Military Service - Month #6

December 2013

Published on . Takes about 21 minutes to read.

Week #23 (01 - 08 of December)

Sundays are the best. I take the day slowly doing whatever I want: the laptop, cookies with tea, improv and a movie.

Improv

“We were just admiring how well you would fit into Guard Battalion.” - pvt Ai when I order the men to pipe down while in formation.

  • I'm done with CE driving lessons, the theory exam is soon.
  • The ground is icy and people slip while marching.

The drivers do nothing for the whole day while the NCO course tortures the SBC with timed bed-making and dressing “exercises”. I wonder what they think as I calmly stroll past with a coffee in hand.

It’s pretty cool how the NCO’s yell at the SBC, then come into the drivers rooms to borrow a book or ask a question and are perfectly friendly and joking, then go out and yell some more. The same applies to the higher officers: take them out of the service context and they are humans again.

SFC Sk briefs us on the upcoming drivers forest camp. The location of the camp will be near shooting exercises and explosions so it is important that we know where we shouldn’t venture into.

Some of the drivers are released from the morning activities to take the theory exam for CE at the DMV. I navigate the city with pvt La, it’s a relaxing early morning walk. It started snowing fat, slow flakes. The DMV office is near IT College, got to visit the school on a pretense of refilling my vacuum flask with hot coffee.

The Forest Camp

The drivers prepare and head out to their one and only forest camp at 1800. The trees are covered with fat snow, it’s cold and peaceful and dark. Away from the light pollution of the city, the stars shine. We erect the tents (we have electricity and a light and mobile chargers!) and prepare for the first night in squad tents.

Its very comfortable and warm in the tent, in the sleeping bag. There is some wetness, but its not bad. The tent is large and cozy and there are many men. When everyone lays open their bedrolls there’s barely room to move. The tent is a polygon shape, the heads go to the outside wall, legs towards the center oven. Boots and socks are put to dry. Men fiddle with their phones. SBC of the guard battalion is having their final hike nearby (we saw them digging trenches), but we are cozy and warm in the tent, such contrast!

Bunking down for the night Drying wet clothes Red oven Mandarins Early morning

Pvt Pn of the first unit managed to go over the roof with his jeep on the way to the camp - supposedly, there was a fox and the driver hit the brakes.

We wake and eat, it’s still dark (but this will change in about an hour). All the cars that we parked in random the previous night (in a hurry to get the tents up and sleep) are now parked properly in formation. The drivers split into two teams for the first lesson. The topic: technical inspection of the vehicle. One team causes some faults to the car (a loose shackle, unplugged wire, blown fuse), the other has to inspect the car and fix all faults. This drill is necessary since we are supposed to go over our cars each time before a longer ride. 150 meters from us, the poor SBC digs their trench exam in the frozen ground. I’m so lucky I didn’t do SBC during winter.

After lunch activities include some shivering, some pretty sights of snowy Estonian woods and a drive through A FREAKIN’ FROZEN RIVER! Our Unimogs are capable of driving through 1.2m of water, it’s time to learn how. The cars are prepped and SFC Ps hops into the crate of the first car to go through. The cars slowly enter into the river and men use spades to move and break the ice from the cars path - even a small block of ice can break headlights.

Forest road Frozen river Crossing the river Crossing the river

SFC Ps successfully makes it across and the rest get to try. It’s a strange feeling of fear and excitement, driving in. The car bubbles and the water is just high enough to break into the cabin. Looking out of the windows I see ice floating around me. The bottom is slippery and steering is difficult. I cross without problems and feel awesome. This is one of the few awesome things you’ll remember after the service, akin to skydiving. I will probably never get the chance to do this again. Afterwards, we clean the cars from smaller blocks of ice and seaweed.

The unit has a surprisingly non-formal conversation with SFC Ps after the ice trial. We learn of our fate after DSC and have reason to rejoice about the unexpected weekend passes.

The night is dedicated to a map reading exercise (in cars). No one of my three-member team can read the map, instead we (our car-maniac driver, pvt Mi) drive around randomly and hope to spot a checkpoint. There are very big pools of water and ice that we have to pass through and the ride itself is very bumpy. In three hours, we found three out of fifteen checkpoints.

