Monday, August 24, 2009

On fark!

On front page of Fark! Yay.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Kuwait Part 10

Seven days and you're still in Kuwait. Everyone else has already gone up to Basra. The boredom kills you. You get up, you go to formation, you eat, you lie around, you work out, you eat, you go to formation, you go buy something, you eat, you go to formation, you wait to see if you're on the next flight, you're not, you go to sleep. Repeat. Then you start busing yourself with tasks. You try to take pictures but the MPs tell you you're not authorized. You try to use the Internet but the Internet Cafes are packed and slow. You try a lot of things, and you just go from meal to meal to meal, formation to formation to formation.
You're Kuwaiting.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Kuwait Part 9

You step into the barracks and your eyes ache as you adjust to blazing sun to dim fluorescent twilight. Inside there are instructions stating that the hangar-like structure can hold 70 people, 85 in a surge. The cots are arranged in three rows. You try to grab a cot by the wall, near the outlets, but you’re too late. You’re an island in the middle, surrounded by people walking and people talking and people packing and you’re flanked by a Vietnam vet and a character from Dubliners. The Soldiers who have been living in the barracks before you complain about the depleted space, but that’s just the Army way. You bus out to the range tomorrow, and you will shoot.

Kuwait Part 8

There’s a briefing. Do don’t this. Always do this. Camp Buehring has this: PX, two gyms, two cafeterias, internet cafes, KFC, Subway, Taco Bell, etc. Camp Buehring also has this: Persian sand vipers, camel spiders and scorpions. “We do not actually have anti-venom for the Persian sand viper yet.” Well that’s good to know.

Kuwait Part 7

We arrive at Camp Buehring. The buses stop and we are told to go to chow. The choices: stuffed Bell pepper or Bombay chicken. They had warned us that the food was much better here. There’s a fountain that they say came from one of Saddam’s palaces. I try to throw money in but get tangled up. My plate whisks to the edge of tray and I have to recover abruptly so as not to lose it. I did lose my spoon though. People laugh.

Kuwait Part 6

The fence disappears; we’re out in the wide open. There’s a Blackhawk on the horizon. And then another. There’s a line of fuel trucks and a sign that says Ali Al-Salem Air Base. We continue on. A dreary stretch of road: a dead sheep, a hollowed up mangled wreck of a ambulance, a dead camel, a graveyard of shredded tires, and a telephone pole chopped in half, its splinted comrade dead nearby. So it goes?

Kuwait Part 5

“Ice” is painted on the side of one truck. There are other trucks joining the “Ice” truck on the side of the road: a roadside flea market, I guess. We pass under a bridge and see that a section of the chain link fence is sagging; the sand and trash has overwhelmed it. There’s trailer house with graffiti everywhere, one cinderblock wall and a tower with a crescent. Check point: obligatory stop. The traffic barriers are short, squat cement pyramids, I can only think of Gaza.

Kuwait Part 4

There are trees, the low kind. Warning! Sand drifts, one sign says. I see a building with two towers and a golden dome surrounded by sand and hundreds of lonely high voltage towers. Amid these high voltage forests I see clusters of garish blue and white striped water towers, thin up the stem, ballooning to a bell, and flat on top; upside down they look like the world’s tackiest bell bottoms pants.
“We’re not in Fort Lewis anyone,” Lt. Col. Kevin Olson says.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Kuwait Part 3

From the freeway we see castles of houses with balconies and turrets. There's a lot of scaffolding, scaffolding and construction equipment. Kuwait is clad in the same colors as ancient Rome: pink and brown and khaki white. Then again, the desert is really the only place in the world you should be allowed to have a pink house.

Kuwait Part 2

We ride and look out the windows. The freeway is black and mostly clear: a truck hauling Land Rovers, a truck filled with white easels, a cop. A chain link fence guards the highway and harvests the trash that the wind sweeps in. And there is trash everywhere.

Kuwait Part 1

We fly into Kuwait through clouds, which I'm told means sandstorms. We get off the plane and sure enough the horizon is heavy with dust.
We're loaded onto buses for Camp Buehring, but in short time we stop at a station and get water, urinate and smoke. The people who've been deployed before swap horror stories. Just before we leave, a waft of fishy sewage breezes our way. "Welcome to Kuwait," say the vets.

Friday, April 24, 2009

What I've been doing

Alright, in the last month that I haven't been posting I've been finishing up some reading.
What that has to do with anything is up in the air.

