Friday, March 14, 2008

Stop-Loss State of Mind

Aside from women referring to their vagina as a ‘va-jay-jay’, stop-loss is one of the most annoying things to deal with. And I don’t just mean because the average movie-going public is subjected to the horrendous trailers for the forthcoming Ryan Phillipe suck fest of the same name. Although I have shook my head in tragic irony when I see that pitiful trailer in-between bouts of American Idol, I have no doubt that it is going to misfire on the message more than Esquire magazine does when trying to get the pulse of the modern American male.

And that’s just the start of this little rant.

Some people call it a blog, some people call it a piece of brilliant writing (and a big thanks to YOU people), some just get a little brain tickle, and there are those that feel the ferocity in the form of a rant. If you are lucky (or unlucky) enough to be in my company when a rant is triggered in my already overactive brain then you know that it is a force of nature, an unstoppable wave that builds slowly then crests like a towering giant and demolishes everything in its path until finally subsiding and whisking back to the calm sea as if nothing ever upset the balance.

Most of my rants will begin in the car and I have a one-woman audience who is subjected to my war-mongering, sexually deviant, over-the-top, and more-descriptive-words-spaced-out-with-hyphens, overzealous, but to the point rants. Normally she sits silently, waiting for that wave to roll back to sea. It’s her safest bet, really.
I don’t want to sound misguided here. I have shit to say. I want you to listen. Here we go.

I want to clear up this stop-loss shit. The stop-loss policy was put in effect in 2003 and affects all units that deploy in support of OEF or OIF.

Here…Let explain the rest...My brain hurts...
“This Active Army Unit Stop Loss program affects Soldiers assigned to units alerted for deployment overseas to participate in operations described above. It is intended that Active Army Unit Stop Loss would begin at deployment minus 90 days and continue through the unit redeployment plus 90 days.”

What this means is that if your ETS (expiration term of service) is in December of 2010 and your unit is going to deploy in February of 2011 you are what we commonly refer to as “fucked.”
Stop-loss, like cancer, infidelity, and reruns of ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’ happens every day. It affects a lot of soldiers and affected a good batch that recently deployed with me to Iraq. It does not bring smiles.

The purpose of stop-loss is ultimately to keep any unit that is on active call at a constant state of readiness to deploy, being at full strength and in their best deployable condition. Talk about irony. I wouldn’t call a soldier who has just been stop-lossed and forced to go back to Iraq or Afghanistan a highly motivated individual. To call him at full strength would be just a thin stretch of the truth.

Now, I know (or have heard of) guys that don’t really care, guys that simply shrug their shoulders, make a frowny face and give the ol’ “Oh fucky well” and pack their bags and go on another extended Middle Eastern vacation. Some rationalize the situation by thinking about that combat pay (which, in comparison to movie star salary is pretty pathetic, considering the difference in job impact…you do the math), or…well, let’s face it, that’s really about the only rationalization you can get. I mean, it’s hard to rationalize by saying, “Man, I guess I could smell burning shit for another year!” or “Yeah, I guess living in a tin can ain’t that bad…it’s ONLY a year!”

Now, for any Army blowhard that reads this and wants to get all drill sergeant in my face about how we “raised our right hand” and how we “signed a contract,” well you can just sit back and do me a favor for a second and shut off that knee-jerk reaction that causes those two phrases to filter from your brain to your mouth and listen. I’ll raise my right hand for the third time and smack you upside the head.

I have not yet met a soldier that wants to be stop-lossed. We did raise our right hands and we did sign a contract and we did both under the conditions of said contract and were sworn in under those provisions. Every soldier signs up for a term of service, agreeing to fulfill all obligations under the contract until its termination.

Pretty simple, right? Like any contract, right? Wrongo. Chalk this up to lies your recruiter told you. Take a closer look at that stack of a contract, look between those dizzying signatures that left your head spinning and eyeball through the paragraphs and you will find this little gem from DA Form 3286-64, NOV 89, which is the Statement for Enlistment form, Paragraph 4:

“MILITARY SERVICE OBLIGATION UNDERSTANDING: “…In the event that the Secretary of the Army determines that military necessity of a national scope requires that soldiers be available for assignment/reassignment or training, any or all guarantees contained in this agreement may be terminated. Under these conditions I may be trained, assigned or reassigned according to the needs of the Army.”

When you are caught in the whirlwind of enlisting, signing shit like you’re a movie star at a McDonalds they always say to ‘read everything carefully’ and to make sure you understand everything. Right. I could read an advanced calculus book, but that doesn’t mean I’m gonna understand it. It’s almost as if they hope you catch it, like there’s money riding on it. I’d love to be there when someone points out Paragraph 4 and asks the recruiters what that means…

The scene turns red (y’know, to simulate hell) and fires light up all over the place and they all reel back with laughter, devil horns sprouting from their foreheads and suddenly a pitchfork is pushing you back in your chair…”That means we own your soul, boy! Now, sign! Sign, you little porch monkey! (It’s cool…Clerks 2 brought it back).

