The last bit of real work I did while on shift was stitching together three giant sheets of camoflage netting.
The camo netting comes packaged in a vinyl-feeling bag and holds one hexagonal and two diamond-shaped pieces of netting. The thing weighs about forty or fifty pounds, and the netting has a very distinct smell; when I opened the first bag, I was suddenly transported back to Inver Grove Heights, circa last fall, when A Company (my real home) was recovering from the trip to Fort Polk, LA.
I’m hardly what you’d call a seasoned veteran of the 134th Signal Battalion (I just passed my second year of enlistment this August), but it seemed to me like the trip to Fort Polk was the most significant event the battalion had taken on in a long time. We were participating in an exercise to prepare troops (including some of our own signal soldiers) deploying to Bosnia, and as such, we were “semi-tactical,” which meant we didn’t have weapons but we did have vast canopies of camo netting.
At the end of the exercise we had to tear it all down and roll it up in a particular way, which was enough work in itself; once we returned to Minnesota, though, we then had to inspect and inventory every piece of camo, turning in bad pieces as we did so. The Polk mission happened just two weeks after I got out of AIT (my Army job training), so my first several drill weekends after becoming a full-fledged Multichannel Transmission Systems Operator-Maintainer were spent rolling and unrolling seemingly endless sheets of camo with its weird musty plastic smell.
After that, it seemed as if the halls of our armory were always filled with the buzz of “were you down at Polk?,” as if it was some kind of exclusive initiation ritual (and that it was, for me, however lame).
A year later, I find myself unrolling camo again, thousands of miles away, wondering what the big deal was with Fort Polk anyway, and thinking of how simple life in the Guard seemed then – the war in Iraq was already over, after all, and they’d never send a National Guard signal company over there.
As one of my NCOs might say, “welcome to the Army, dumbass!”