On the Road: Revelatory for the first third, then the author tries to paint the main character as a scumbag. Some all too brief redemption at the end, but there's a point when you have to say Hey Jack Keroauc! Dean is lost, he won't grow up, we get it!

Mother Night: I'm starting to realize that all Vonnegut novels are exactly the same. At least the book doesn't get bogged down in characters like Breakfast of Champions, and the novel makes some great points about death and choice and book publishing.

Garlic And Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise: There's a awestruck way that this New York Times food critic talks about food, and learning about life on the inside of the New York Times was a fun, witty and ultimately insubstantial ride. The author's attempts to make the book heftier by emphasizing a case of cancer struck me as superfluous and vulgar.

Lolita: This book will make you fall in love with the English language all over again. Also puns. You will learn to love literary puns. With over 160 pages of meta-textual material, since unlike Vonnegut, Nabokov seems to have the discipline to lurk in the texture but not in the text.

Lullaby: A very cinematic book spliced with a series of parables. The ending seems rushed, and the flash forwards seem tacked on, and half of the weaksauce McGuffin plot would have been averted had the alleged hot-shot Sherlock Holmes journalist been able to pay attention to a certain book he was investigating. Read it on the plane from MSP to SeaTac.

There, between Kerouac and Nabokov and Vonnegut, I think my writing my be ruined forever. Goodbye to AP Style. Next up: the collected works of e.e. cummings

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Every Story a Story

I was flying high above Olympia looking down at the twin halogen pythons saying hello to each other as they passed in the night upon the freeway. (Cars. I'm talking about cars.)

Four days earlier I had flown from Fort Lewis to Minneapolis for leave; now it’s a flight into Seattle and then waiting for my ticket to Kuwait and then Basra and then home. A plane and a room and a train and a room and a room and a room and a plane.

I thought of all the stories trapped in each of those cars, waiting to get out. It’s a game I used to play as a kid, and now I’m older and I do it for a living.
My slated title in Iraq: new media specialist. I don’t actually know what that means; I can only assume it means Facebook. People have reported everywhere that the whole Web 2.0 thing can only lead to a glut of information and a dearth of wisdom and that soon people will reach the point where they start tuning out this ever-present noise.

I disagree, but then again I’m barely 19.

At the NBC Digital Journalism School at the New York Film Academy, they give us all the usual YOUR CAREER FIELD IS METLTING! MELTING! stuff, but they also instilled in us a belief that in this fractured brave new world, the journalist is more important than ever as THE GATEKEEPER. By using journalistic ethics and practices to ensure that only the best and the truest rise to the top, theoretically the new journalist can inform the public in ways that ol’ Greely and Pulitzer could only dream.

We’re planning for our content to automatically go to yer ol’ Facebook, Myspace, twitter, picasa, flikr, youtube and other sites with wacky made-up names. Now, this plan may fall under too much info territory, but there are times you just have to know RIGHT NOW that the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division sponsored an Easter egg hunt.

I guess we’re operating on the assumption that every single person has a story, and every story has a home. Hopefully, we’ll be to use this Interweb thing to our advantage.

Also: I haven’t posted much lately. I shall, more often, I promise. That said, we must till our garden. (Ask me what that reference means. Do it!)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Governor's Visit Part 3

While Sgt. Pond and I were taking pictures of VIPs, Sgt. Roos was taking pictures of the Governor. I think this picture pretty much sums it up.

Beginnings: Basic at Fort Benning

They went on: no this, no that, nothing at all of that, and don't even think about it.
Death by PowerPoint.
All the while I had to go, I really really had to go, and I looked around and scoped out where the bathroom was; there it was but no! there's drill sergeants everywhere and no one else is moving so stay low, stay low but AHHHH! I got to go! how many slides are left?
Luckily the drill sergeants found some kids sleepy and smoked us.
"The overhand arm clap!"
One two three 80! One two three 81!
The overhand arm claps helped.
But alas then came more slides, more slides, more slides.
Yup, I pissed my pants that night; it was my introduction to the Army.

Beginnings: Basic at Fort Benning

They told us it was only 30 minutes to Benning from Atlanta but they were wrong. It had to be almost two hours. We got into Benning around 0200 and as we got off the bus we realized that we were in fact, here; this is it, this is Fort Benning. As we got off the bus I remember Jandro turned back at me and said, “Are you nervous?”
“I think I should have used the bathroom in the bus.”
The reception room in Benning is nothing but a bunch of benches and a huddled mass of nervous kids surrounded by a drill sergeants in funny hats.
"Don't think of running," they said. "It's too late now."