This concludes the DSC camp, we pack and head home. We don’t take the most direct route, instead choosing to travel forest roads, just so we could get more practice. Driving through Estonia this way feels nice.

A driver Car dashboard

I use my weekend pass to rest and see the new Hunger Games movie. Met SFC Ps in a store, in civilian context… which was weird.

I ordered some parts to build a 5V USB power supply into my car, finally got them and built the device. The problem is that older models - basically all our cars - have European versions of a cigarette lighter plug, which is narrower than those used today in basically every car. A adapter cable is needed and along with a 24V -> 5V power supply they allow me to charge my phone while outdoors. A great benefit indeed.

The weekend passes refresh me greatly, but I’m usually down (depressed) again by Wednesday.

Week #24 (09 - 15 of December)

The NCO course went to their final hike, which, we later hear, was much more punishing than our SBC one.

Lots of free time again, nothing much to do. I’m designing a hardware panel for a LAMP server monitor.

On duty and filling my time with reading the regulations. Found an interesting point, those who are on duty on Sundays are allowed one free day during the week to make up for it. This concerns me greatly, since I’ve been on duty more than anyone else and twice on Sundays. Spoke about it with my superior, he was surprised and promised to take it up with a lawyer to see if I’m correct and it applies. My allocated four hours of sleep is interrupted when the NCO course returns at 05 in the morning, all spent, but happy.

Cpt Rr comes out of the duty officer room, takes a knife and approaches pvt Mi. I’m startled, but Mi stands firm. Cpt Rr raises his knife and… cuts off the emblem on Mi’s arm (which had come a little loose from its threads). He likes to do that. The trick with surviving different duty officers painlessly is to know each ones ticks. Some don’t like footprints on the floor. Some like to lecture. Avoiding things that set off the current duty officer makes life much easier.

We, the drivers, have our final hike as well. This means driving around Estonia (in total about 200km) in teams of two, reading the map and solving car-related tasks in checkpoints. I’m with pvt Pn and we manage just fine, taking turns to drive and navigate. I am independent and it feels great. The tasks involve: putting on snow chains, driving a slalom course, towing a truck, blind parking with only hand signals and a few others and we handle all of them just fine. Turns out I’ve learnt a thing or two about carmanship (that’s a word!) after all.

They say that everyone from our unit who isn’t on duty or in the quick response unit or hasn’t screwed up big time gets out this weekend - this means exactly one guy. Our unit is really small when you take away the guys assigned to other duties (IT guys, couriers…), leaving the pool for the duty roster tiny.

SFC Ps asked for our preference on positions afer the DSC. I want to be a driver in the mobile radio unit team, six guys from my unit want the same and there are only eight positions.

Mina: "Mida sidemees-autojuhid teevad?"
N-vbl Ps: "Kui palju Te IT-st teate?"
Mina: "Päris palju"
N-vbl Ps: "Siis pole ju mingit küsimust [kuhu te lähete]"
  • During the morning exercise, the wind tears up two tents and tries to throw one of them over the battalion wall to the civilian world. The men quickly intervene and the break-out attempt fails.
  • When the officers are out, the drivers party. Mostly everyone are in the classroom with their laptops having a lesson in special weapons and tactics.
  • Improvised a 20-minute The Bat (improvisation in the dark, basically like a radio play) with the guys. It went really well.

I’m trying very hard to follow the advise of pvt Hp: always stay true to yourself, don’t let others make you into something you’re not. This shows in the fact that I have self-control and act politely even to those I dislike greatly. Pvt Ra is a jerk and it’s such a struggle not to sink to his level and attack him verbally, living all my frustration and fear and loneliness and anger out on him. This would end with a black eye (for me), but the satisfaction might just possibly be worth it… at least for a short while. Yes - the worst thing about the army: having to tolerate obnoxious people.

The SBC prepares to take over quick response unit duties. They had their theory lesson and now watch with laughing faces as we run (hopefully to our last) alarm. When the alarm sounds, I run down hallways, take turns using a pivot point and push people out of my way on route to the weapons locker. Those who aren’t on duty smirk.

