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Sunday, October 30, 2005

In the army now

This is Dna's brother, Sam, posting his handwritten report of army life. On the left you'll see the good doctor himself.


Well, I’m on my third week in the military and let me just say this: the human body is a disgusting thing. You wouldn’t believe the amount of farting that takes place when you’ve got hundreds of men living together. Every time I light a cigarette, I say a silent prayer that the whole battalion doesn’t explode.

But it’s to be expected with the amount of food they cram into us. Three 3-course meals a day. I’ve yet to finish a single meal all the way. Some of the bigger guys seem to like it, though. Guys over 190cm get double portions of everything, which leaves some of the 189cm tall fellas a little miffed.

Okay, I guess I better start at the beginning. I’m stationed at the Infantry Training Center of the Single Guard Battalion. This battalion was established in 1928, in the first days of the nascent Estonian Republic, to guard various military and government facilities and locations. These days, in addition to being a battle-ready infantry battalion, its duties include guarding the Presidential Palace and performing various ceremonies, such as sending out honor guards to greet foreign dignitaries and such.

Speaking of which, in only my second week here, I had the opportunity to stand in the honor guard at the funeral of a brigadier general who just died, the first military funeral in Estonia since the 1930’s (and only the second such event in this country’s history). And soon I’ll be standing guard at Presidential Palace. w00t.

I’m slowly getting accustomed to military life and boy is it different. Let me give you an idea by describing a typical day.

Waking up is quite an experience: we have one company per floor with four platoons, two on each side of a long hallway. At 6 am, someone yells ,,Wake up!’’, at which point 200 men scramble out of bed, grab their clothes, run out into the hallway and get dressed in two minutes. Most guys don’t hear the call and instead wake up at the trampling that ensues, which lead to a funny thing happening one morning: I guess someone sneezed or something and another guy thought it was the wakeup call and got up. Which caused another guy to get up. And another. And so on. The result: the whole company was standing out in the hallway at 5 am, fully dressed, wondering why there weren’t any sergeants yelling at us like usual.

After that it’s outside for the morning exercise which consists of running and various exercises including the ever-present push-ups. Now, as unappealing as that sounds, it actually does wake you the hell up, and fast. And I’ve seen some of the most beautiful night skies in years, running around the barracks at 6 am.

Next up: hygiene (which is what washing is called here) and making your bed. You might wonder why I even include such seemingly mundane activities. If only you knew. Making your bed is an exact science here. Every sheet and pillow has to be exactly right, down to the centimeter and the smallest crease.

After breakfast, the morning lineup, during which we sing the national anthem (the words to which I have finally memorized after 22 years). It was during one such lineup that we got this year’s first snow. The next morning, the lineup ended with the sergeants commanding their platoons in a massive snowball fight. Also, during these lineups, with all of us standing still in our camouflage uniforms, it’s not uncommon for birds to fly over and sit on someone’s head. I guess they mistake us for bushes or something.

We also have classes in subjects ranging from the history of the Estonian Military to Laws of War to various kinds of weaponry. Which reminds me: I have been issued my personal firearm – an Israeli-made ,,Galil’’ automatic rifle. I haven’t actually fired it yet, so far we’ve been learning about various moves, stances, targeting, maintenance (taking the gun apart and cleaning it) and such. But it still feels strangely cool to be holding my very own automatic.

Then lunch, then more classes, supper, evening lineup and count and then the crowning event of every day – the cleaning. Oy vey, the horrible, lemon-fresh, sparkling cleaning. I’ve never mopped so many floors in my life. If you want a manly career mopping floors and making beds, join the army!

One thing about having all distractions removed and your world reduced to running around, following orders, your biggest preoccupations being remaining observant, sharp and not making any mistakes: it makes you appreciate the little things. Like after a hard day of slugging around a forest, getting a hot meal in your belly and a cigarette between your lips makes you feel like a king. Or the satisfaction of having accomplished something that at first seemed insurmountable, like the time we cleaned the area around the barracks of leaves. Using our hands, not rakes.

Living with the same bunch of people all day every day, you clearly start to see the different kinds of personalities that fate has brought together.

There’s the obligatory jackass, who after two weeks of discipline literally pumped into him, getting the rest of the platoon punished as well, still thinks impressing the one or two followers he’s accumulated by making wisecracks is more important than not pissing on your teammates.

There are the garden variety idiots who react to the neighbouring table in the cafeteria being made to eat standing up because they were talking (there’s no talking in the cafeteria, only eating) by laughing, pointing fingers and talking loudly about ,,the schmucks that have to eat standing up’’. Needless to say, they joined them soon thereafter.

Then there are the jokers that always seem to have some sort of comic accident or other happen to them. Like a certain private Appelberg, who walked past the platoon while we were lined up in the hallway, listening to the sergeant, trying to get into his room. There are strict and correct ways to handle such situations, the correct one, in this case, being standing at attention, saluting and saying ,,Sergeant sir, private Appelberg, permission to pass the lineup, sir?’’
Ofcourse Appelberg didn’t know this and spent the next five minutes being educated by the sergeant. Finally he got into the room, only to emerge 30 seconds later and inform us that he had the wrong room!

And finally, there are the ones you would be proud to call friends. The ones that take the time to help their teammates while themselves trying to cope with this new and different situation we all find ourselves in.

More later.

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Anonymous das psychokiisu said...

kas Sa nüüd kohe blogid või jah? või vähemalt pane üks piltki, siis võid rahulikult blogipuhkusele edasi jääda. ma ei mängi ju nii! :(


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