Beginnings: Basic at Fort Benning

We went to the north and then we went to the south and yet we couldn’t find our bus. We asked and we went outside and we considered taking a cab but then eventually there downstairs and to the right there was our bus and a long line, a long clustered line of kids from all over the United States. We waited in line for a bus and when they came we loaded up our few possessions and waited some more. A line of Boy Scouts walked by our window; they were going to some camp and we made jokes about them mercilessly because we were going to the big boys camp and they weren’t and certain individuals may be in the wrong group etc.

Beginnings: Basic at Fort Benning

Once we got to Atlanta we became immediately lost. We were four Minnesota kids lost in the Atlanta Airport looking for our ride to Fort Benning. Riley, who signed up to be in the Army band. Jandro, a big guy, bar fight, women problems, now in Army. Some scrawny chatty kid whose name I don’t recall. He was going to the great Fort Benning Infantry School so he could be a paratrooper someday. I couldn’t stand the kid, really. Oh, and me. I was that kid the officers made fun of at the military processing station.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Hard Day's Night

I've not been posting much lately as my Clark Kent job had me working 1900-0700 for the last three days. I don't sleep much usually, so I was alright the first couple nights. But then I turned out needing sleep, and it was bad. Something about 12-16 hour days. Now the people at the top get the craziest hours, 16 hours or more, stress and such. However, I'm back on day shift, 0700-1900, so that's good.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Gov's visit part 2

I get done with the training about 0900. Something about first aid, I think.
I go to the barracks and wait for instructions.
Waiting for instructions constitutes a good part of my day.
Around 1100 I leave the barracks and get to do something.
I'm Sgt. Pond's second cameraman, following the VIPs as they tour our barracks.
A bunch of high ranks walk the VIPs around our WW2 era barracks in an attempt to convince a bunch of businessmen, some local pols, and a couple Freedom riders that we live in the lap of utmost luxury.
"This barracks is like all the other ones," they say as they stand upon the shiniest floor I've ever seen. "Actually, we only brought you to this one because it's on the way to the chow hall."

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Governor's Visit

We were at a meeting.
The Governor and a bunch of DVs (Distinguished Visitors) are coming.
This is pretty important, so Lt. Marchik took out his marker and walked us through a block drill.

A block drill is a visual walk-through of where and when everyone is going to be, just like Patton and all those other movies where generals move divisions around a map of Europe with their riding crops.

Sgt. Roos is to go to the airport, take photos of the Governor, take photos at the Fest Tent, take pictures of the Governor's tour through the BCTC, acquire a book signing with Vince Flynn, take pictures of the Governor and Vince Flynn, take photos of lunch, go to the chapel, take picture of the town hall meeting, and then go the airport and take pictures of the Gov leaving.

Sgt. Houtkooper is to go to the airport, take video of the Governor, edit on the way to the Chapel where he will set up the cameras for the town hall meeting which he will upload to DVIDs and then send to NPR.

Sgt. Pond is to take pictures of the Fest Tent, and then go back the barracks, where he will take pictures of DVs touring our barracks. Then Pond is to take pictures of DVs having lunch in the barracks before going to the Chapel for the town hall meeting. Afterwards he will take pictures of the Gov and Soliders hobnobbing.

Sgt. Jungels will go to the golf course, where a long drive competition has been set up for Soldiers to impress some DVs, of which he will take both photos and video. After lunch, he is to go to the town hall meeting.

Lt. Marchik will pick up the AP reporter, and otherwise drive people around until the town hall meeting.

Spc. Angelo will take video of the Gov in the airport, then follow the DVs as they see our barracks before going to the town hall meeting. Editing en route to everywhere, the finished product will be transmitted by 1430.

Sgt. Kemp will drive people around and also there's a television station doing a documentary roving around so he will also take care of that.

As of the meeting I was not assigned to anything. I had training.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Around the Office: Pfc. Cassinos

When I started out these profiles, my intent was to highlight how the Army is not composed of ignorant hillbilly grunts and blowhard red-tape lovin' officers and whatever other stereotypes you have out there.

For example, Pfc. Stephanie Cassinos.

