Military Service – Month #9

March 2014

Published on . Takes about 17 minutes to read.

Week #36 (03 - 09 of March)

I spent the weekend working on a new Arduino project, relaxing, drinking wine and sleeping long. I’m still on duty when I return from the weekend pass, but am allowed to use the reserve to get six hours of sleep: we’re driving out again the following day.

Low Temperatures, Darkness and Coffee: Yet Another Day In The Forest

The morning handoff goes smoothly and we’re allowed to sleep from 0930. I go and have a shower instead: I’d rather go 30 minutes without sleep than miss the last opportunity to wash. Going unshowered for four days is normal in the field.

I’m getting into the habbit of listening to music while driving. It’s incredibly loud in the cabin and music offers variety during the longer drives. Blocking my hearing makes driving more difficult (the sound of the engine helps a lot when switching gears), but I start to have confidence in my driving abilities.

The route to our position in the polygon is blocked by the Guard Battalion: they’re having live fire shooting exercises and we’re not allowed into the danger zone. Officers arrive to sort it out while we chat with the privates on duty. They’ve in the middle of their SBC and I feel proud again to be “older”. We’re assigned an alternate position on a grassy field nearby. The stakes go in with three-four blows (in contrast to a few months back when some spent 10 minutes with a single stake).

Getting the mast up takes only thirty minutes longer than the norm. Despite the lack of motivation in our team of three, we’re getting quite experienced. The weather is good, +1 degrees. I sleep from nine to one, at eleven the power to the tent disappears and I wake from violent shivers. Ssshhhhhivering, I pull on boots and go to investigate in my underwear, only to be stopped by the shaken patrol who thought I was an untruder. Investigation reveals a loose power cord and I get to sleep again. The electric heater we have has tempers: it’s either chilly (heater OFF) or sauna (heater ON).

One team got their car stuck and was still working with raising the mast at 0200 when others had long gone to sleep. The woods are pitch-black in the night and I’m scared by animal noises, the wind and darkness. I’ve never been so glad to have my gun (and blanks) with me.

I’m grumpy when I’m waken, we have orders to “jump” (pack up and go to a new position). The new location is a narrow forest road (we taped off a section of it), it’s less comfortable to raise a mast here, but at least it’s dry, sheltered and there are only two access roads.

  • I use a primus stove to warm my hands and make hot coffee. Patrol duty is much more bearable when you have coffee.
  • Protip: back up your (Cisco) configuration before you pull the power cord.
  • Pvt Sk complains about my ("too fucking slow") driving style and pisses me off. I continue to refuse to drive recklessly. There are better things to do with health and money.
"Noh, varbad külmetavad, jah?" - Vbl To tuleb meid kontrollima ja näeb mind sokke ja varbaid soojendamas.

We’ve been on the same spot for over 40 hours. Just sitting around is the goal of every NODE team, it means that things are working as they should.

Our computer has PowerShell IDE and I’m bored. I browse the manual and learn enough to write a basic ping script that would tell me the status of each of our NODEs in the network.

The morning sunrise is beautiful and we drive back to the battalion through a summery country.

Me

SFC Ps has us doing generator maintenance: oil, air and fuel filters need changing. I feel like a qualified mechanic, handling screws and parts and oil, doing my job fast and correctly on my own. The military has taught me some basics.

The weekend passes await when we’re done.

Week #37 (10 - 16 of March)

The week is a copy of the previous one: yet another forest camp.

We pack our gear and head out, there is no rushing this time. Our position is in the middle of a road again, taped it shut with warning tape and set up.

I had purchased two regular door alarms (1€ each), reed switch / magnet activated) to use as a warning system. I taped the alarm to a tree, then tied fisherman’s cord to the magnet and drew it across the access road, about 200m from our car. An intruder would not notice the line in the dark, walk across it, the line would pull the magnet away from the alarm and the patrol would be notified of the incursion. It’s an effective and cheap extra precaution against the officers who sneak up to check on us and an attacking enemy. Pvt An accidentally activated it during the night (having forgotten that it’s there) and said it worked just as I intended, he didn’t feel nor see the line before it was too late.