We need stronger female presence. Even one woman in our unit would magically lower the amount of stupid bickering, swearing and farting. Somehow, men only seem to find such things rude in the company of a woman. A woman would make the mood lighter, the atmosphere more friendly and cooperative.

Pvt Pt: "Niikui Roots räägib, siis sa tead, et see on nii vasakule..."
Mina: "Seda ma kuulen küll esimest korda."
Pvt Pl: "Rms Roots, sõjavägi on Teid muutnud."
Mina: "Seda ma ei kuule esimest korda."
Trolling

Week #25 (16 - 22 of December)

They announced our assigned positions. I’m in the radio unit (NODE), exactly where I wanted from the start of the service! I’m a bit afraid that I have to be the bossey type in my three person team, the oldest and wisest. Even the Master Sergeant joked that the new SBC is slow and lacking in the wit department so the drivers have to fill two positions. Some humor, too: pvt Bg is assigned to the kitchen team.

  • The SBC goes to their final hike. Can I still call them the SBC? They return, exhausted, their hike was one continuous stretch while we got four hours of sleep in between. SFC As orders them pizza. Many have injuries between or under their feet that inhibit their ability to march.

“Roomavad, lapsed!”

  • The duty officer lectures all the drivers: pvt Lk had driven into the fence of the ammunition depot, apparently this happens every year with the first slippery days.
  • I flunk CE driving exam which instantly turns the day black. I'm put on the duty roster as a punishment.
  • The SBC has their ending ceremony, their guests walk around in the barracks.
  • Against expectations, SFC Ps lets us out for the 2nd time. I use the opportunity to see The Hobbit and enjoy the holiday spirit with a bottle of mulled wine.

Week #26 (23 - 29 of December)

Half the battalion gets out for Christmas, the second half during New Years. Christmas in the army is… something else. A few decorations were put up, but they felt empty. I’m on duty on the 24th (mopped the toilet four times). Men are allowed out for a few hours, some even for the whole day and night. The mess hall was set up for a formal dinner. Santa brought candy. ETV news crew was present and did a short clip on how soldiers celebrate Christmas, too (…). The best part of the day for me was the night shift, when I could be me for four hours, behind a laptop. The duty officer, 1st Lt Mu was feeling the holiday spirit too and only yelled at an incompetent soldier a little and made him run only five laps around the barracks.

Christmas
"Miks ETV õhtul meie pataljoni tuleb?
- Sest meie pataljon on ainus, kes jõuludeks sisse jääb" - rms Sa
Pvt Ka: "Can you speak any other languages besides Estonian?"
Me: "Oday ouyay eakspay Igpay Atinlay?"
Pvt Ka: "Holy S*it! You did not just go Klingon on my ass!"

Less than 24h until New Year’s vacation, but I still have time to clock in another round of being on duty. Everything went smoothly (which is unusual) except when it was time to watch the news. Someone had “borrowed” the extension cord from the TV, taken it into a classroom (to get power for his laptop) and left it there, then locked the door and left the key inside. Well done.

I wake in the morning to resume being on duty only to learn that pvt Lk who was on duty with me had been too focused on his laptop and waken the man on kitchen-driver duty an hour late. The duty officer yelled at him and forbade all future use of electronics during the night when on duty. This is an overreaction, but I believe he sticks to his word. Considering how many times I’ve been on duty, there’ll be a lot of sleepless, boring hours in the future. The others will be pissed as well when they return from vacation, but I don’t think much of the anger will go towards pvt Lk. The new shift to replace us is late and the duty officer yells at them some more and spices it up with push-ups.

I’m finally free, a week of vacation! The soldiers who serve eleven months have fifteen days off, my last five days of free time will be somewhere in Feb-March. I got concert tickets to Mari Pokinen and Riho Sibul, met a long-lost friend and spent an evening with acoustic music.

Week #27 (30 and 31 of December)

The cinema shows Walter Mitty, a suprisingly good movie that inspires people to really enjoy their life, chase their dreams and LIVE.

I’m going home for the New Years. There is a Facebook group for community organized carpooling along popular routes, I managed to find a really nice woman who took me most of the way home, cheaper than the bus and also more interesting. Should do that more often. The hours leading up to the change of year were quiet, I went to see the fireworks at the town square and slept afterwards.