Soon-to-be Specialist Cassinos was an art school brat with a punk band called the Sold-outs. Now she's 23 with two song credits and the National Anthem at a Timberwolves game under her belt. (Coincidently, former Memphis Grizzly and current Minnesota Timberwolf Mike Miller has the same haircut as Pfc. Cassinos. Perhaps Cassinos, a Sharpshooter, could give Miller a few tips on his shot.)

She's currently on leave, taking care of her mother, as chronicled in her blog, which is creative in ways this link is not.

A Canadian (Quick edit: Not actually Canadian) and a big-sister figure, she fits our unit's Five Man Band.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Shooting (with a weapon)

They say that working for the Army is like working for the post office, but with weapons.

Which is the truth, to an extent.

But another, truthier truth is that since Basic Training at Fort Benning, I have not really had much to do with weapons.

Which is scary, in more ways than one.

I can handle the weapon. I could field strip my M-16 in 45 seconds at Basic.

But when I get up there on the range and the man in the tower loudspeaker says "Targets lane" I go to a bad place.

I barely qualified at Basic. Everything was going great and I had the highest PT score and the drill sergeants were propping me up in front of the company and I got to fire the live claymore but then there came weapons qualification.

You need to qualify to graduate.

Everyone else hit their targets and I didn't.

Maybe it's because I'm a right-handed but shoot lefty because I'm left-eye dominant.

Maybe it's because when shooting lefty you get hit hit in the lip with the forward assist and you start bleeding and you get a the gigantic cut on your lip and the drill sergeants make jokes about herpes.

But what occured was for the first time at Basic I felt that there was a genuine possibility I would not make it.

That's why it shocked me when I got chosen for the SAW machine gun.

"But Sergeant Kemp, I barely qualified on the M-16. And shooting a SAW is harder. It's a machine gun."

"I know, but I sure ain't sending an NCO out there."

So I went.

The first day Spec. Angelo and I sat through class.

I mostly took pictures.

The next day we loaded onto a bus for Range 93.

I took out my camera and the range guys said, "Hey Lawrence, can you shoot pictures better than you shoot weapons?"

My reputation preceded me.

And it was well-founded. I got up there on the line and I couldn't see. I could not see the targets. It got worse with the gas mask. I strained and blinked and turned this way and that, but I could not see. The mask and the fear closed in on me. My breathing was quick. Too quick. They told me I was done and I sprung up and grabbed my mask and wrested it off as quick as I could just to get that thing off of me. But I kept breathing as if that mask was still on and my freaking failure began rising in my throat and I took a wobbly half-step lean before they got me. "Drink some water," they said and I was told to lay down. That was it for shooting that day for me.

In the Army there's a notion that you cannot speak of your weaknesses. You grin and bear it. Don't whine but fix it yourself. hooah. Hooah. HOOAH! Perhaps someday an admission of weakness won't be seen as an admission of guilt. And whether or not that new Army thing they got going works or doesn't work, I'll work on shooting because it could someday save my battle buddies. I just have to slay a few demons along the way.

I got my story that day. Took some pictures, etc. The range guys felt sorry for me I guess, so they let me on the guard tower so I could have a better vantage point. The head range guy, a Captain who just got back from Iraq, gave us a briefing on life down range. "The units there will try to give you their weapons to get it off their books. There'll be M-9's everywhere. There's no way you guys are going to shoot these SAWs down there."

Huh. I found out weeks later that the Army records say I qualified anyway.

Around the Office: Sgt. Kemp

Chances are, you know Sgt. Kemp. And if you don't, he'll get to you. Leave a seat open when you're eating lunch, and chances are you and Sgt. Kemp will get to talking. For hours. A former recruiter, so that makes sense. Was an infantryman who went to Fort Benning, where if I remember my time at Benning correctly, he did mostly this. NCOIC of the unit. (Non-commissioned officer in charge.) Sports fan. Thick thick Minnesota accent. I promised him that I would not use this photo for his profile, but I did.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

My Childhood

Well, we've been real busy the past couple of days and I haven't been able to post anything. So, as an apology, I shall talk about my childhood.

When I was young I remember seeing Warren Buffet tell an anecdote about his childhood. I don't exactly remember the anecdote, but I do recall thinking to myself "I should really think of an anecdote about my childhood so I have something worthwhile to say about it."

But I didn't.