So, what does it all mean? Well, I can only speak for myself, but it shows a breach of contract. The drill sergeant types can poke their finger in my chest and give me a Copenhagen puffed out lip smile and tell me, “ You said it yourself kid…Shoulda read and understood everything…Mwuh, ha, ha, ha, haaaa!”

This is not an open letter to change policy. This is not me crying for someone to feel sorry for me. If I am stop-lossed and deploy again then, what the fuck, at least the combat pay’s pretty good…NOT!

There would be no rationalization. I would do, simply, what the Army has taught me thus far and that is to ‘suck it up and drive on.’ I would take another vacation and do my job the same as I always have. But, that doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it and it certainly doesn’t make it right. There would be no emotional music playing in the background as I charge the U.S. Senate, clearly AWOL, making a big speech in a southern accent, and gently easing in my regrets of bad things I did in Iraq.

So, shout out to all those who are living the stop-loss state of mind. Most of us chalk it up to just getting the green weenie once again and it’s really not that surprising. I have had tremendous and rewarding experiences in the Army, but have also had some mind-bogglingly ridiculous and terrible experiences. I’d like to say it’s just like any other job, but we all know that’s bullshit.

Okay, now that that’s all cleared up, you can go see that pile of shit Phillipe movie and refer to this blog/rant to compare fact and fiction or, for better or worse, now you have a better perspective on what it really is before this movie becomes another nail in the coffin of misinformation to the masses.

Believe me when I say that a soldier running off to Canada is not the most common reaction to stop loss. It’s usually just that sweet, sweet combat pay rationale and off he/she goes.


All right, let’s change gears…one service to another, namely the service industry. Even deeper than that, the service industry in Alaska. Now, for those of you who don’t live here, never will live here, have no intention of ever stepping foot in our beautiful 49th state, it really doesn’t matter. We can all relate to the simplicity of piss poor service. And it’s not like we’re slave-owners complaining about our slaves. We are paying for the service, which gives any paying customer the right to complain.

However much I love the rolling mountains, the exotic wildlife, the outdoor lifestyle, the slippery roads, the 10-month-long winters, and tax free purchases, the service industry is lacking in a big way.

One such picture perfect example is the Eagle River McDonalds. Now, save your rant about how you shouldn’t eat McDonalds anyway. It’s not like I’m going there every day, which makes it worse. My rare visits should be supplemented with great service. Let’s take a trip back in time to December 2007, when my wife and I decide to go inside the McDonalds as the drive thru line was almost to the restaurant entrance.

Upon entering the store (I can’t call it a restaurant again, I’m sorry) we are treated to a line just as long as the outside. It’s Christmastime, so there’s a…well, I THINK that’s a tree…and some garland…hanging…no, really hanging from the fake fireplace (yes, in a McDonalds) and then, yes, the tree is decorated…as if someone shot one of those party poppers on it and called it a day…the spirit is alive here.

The crew is that of young and old white people. Now, as an accidental racist this leads me to think that this makes it better, that the food will be better prepared, etc. Go ahead, slay me, but I believe all ethnicities are secretly happy to see “one of their own” behind the counter most of the time. It is right? Well, fuck me, the world ain’t right. So there it is.

But, I could not have been more wrong. It doesn’t matter a lick that there are fellow whitey’s working behind the counter…because they are slow as hell and lost in the sauce. The behind-the-counter operations remind me of a sinking Russian submarine. Orders being shouted, men and women running all over, putting out various fires, twisting valves, taking more orders, and trying to stay intensely focused putting the pickles on the quarter pounders. Wait…do they have McDonalds in Russia?

Anyways, it’s a beautiful mess. I stand in line with a smile that says, “I normally think I am so much better than all you other people in line here, you fatties that probably eat this all the time, and this is a rare trip for me, I am like an anthropologist, I’m just here to study, maybe get something to eat, but mostly to take this all in for my new book, and to further remind people how much better I am than you..You fast food cretins…”

You can say a lot with a smile.

The wife secures a table, because for some fucking reason, I have no idea to this day, but we decide to eat inside the restaurant…dining with the dinosaurs, munching with the pond scum, eating with the ingrates, the poor, the trailer park people that take big, slow bites of their Big Mac and chew it like a cow with an empty void where their eyes should be.
Yeah, we’re eatin’ in.

After about twenty-odd minutes we get our food. For fast food that is ridiculous, and only beaten by every Burger King on a military post, which takes on average thirty minutes to get your order, even if you just get a self-service drink.