Five hours of sleep and no jumps. The distance of our radio link is the longest to date: over 10km.

Two of the officers come to check on us during the night, I see their headlights from afar, quickly disassemble my alarm system and lie in wait in the darkness. They come towards our position, I reveal myself by cocking my gun and demanding their authentication. They’re pleased with our work and move on.

The tent flaps around me as I wake: the wind is strong, we tied the tent down extra carefully the day before. The sun is bright, its light and warm and summery. I cook my breakfast during the first rotation of patrol duty, there is no rush, which is such a contrast to the first two months of SBC when we had 15…20minutes for eating and cleaning up.

Tent

An order to jump arrives, our new position is in a bloody swamp. There is a narrow area of solid land, a few meters too small to set up, some of the stakes have to go into the watery areas. The access road is full of thick mud. Some careful maneuvering and position choosing and we manage to set up just fine.

I think EXL masts have faults more often than they work right. Surely it can’t be a 50-50 ratio? We had to call in the cavalry to get it up correctly. Hopefully it works again the next time.

Another jump, another position, this time in the woods and only one access road: perfect. I wake from my rotation of sleep to be informed that SFC To and SFC Ns had come to check on us. SFC Ns walked around my tripwire, SFC To did not. I’m told he was positively surprised, made a few inquiries about it and warned that the next time, he won’t be coming on the (main) road. I hope he was properly spooked by a sudden loud alarm in the dark.

I use my external speaker to make packing up more fun with good music.

Pvt Ša, our communications “expert”, went to reserve quite unexpectedly. Our team is now missing a member, I’m told pvt Er will come in as a replacement.

The officers showed us statistics about our activities, the overall picture is OK, but as always, there is room for improvement.

A class of high schoolers in uniforms (a military 101 class?) is moving about in the battalion, I guess they have a multi-day field trip. The ladies seem especially attractive and I’m feeling guilty for having indecent thoughts about 17-18 year olds. Some others voice their thoughts with an easy heart.

Weekend passes since four. I spend Friday / Saturday night at IT Night 2014 as a technical mentor.

IT-ÖÖ (IT Night) is a fun, statewide event where kids and teenagers gather in youth centers all over Estonia for one night to spend time with each other, the mentors and Information Technology.
IT ÖÖ IT ÖÖ

The battalion is organizing a military poetry competition in celebration of the upcoming Estonian language day. I sat down and wrote a poem expressing my frustration on the many reasons for dealing out small punishments the officers constantly find. This was the only entry and the contest was cancelled.

Täna, peale õhtust sööki
kõndisin ma õues
kui härra kapten peatas mind ja
uuris, mis mul põues
et tasku lukku kinni panna
üldse ma ei proovi
ja kas ma talle seda veidi
seletada sooviks. 
Mõtlesin, et miks on nõnda:
siin iga väiksemgi kui viga
toob kaasa palju seletusi
toob kaasa palju kisa. 
See on vast abiks neile kellel
puudub distsipliin
kuid mulle on see kahjuks ainult
masendus ja piin.
Kas arvate, et vali sõna
saab mehed hästi surema?
Või võiks ehk sõdur ise tahta
kodu kaitsma tulema?
Mul tuju kauaks oli must
ja mõtteis terav keel
ei aita rõõmsad lohutused:
vaid mõned kuud sul veel...

Week #38 (17 - 23 of March)

Pvt Er is now in our team. Pvt Am has a medical leave, my team is temporarily boosted with two others. No one wants to step into the role of the one in charge. We’re willing to let things slide or do them poorly instead of assuming responsibility. I’m angry and sarcastic and force myself to step in. I don’t do it well, piss off the others, but at least I’m willing… A good leader is a must have in any team.

We jump at 0500, nothing goes smoothly. The military (or rather, the people here) brings out my worst side, I’m mean and lethargic and grumpy and I realize all that, but just don’t care.

The chaplain comes to chit-chat and gauge the mood of soldiers. I evade all sensitive questions, I don’t trust him.