MNSCU Conference

Here are some links for Soldiers interested in furthering their educational, career, financial or leadership goals while deployed. If anyone has found another site to be useful for them, feel free to share in the comments. and
o For education information on all Minnesota state colleges and state universities. Includes links to Veterans Upward Bound, a free college-prep program funded by the U.S. Department of Education for eligible veterans.
o For assistance in career planning, skills assessment and higher education with a veterans' page
o National website for career information where veterans can match their military experience to civilian jobs, write a resume and convert U.S. Army training and experience into civilian workforce credentials. Includes links for military spouses.
o A virtual gateway for Soldiers to request Tuition Assistance (TA) online, distance learning, and eArmyU online college courses.
Army Continuing Education (ACE) Homepage
o A pilot program intended to help Soldiers find employment after they transition out of the Army.
AARTs Transcript
o Produce a computerized transcript system by combining a Soldier's military education and job experience with descriptions and college credit recommendations developed by the American Council on Education (ACE).
o An easy-to-navigate website to help with career, education, financial, leadership and personal goals
o A higher education website for veterans. Soldiers can view a flowchart showing them to what benefits they are entitled, a list of scholarships for veterans and a checklist of things to do before taking college courses. In addition, Soldiers can talk to one of 12 regional coordinators and 57 campus veterans’ resource centers or at (1-800-456-8519).
o Get an online education online. A portal for online courses and programs offered by MNSCU’s 32 colleges and universities. Take a quiz to see if online courses are right for you.
o An electronic portfolio designed to showcase your education, career and personal achievements
o This site includes higher education financial aid information including the new Minnesota GI Bill
o National website sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education. Most financial aid starts with completing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid.
o For transfer information into and out of Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota colleges and universities with a page devoted to military information

Sunday, March 15, 2009

An Introvert

I'm pretty introverted for an aspiring journalist.
When I signed up to be a military journalist I didn't know I signed up to be a professional social butterfly.
Because if you don't talk to people, you don't get stories.
But when you have to talk to people...
It's hard, sometimes, to talk to people, new people, higher ranking people.
My eyes drop to the ground. I start busying myself with some task. I think of ice-breakers in futility. I smile ackwardly and then resume the silence. My jaw tightens and my shoulders clench and my stomach closes in on itself like a pufferfish in reverse.
It's hard.
So the other day I made up my mind: I shall sit next to a complete stranger and get their story.
I did the first part.
I smile ackwardly, all that.
But then I hesitated for a bit.
And thirty seconds later I decided that well it's too late now.
For the next twenty minutes we ate in silence.
I had carrots and rice and chicken, I think.

Around the Office: Sgt. Pond

Sgt. Pond talks like a surfer, has turtle. Deployed once, served as photo editor. Catchphrase appears to be "Suck my balllls!" Like your older brother's cool friend. He and Sgt. Roos known as "Hans and Franz" for some reason. Strange diet. From Hawaii, where cool stuff happens.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


I hate meetings.
Our job is so rush rush run go and then we put put screech to a halt so we can sit around in a circle and listen to everyone talk about what we would be doing if we weren't in a meeting.
Then cabin fever creeps in on you.
As the meetings go on and on you get jumpier and jumpier like the world is compressing down unto you as you're imprisoned in that stifling circle jail of folding chairs until you feel your world is need of a great big, groaning yaaaaaawn! and you just want to run out and jump and do something besides sit in a meeting learning about what the LT has to do today.
By the way I've been reading On the Road, can you tell?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Around the Office: Sgt. Roos

Sgt. Joe Roos

Sgt. Roos is like that cool older brother. Has a rap album out on iTunes. Featured on Fox before we deployed. Talks, acts sharp. PTs like a madman.

A day's work

One day all I did was copy paper.
A 500 page manual.
Three times.
Ran out of paper twice.
The printer broke twice.
Was able to fix the printer once.
An hour and a half of my life...being a private sucks.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Around the Office: Sgt. Jungels

It's about time to meet my battle buddies in the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division's Public Affairs Office.

Sgt. Eric Jungels
Sgt. Jungels has always struck me as a refugee from the Marine Corps. He's new to the unit like me, but has previously deployed with Central Command to Iraq, Qatar, Afganistan, etc. Good with Photoshop, he got Flanderized and all he did was graphic design for an entire week. Says he doesn't put too much effort into photos but had one of his Afganistan photos on the cover of a book. Stays up late at night laughing at things on his iPod.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

My first pro photo shoot part 8

I uploaded the photos. One of them I liked, but it featured a girl with bangs hanging over her face. Frankly, I think out-of-regulations hair is hot, but bangs are a no-go in the military. It is not the Army's policy that soldiers show individuality.
"Maybe her hair is normally squared-away and just fell over her face for prayer," said Pfc. Cassinos.
"No no no," I said. "I've seen her around. Those are definately not prayer bangs."
We discussed.
Then we decided.
We'll run it. Those unsquared-away bangs tell a freaking story, so, uh, screw the rules!

