, this time in Rapla. The position is a open grassland, some local farmer comes to reminiscence on the days of past military. 24h of uptime, seven hours of sleep and a jump. The new position is a dry half-forested area below power lines, a secluded, sunny and nice spot.

We’re ordered to lower the mast at 1700 because of ‘enemy activity’ nearby, two hours later we raise it back up. This was a pointless punishment, some guys had allowed themselves too much freedom: sunbathing and listening to music instead of patrolling the perimeter.

The second raising was a pain in the ass, the mast got stuck halfway up and we spent many hours trying to fix it. Now I get why some didn’t want to come to Signals: the sleep schedule is irregular (two 24h days without sleep in a row) and the mast has problems 50% of the time.

We head back to the barracks, I continue my assignments as the ‘janitor’. The duty officer does something unprecedented and allows the hallway duty officers to quit their post for the night. We get a full eight hours of sleep.

Everyone has to laminate maps for the Spring Storm, 15 per person. I did four in an hour, faster than others.

My 24h of being the ‘janitor’ are over, I give my post over to pvt Lv. The ‘fuck you’ is implied, but I explain the situation quite nicely: I leave things uncleaned, just as he did to me. He doesn’t accept it and reports to the duty officer who happens to be a man with a quick temper. I protest, the duty officer calls MSG Ls, confirms my account and yells at pvt Lv quite forcefully. Lv is full of ‘righteous anger’ and calls me names. I’m sorry, did you think that you can screw me over and not get the same treatment in return? I will take matters upstairs if you’re being a d*ck because I lack the patience and the forceful words to make you fulfil your duties, let others deal with that. I’m not a nanny.

Due to some miracle I get a weekend pass valid for one day. The other drivers were assigned with washing thirty cars, I escape all that and the cleaning day. I voluntarily wash my own car myself before heading out.

I bought train, ship and festival tickets to the FIIF festival. Most of my savings went to this, but I think I need it. A year of military discipline is behind me soon, I need a chance to vent, laugh and rest up before starting with work and school again.

Sent two job applications to companies offering software developer positions. Bought supplies (sweets, coffee) for Spring Storm, it’s doubtful I get out again before my service is over. Even brought civilian clothes with me.

The drivers had managed to wash all of the cars, the cleaning day had been short and discipline more relaxed as the end draws near.

We’re “volunteered” to help out at a social event focusing on poorer citizens. A day of work, but it’s nothing difficult.

Week #43 (21 - 27 of April)

At 0600 the sun rises. I notice this for the first time since winter, reminds me of the summer SBC when we did our morning exercise along with the sun.

SFC Ps has us doing work repairing the broken cars and carts involved in the multiple vehicle collision, it takes the whole day.

A short two-day, two-jump camp is nothing special - just draining to the motivation. SFC To is a bit mean to us, I’m hoping only because his job is discipline. Most don’t harbor many good feelings towards him. I find him quite cool when in off-duty mode.

My patrol cycle includes the whole night: I see the sun set and everything slowly darkens (the darkness is scary), then goes back light and warm again. I wear my winter gear during the night, it’s still that cold. Half an hour after my sleeping shift begins SFC To attacks our position. We defend ourselves until the order comes to pack up.

24h without sleep and no rest for the wicked: SFC Ps has us doing generator maintenance. I’m quite good at this already: lots of practice.

There are a million small things to do in preparation for the upcoming final exercise: speak to people, change windswipers, tail lights, fuel cars, refill bottles… A gear check is organized to the drivers, the others had done it long ago. Srs Pu jokes that the drivers aren’t part of the main unit anu more since we so rarely do things together, SFC Ps has us working in the car park all the time.

Cpt Tn lectures us on the fictional back story of Spring Storm which is partly inspired by the recent tensions and acts of War in Eastern Europe.

Last weekend pass before Spring Storm. A very good friend of mine invites me to an evening out (something I very rarely do and only with a small group of carefully selected people), I listen to good music, am lectured on the topic of love and spoken out of a poor decision concerning my future employment. I crash at 0400 and have time to participate in an improv rehearsal with Improgrupp Jaa! before stocking up with sweets and coffee one last time and heading back to the battalion.

Week #44 (28 - 30 of April)

A few privates got the rank of corporal. There is a rumor that my team will be in reserve since we’re one person short - pvt Er is not coming to the Spring Storm.

I lose my temper with pvt Tm again. I reason that I have that right, living my frustration out on him. I’m a human too and quite frankly, the guy deserves to see the reaction he causes in others.

SFC Ps took my signature, I’m now legally responsible for my car and all of its equipment. I calculate that it’d take me two years to pay it back should I totally wreck it.

The head of my company briefed us on our battle assignments and said that this is not a training exercise for us: our main objective is to sit still and see to it that the communication channels are open. Three weeks of sitting around, he said. We’re allowed to take our laptops with us so that we wouldn’t go insane (some extroverts can’t handle being away from everyone for 21 days).

Tallinn Prison came to look for future employees. 700 bruto for salary in a hazardous environment? No thanks.

SFC Ps gives out more trivia assignments. I feel more and more separated from the other drivers, pvt Tm and Re get on my nerves on a regular basis. I wait forwards to the three weeks of being on my own if not for anything else then to be apart from them.

Srs Pu gathers everyone to the drivers room, hangs a big map on the wall and holds a briefing on Spring Storm. Our network map is drawn out and everyone gets detailed assignments. My team is in the reserve and sits in the command area until we’re needed. The briefing is very military-feeling, official/relaxed at the same time. I feel proud and competent again and glad to be commanded by competent leaders.

"Jah, ma olen Kevadtormil: sittusin põõsa taga, nägin jänest ja mul on kaasas relv." - Cpt Tm

We’re briefed on operational security and social media (don’t post those photos on Facebook). To the question of active bloggers only my hand raises. I’m asked to give out the URL of my blog, luckily everything is password-protected and they don’t have the right to ask me for it. Still, I install additional intrusion-detection measures.

"Küsimusi, probleeme, ettepanekuid, tähelepanekuid, mõttepunkte, tarkuseteri või muid märkusi? Kõik on ideaalselt selge? Fucking awesome! " - n-ltn Ns 30.04 hommikurivistuse lõpus "Ma ei taha teid näha siin. Teid on nii vähe, mul pole mõtet teid üles rivistada siia. Te olete siin nii kaua teeninud juba, ma ei pea isegi ütlema mis mäevaplaan on täna õhtul ja homme hommikul. Ühesõnaga minge ära siit! Rivitult!" - Kpt Jo õhtusel rivistusel "Tulevad juulis uued noored, küll ma neid nussin siis alguses... pärast ma olen sõbralikum, viskan nalja siin rivi ees..." - Ktp Jo õhtusel rivistusel. Ta ei ole meiega enam nii kuri kui alguses.
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