Winter Winter

I follow the news on Russia’s aggression against Ukraine quite intently. What the fuck? More soldiers to Crimea, plotting to seize East-Ukraine, making threats to the Baltic states… The men discuss the possible course of World War Three in our room.

It’s our turn to stay in for the weekend and attend to chores. I’m working at the back end of the battalion when Pvt Lu calmly strolls past.

Pvt Le: "So, anyone here in the quick response unit?"
Me: "Yeah, me and La, why?"
Pvt Le: "Ah. Well, alarm."

Dude. You know we’re working around there and don’t bother to make haste? We run to gear up as fast as we can, the others are already done and waiting on us. We do our drill, but the time to arrive on site is way past the norm. My leg muscles hurt for two days from the short, but intense effort. I wonder what the civilian drivers thought when they saw a group of armed soldiers stopping the traffic to cross the road…

The Guard Battalion did their morning wake-up call a bit differently. That’s awesome!

Week #39 (24 - 31 of March)

This week’s forest camp will be easy: no jumps, just sitting around. We’re paired with another team. Two privates have interesting understandings of ‘waking up’ (45min to get out of the tent) and ‘patrol’ (30min to get to the post). I voice my angry opinions, they’re of no help.

Lt Ns takes me back to the barracks, I have an appointment with the eye doctor. We get there just as the morning exercise ends near sunrise. I’ll get new glasses, my vision has gone down. I’m taken back to the forest and get to sleep my fill before driving my team back.

Weekend passes start at Thursday. I have a job interview with my dream company, but flunk it ( = depressed and shaken ego).

Soldiered most of my BoxOfWords project at the EIK robotics club and had pizza at a beach with a good friend.

PCB

Tactics Camp

Weekend passes end on Saturday: we’re going to a week-long tactics camp on Sunday, heading out at 1600. Most sit in the crate, SFC Ps allowed the drivers to allocate all available cabin space for themselves. I sit with pvt Re, we have a surprisingly normal conversation about work in IT, school and future during the ride. The speed limit is 70km/h and we have to cross the country - 250km, 5 hours. I slept most of the way although it’s quite uncomfortable to sleep in the cabin. The tents were erected when darkness arrived and we went to sleep straight away.

The lessons take place in a special training ground, built for urban battle. There are several houses with stairs, windows and doors, streets and even sewers, all built with urban training in mind. It’s like a small section from an abandoned city.

Our tent (squad II) has seven inhabitants. The morning is cold: Estonian weather is unpredictable: we have an hour of sun, then it snows fat flakes until the ground is white, then in a few hours, it’s warm enough to be without a jacket and the ground is clean again. The temperature is near zero and we opt to dress lightly and shiver: as soon as the exercises start and we move, we warm up.

The camp is dedicated to two topics: battle in and around buildings (the city) and attack formation drills with live rounds. We’ve been drilled on how to fight in the forest, now it’s time to learn to survive in urban areas. They promised it to be the most exiting and tiring camp we’ll have.

We start with the basics: how to adjust our gear for urban movement, then weapon handling and movement. This is where first similarities with all those special ops movies come in: the weapon must always be held ready to fire, we move in a shooting stance, always looking where the muzzle looks. We move slowly, always at the ready to shoot, ever so careful. My left arm tires in minutes from holding the weight of the weapon in the shooting stance, everyone is having trouble with stamina. Small moments of being able to lower the weapon are a relief.

Exercises of approaching buildings follow. We’re armed with blanks as we do this, moving towards dangerous houses in squads. The officers play the enemy, shooting at us from windows. Shots between and in the buildings are five times louder than in the forest. The lieutenant demonstrates the necessity of earplugs by leading everyone into a small indoors corridor, then firing a few rounds from his weapon. It seems like the bangs shook the entire house, so loud is the echo. I will be extra careful to always have my earplugs in, even a few shots without can leave lasting hearing damage.

Ten hours of continuous training with only short breaks have us in a pretty good shape: we’re able to execute an assault towards a building like they do in the movies: every window and door is covered as soldiers move one by one towards the wall. Should an enemy peek out of a window to shoot at us he gets fired upon in short notice. We’re praised.