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Mass Pictures

These are the photos that came out of the shoot.
To see them in high resolution click the slide show or go here.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

My first pro photo shoot Part 7

“Here’s the list of shots I want,” said Pfc. Cassinos at the chapel.
It’s Ash Wednesday, and I’m the second cameraman.
I looked over the list.
“Shots of people praying. Shots of crowded church. Shots of people receiving the ash.”
The lighting in the church was awful. We turned our ISOs way up and our shutter speeds way down. The pictures get blurrier as our shutter speeds get lower.
“Don’t take pictures while people are praying. Don’t disrupt,” Captain Joyner said.
I tip-toed, I sneaked, I took extreme close-ups of people’s faces, I took pictures behind the alter, and I realized I don’t know when people are praying and when they are not.
Pfc. Cassinos was in the back with the other camera.
She said she’s uncomfortable taking pictures in a church.
I told her I’m uncomfortable too, but only because of all the people making angry faces at me.

My first pro photo shoot Part 6

Capt. Joyner spoke up.
“Pfc. Lawrence, this is called a softball. This is your easy mark.”
Yes. She said that in front of the interviewee.
I asked why soldiers drone, what being a chaplain in a warzone is like, and he talked about the theologians that came out of WWII and muskies in fish tanks.
The whole time, I was thinking “What’s the focus! Where am I going with this? Why didn’t I prepare better? Wait! What did he say? Quick, say something!”
The Chaplain seemed to goad me on.
“You know, I haven’t heard any hard questions from you today.”
Aww! and that question about whether soldiers get more religious in Iraq was so hard-hitting!
At the end of the interview, the Captain said something to me about a photo shoot later in the day.
I didn’t really hear her. I was in a sort of daze, drawing muskies.

My first pro photo shoot Part 5

Quick! What’s your best question! Is that what he said?
“Uh…I was wondering, I know this is a stupid question; it’s off the topic, but, why do animals feel pain?”
At this point Capt. Joyner looked at me with the strangest expression, like the way a mother looks after her kid asks for that extra piece of free candy.
“You see, I’ve heard all the arguments on human suffering, and I understand them, or I understand their intent, at least, but animals; they don’t have a soul, and pain – there’s no reason for them to have pain, because they have no souls to refine trhough pain, and they have no sentient thought, so I guess they can sin, but they get punished anyway…and umm…unm…”
Wait for it. Wait for it. There!
“and umm…sir, when soldiers ask you these questions, what do you tell them; how do you approach them?”
Haha! Wiggled out of that one.
“Well, the same way I’m going to go through this question with you,” the Chaplain said. And he did.

My first pro photo shoot Part 4

The Chaplain was very media savvy. He answered honestly too. When Pfc. Cassinos asked if soldiers get more religious in Iraq, I knew she wanted the Chaplain to say sound bite friendly cliché like ‘there’s no atheists in the foxhole’ or the like.
Instead, he said that when he was in Fallujah, about a third of the soliders got more religious, about a third jettison their faith, and about a third drone through by filling their lives with video games, movies and Facebook.
I found this a balanced and insightful observation, and one that is definitely not going in Pfc. Cassino’s story.
Things started to wind down, and then out of the blue the Chaplain looks to me.
“So young man, I haven’t heard much from you. What’s your best question?”


My first pro photo shoot Part 3

“What’s the story about?” I asked Cassinos.
“The Archbishop is coming,” she said.
“Are you asking the questions?”
We finally found the Chaplain’s office, and after about ten minutes, the Chaplain.
He sat down and we three surrounded him.
“Do you want the door open? Because my office should really have the door open in case a soldier wants to talk to me,” said the Chaplain.
Pfc. Cassinos asked her questions, and I took notes on what she did, like the way she put the chaplain at ease, the way she made sure that the recorder worked, and the way the way she fixes her teeth into a permanent smile and juts her head out while tilting it side to side like a demented jack-in-the box.

