The amount of preparation that is given to each American fighting man (and woman) is staggering, and largely invisible to the average civilian. In the last three days, we’ve been subjected to a battery of administrative procedures and medical tests that boggle the mind, both in their scope and in their efficiency. All of the pay, legal, and other administrative issues were handled the first day, which included, but is not limited to: combat pay, housing allowance, subsistence allowance, life insurance, family life insurance, spiritual health, health insurance, emergency contact information, next-of-kin, wills and power of attorney, and free MP3 players with relaxation music.
On the second day, we ran the gauntlet of medical procedures, that dreaded ritual of Army life that involves sore arms and interminable line-waiting. My day went quickly, since I only had to get a hearing test, do a half-hour cognitive assessment, sign up for new glasses, get two vials of blood drawn (HIV test and chickenpox (!) test), get four shots (including the burning needle of anthrax shot #5), and talk to a doctor. Other activities included dental screenings, smallpox inoculations, and pregnancy tests for the ladies.
Today we got yet more equipment, totaling about $1600, which was only eight items: four ballistic armor plates, a duffel bag (my fifth), a poncho and poncho liner (in digital camo pattern!), and yet another neck gaiter.
As much business as we were put through, what isn’t immediately obvious is the tremendous level of organization that occurs behind the scenes to make the whole process work smoothly. How many people had to do their job before the medic stuck the anthrax needle in my arm? The medic who delivered the shot, the people who handled the syringes, the clerks who ordered the doses, the truckers who delivered the stuff, the workers at the factory who produced the vaccine…so the trail goes, and back again, until there I am in Wisconsin, woozy and sore from being stabbed and bled.
And so we’re the most exquisitely prepared fighting force in human history, with every possible administrative, medical, and logistical duck in a row, swaddled in thousands of dollars of Kevlar and ceramic armor, all to fight an enemy who shits on rocks and carries nothing but a bowl of rice and a Kalashnikov. There’s something profound about the clash of cultures in that image, but that’s best expressed in another post.