Monday, February 9, 2009

"Would you like me to shave it for you, Sir?"

It's been two weeks, but in some ways it has seemed much longer. In the future I'll try not wait as long between posts. A lot has gone on, and I will likely break this into two posts. One covering my week at NMPS (Naval Mobilization Processing Site) San Diego, and the other covering my first week at NIACT (Naval Individual Augmentee Combat Training) in South Carolina. In addition to using this blog as a way to keep friends, family, and blurkers (anonymous web lurkers..I don't know, I just made up the word) up to date, I hope this can be a resource for other Navy folks preparing to go on their own IA/GSA. That being said, I'll try to sprinkle some advice, lessons learned, etc to help others get through the process. Let's get started...

The entire NMPS process revolves around medical screening and the issuing of uniforms. It is frustrating at times, because the staff has developed a system that is built around getting a reservist that has been brought on active duty financially, medically, administratively, dental-ly, and uniform-ly prepared to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan in less than a week. Challenging to say the least, and I tip my hat to them for being able to do it. The frustration emanates from the fact that not everyone going through NMPS is a reservist called up for active duty. There are actually three type of individuals that get processed. Reservists, IA's (Individual Augmentee's; these are folks that temporarily leave their regular Navy jobs and fill specialized positions that the Army is required to fill, but lack the personnel or skill sets), and GSA's. (Global War on Terror Support Assignment; these folks are just like the IA's except they are doing the work between two Navy assignments vice temporarily leaving their current Navy job) I am filling a GSA billet. The IA's and GSA's usually will have large chunks of time with nothing to do. You still have to show up at 0630 to take care of a 30 minute issue, then they tell you to come back at 1700 (5pm) for something else, virtually eliminating the possibility of taking advantage of what San Diego has to offer.

The NMPS process starts at 0600 on Monday with uniform fitting for the 175 or so personnel being processed this week. Not much to it, you either get issued Navy desert tan or Army digital green cammies. You don't get them at this point, you just figure out what size, etc you need, and they promise to have them for you by Thursday. You also try on desert combat boots. Since this is where my feet are going to be living for the next 13 months, I tried on six different sizes before settling on a pair. Next was officially checking in, getting orders stamped, turning in medical and dental records, and then heading into the auditorium for an entire day of power point presentations. Legal, Family Services, Finance, Medical, etc, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah. Brief after brief, after mind numbing brief. A lot of it is just for reservists. They even tell you that, so its like they are giving you quasi-permission to nap through those. At this point you also start to get to know the people around you. Where are you going? Iraq? Afghanistan? Djibouti? IA? GSA? Reserves? Through idle chit-chat I found out that there were at least three other Civil Engineer Corps Officers, and a couple of enlisted Seabees in the crowd somewhere.

While the slide show torture is going on, the NMPS staff is pouring through everyone's records behind the scenes. They are finding out what everyone is missing, and what we all need to be deployable. They then break the 175+ folks into several sub-groups based upon what we need to have done. I was put into Team Charlie, and told to be back tomorrow morning at 0630.

Tuesday began with Optometry. They checked my eyes and told me that I needed gas mask inserts and ballistic eye wear inserts. I told them that I had just gotten them two months ago at Bethesda, but they insisted I had the wrong type and they ordered me new ones. Next stop, the Lab for drawing blood, then it was off to Immunizations. They said I had set a new record, in that I needed 10, yes TEN, shots. After discussing with them my allergy to eggs, the number was dropped to a mere seven vaccinations. So much for breaking the record of nine. I went into the adjacent room where two corpsmen were laying out syringes and vials on a tray. They told me to take my shirt off and to roll up my sleeves. The first corpsman told me, "Sir, your arm might be a little sore after this." Really? who would have guessed. The other one was talking at the same time and I thought I heard him say, "Would you like me to shave it for you, Sir?" Huh? What did he just say? I looked at him like he had two heads and said, "Do what?" He then told me that most people got their arm shaved where the small pox vaccine is administered because it makes the daily bandage changes less a little more tolerable. I said, no, just get done with it. I then had to see a Doctor for final medical clearance. I got to the wait area at 0930, and sat in the chair waiting until 1700 (5pm) before I saw the Doctor. Holy Crap! Oh well, at least I finished my two books. After spending 15 minutes with the doctor he certified me fit for duty in Afghanistan

The rest of the week was filled with more of the same, show up early wait around all day and then go back to my room and sleep with a couple trips to the gym mixed in. Thursday rolled around and they gave us our uniforms, and as luck would have it, I was missing the gore-tex coat and pants. They told me they ran out, and that they would mail me the items when they got more. They didn't know when that would be, but assured me that they would mail them to me as soon as they got them. We'll see about that.