And a note on self-service drinks; Am I the only one who feels like an asshole when I give my order and tell the cashier what I want to drink specifically, only to be given a cup to fill myself?

“I’ll have a super tasty, fizzy and fresh Diet Coke, please.”
“Here’s your cup, sir.”
“OH…right…thanks...(long pause)…guess I didn’t need to tell you I wanted a Diet Coke, eh? I mean, I could have said a Crown Royal and Coke and you just would have handed me a cup and not even blinked, right? Next time I’ll order a large Whiskey stone sour, you little creep.”

I fill up mine and my wife’s drinks. It’s so much fun! It’s like I work at McDonalds!

Ketchup packets are a thing of the drive thru. Most people know this. When you are “dining in” at ye ole McDonalds, you are treated to a vat of ketchup which can be squeezed out into a little paper cup that barely fills a thimble. Now, I don’t need a freakin’ bowl, but maybe something that doesn’t make it look like I’m doing a fucking taste test with my French fries would be nice.

But guess what? There’s no way you just guessed. Because this is too good. There are NO paper cups. A customer walks up to the counter and asks the old white lady if they have more taste test cups. She says they are out and recommends using a drink lid.

Let me type that again. SHE RECOMMENDS USING A DRINK LID.

Classy. I mean, we didn’t even get that resourceful. We just pumped that ketchup vat right onto our tray doiley into a big mass of ketchup mountain and dipped in like second graders making a cut and paste project for Easter. We have become the bloody savages.

The long lines, the erratic, unorganized mess behind the counter, the “didn’t-even-try” decorating, the lack of supplies, and the long wait for food has made the Eagle River, Alaska McDonalds the place to avoid like the plague when you have a “hankering” for some artery-clogging shitburgers.

And that’s not the end of it. One night, while in the throes of indecisiveness, which haunts my life, we venture in the megalopolis that is Eagle River in order to find something to eat. It’s like window shopping with your car and looking for food instead of Gap clothes.
My wife gives me her sly smile and devious nod. “I’m thinkin’ Arby’s.”

God, I hate commercials.

I agree, and only because I haven’t had it in YEARS. I start thinking about the beef n’ cheddar that I had so long ago and the curly fries, and then…yeah…yeah…it’s happenin’…I, too, am thinkin’ Arby’s. I’m now excited for it, salivating like my dogs for a piece of turkey bacon, like…

“Hello, welcome to Arby’s can I take your order?”
“Yeah, hi, I’d like a number four with curly fries, and…”
“Um, we’re out of roast beef tonight.”
“We’re out of roast beef.”
“This is Arby’s, right?”
“Who the fuck are you?”
“I’m sorry?”
“Yeah, you should be.”

We look to each other in wondrous amazement. How, in the name of all that is holy, does Arby’s, famous for roast beef, run out of roast beef? How do these things happen? It’s one of those great complications, like…how did the world let the Nazi’s come into power…how did ‘Catwoman’ get made…and how does Arby’s run out of roast beef?

And the list goes on. From fast food to restaurant chains, etc., Alaska is lacking in service. Now, this isn’t to say that there aren’t GREAT places with awesome service. There truly are, but they are few and far between it seems.

However, I am probably being harsh and a crybaby. I have lived in many different places, from Florida to Chicago to Washington D.C. and it all varies…however, the one thing those places have that Alaska doesn’t is a competitive market.

Competition breeds good service. It’s a double-edged sword in this great state. One of the best things about Alaska is its intimacy, its rawness, its lack of a thousand different places all clustered and clambering for your attention. And it is also its downfall. As the state continues to grow, which it is, immensely, I am sure that people will begin to force the stores and restaurants that are lacking to pick it up and get their shit together.

Good businesses will compete to keep you in their good graces. As someone about to venture into the throes of his own small business, I will fight for the loyalty and the business of my customers and do all I can to keep them coming back. It’s not like I’m reinventing the wheel. That’s the way good businesses have always succeeded.

So, we’ve covered two lovely topics today; Stop-loss and the service industry. Fucking random. Whatever. It needed to get off my chest and the longer I let it stew then the longer it dissolves away. This is the paragraph where I wrap shit up and try to make it seem like I planned to flow from one random topic to another and now I’m going tie them together and you can sit back and think of what a wonderful feat I pulled off.

Well, there goes that.

Next up: The Playboy Interview with my dogs. See you soon!


Mr.Boy said...

"Oh fucky well!"


Anonymous said...

There ARE McDonald's "stores" in Russia:

I'll bring back a nice American apple pie from Moscow for you.


Kelly said...

Laughed so hard it hurt! I can't wait to devour the requested dog blog.