At 0630 Friday morning they told us to come back at 1500 so they could tell us when we needed to come back Saturday morning for our flight. I went back to my room and gathered up all the stuff I wouldn't need any more and carried it over to the UPS store at the Navy Exchange on base. I wouldn't need the stuff anymore, so I crammed it all in a box and mailed it home, instead of lugging it around the world for the next year. I also decided to rent a car for Friday night to go out. After going back at 1500, they told us we needed to show up at 0800 Saturday morning for our flight to South Carolina. It took them about three hours to tell us this because they wanted to make sure that we were all there and how important it was that none of us were late. I went back to my room and packed my remaining belongings and decided to drive up to Rincon to check out the Harrah's casino/resort on the Indian reservation there. I figured it would take about 90 minutes to get there and 90 minutes to get back. What could possibly go wrong?

After packing, it was about 8pm when I left my barracks room and started driving to Rincon. I got their around 915 and took a quick walk around the place. The place had high ceilings, was well lit, well maintained with newer machines and polite, well dressed staff serving an upper-middle class clientele. It was definitely not a dumpy run-down, smoke filled, dark dreary place filled with toothless degenerates who pawned off their hub caps to play nickel slot machines. I ate at the buffet and while it was a little on the expensive side, I had more than my fill of well prepared prime rib, smoked turkey, salad, brick-oven pizza, Chinese five spice hot wings, and red beans and rice. I then wandered over to the poker room, to find that they were running a $2-$3 no limit game with a $60 min/$200 max buy in and a standard $3/$6 limit game. I chose the limit game because I didn't have the bank roll for a no-limit game. To play no-limit you should have money for at least five buy-ins because you could go broke on any given hand. I bought into the 3/6 game for $120, waited about 15 minutes for a seat to open up and joined the game. I soon found out that while the casino was open 24 hours, the poker room closed for four hours every day between 0500 and 0900 in the morning. I decided at that point that I would play poker until either I lost my $120 buy-in or when the poker room closed at 5 am, whichever came first. That would give me plenty of time to drive back to San Diego, gas up and turn in the rental, and drag my seabags down to the muster area by 0800. Simple plan.

For anyone who has ever played 2/4 or 3/6 limit poker in a casino, you know how it is. There is always at least six people paying to see the flop, three or four paying for the turn card and at least one knucklehead who chases every hand and calls every bet to see the river, hoping to catch the one and only card that will give him the winning hand. There is no consideration given to correct mathematical decision making in whether or not to call a bet or fold, nor any attempt to hide tells or to look for them in other players. This is good for a decent player who does do those things consistently, because over the long haul, better decision making will lead to more winnings. The problem is the short term volatility of bad players getting lucky. The hand full of decent players at the table tend to avoid each other and individually pound on the bad players. There is no open collusion, it is just the way it is. A look, a nod, a rolling of the eyes, a quick smile between two perfect strangers lets them know which players can play, and which ones are just dumping their money to the table. This table was split evenly between decent and poor players. I had about ten good hands where I pounded on and pulled chips out of some of the weaker players. Of those hands, unfortunately, most times the weaker player got lucky and made a winning hand on the river. I managed to ride my initial buy in up to near $300 and back down to $40, back up to $200, and back down again. Two or three of the donkeys (bad players) lost over $500 each, My good hands just weren't holding up. That is the nature of the beast. You can't prevent bad players form getting lucky. I made it to 5am and cashed out for $60. Seven hours of poker cost me $60. That's entertainment and practice for 7 hours--not too bad. There is always next time.

I started the car at 0515 and drove for ten minutes before I realized I was heading the wrong way. I got my bearings, made it back to San Diego by 0645, and pulled into the gas station on base to fill up. The pumps were shut down because the station didn't open until 0800 on Saturday. I drove back out in town found a gas station, filled up, drove back to base, and dropped the car keys in the night drop box and made the 15 minute walk back to my room in ten minutes. I showered, shaved, put on my new Army cammies and boots, and closed the door to my room for the final time at 0750. I dragged my gear to the muster area and checked in at 0758 with two minutes to spare. Before my seabag hit the deck beside me with a thud, I was already thinking how good it would be to sleep on the plane.

That's it for now. NMPS is boring, no real way to make it any sexier. Stay tuned though, the next post will be full of guns, drill sergeants, booze, 0430 wake up calls, negligent discharges, and exploding coffee cups. I'll try to get it up by Tuesday night


  1. Dan... that's some great storytelling! Glad to know you're staying sane - and remember, even a bad day on an IA mobilization processing might be better than a good day in OPNAV! Keep smiling...

  2. Oh... and nice Army uniform! Hua!

  3. Thanks Ray, This place aint so bad, squad bays get old quick though. I just want to get to Afghanistan and get to work