My first pro photo shoot Part 2

I was soon called away to help Pfc. Cassinos with her story.
It was on the Archbishop of the Army coming to Fort Lewis. This is a huge deal, since 40% of the troops are Catholic.
Step one was to interview the Chaplain.
I had some questions ready when I met up with Capt. Joyner and Pfc. Cassinos in the chapel.
“Where’s the Chaplain?”
“In his office.”
“Where’s that?”
“I don’t know.”
We set off to find the Chaplain.

My first pro photo shoot Part 1

“I don’t want to insult you,” said the Colonel, “but you’re new. Everyone else in the unit has had experience on putting product out, so at first, at least, you’re going to have to shadow people on their stories.”
I was fine with this arrangement. I had helped Sgt. Roos out with his story on the deployment ceremony, so I figured that now I’d be like some sort of apprentice/intern.

As long as I don’t end up manning the copy machine all day.

Red Bull Bullets

Deployed military personnel in all branches who are residents of Minnesota qualify for free state and federal individual income tax return preparation for 2008 tax returns. The MNCPA guys have giving free tax services for the past five years for deployed soldies and their spouses, so be sure to check it out before April 15.
A lenghty article explaining the history of the dual nature of the National Guard. "In 1903, Congress passed the Dick Act, which began the process of federalizing the National Guard. Rep. Charles Dick's bill divided the American adult male population, other than those serving on active duty, into two categories: (1) the National Guard (the organized militia), and (2) the Reserve Militia (the unorganized militia, all other able-bodied adult male citizens)."
The Pioneer Press does an feature on a deploying solider. This is almost exactly the model we were taught.
1. Gimmick
2. What you're story is about
3. Facts
4. Gimmicky Tie-back.
Now, just because the formula is there doesn't hide the fact that the story is awesome. But once you know the formula you'll never read newspapers the same again.
A story on Sgt. Wonderlich. I've met Sgt. Wonderlich, and this is a nice, if clunky, story.

The story of my first story part 4

Later in the day we do the photo shoot.
A lot of officers there.
They line up in front of the statue of Iron Mike. I’m too intimidated to tell them to back away so I can get them and the mountain in the shot, so I just shoot.
I realize all I have is freaking posed pictures. I try to get the officers in candid poses. Luckily, they all seem to genuinely like each other, so they have a lot of fun hashing over the Lake story while I take photographs.
I get some more quotes, and plug them into the story.
One of the officers in the story is freaking commander of the battalion.
I hope he doesn’t object to me painting him as a fun-loving guy.
So here it is. Just 24 hours after I got the assignment I was done.

The story of my first story part 3

The next day I came to the interview with Lt. Col. Miller. Pfc. Cassinos, the only other private in the unit, was my backup. I started by trying to get that anecdote. Without some color, this story is nothing.
There. There's the anecdote. Apparently at the MMA, they once all jumped in the lake and screwed around before getting comically smoked.
It's something.
I prod him. I want details. I start assembling my gimmicky tie-back. I get background info. It's going good. At the end of the interview, he stops me."
"Make sure that the story isn't just about me."
I had a whole paragraph reserved for him.
I mumble, ramble.
"Umm, no sir. It will be about the whims of life. Time as a circle. Life goes around and then there you are, in improbable circumstances you'd never think sir."
Not a good ending.

The story of my first real story Part 2

Several hours later, I got the answer.
"Class 33. Apparently all these officers graduated from the same class and are now all deploying to Iraq together."
When's it due?
"Well, the photo shoot is scheduled for tommorow."
Huh. I call Lt. Col. Miller. He's my source. Seems like a good guy.
Before I go to sleep I write how my story is going to go.

1. Humorous school-day anecdote
2. What the story is about
3. Facts about the Minnesota Military Academy
4. How Lt. Col Miller's career went after MMA
5. Quirky/gimmicky tie-back

This story has mucho potential for boring.

The story of my first real story part 1

What do they call tyro cub reporters?
Fresh meat or something like that?

I got my assignment:
"You're doing the Minnesota Military Academy," said Sgt. Kemp, who is the boss of my boss, Sgt. Roos.
"You're doing the Minnesota Military Academy story with Lt. Col. Miller." Then Sgt. Kemp left.
Now what?
Do I have to go back to Minnesota?
I go to google.
There is no Minnesota Military Academy. Apparently it doesn't exist anymore.
What the heck is going on? I wondered.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Notes from Basic

This is a letter I wrote in Basic Training during the summer of 2008 to a buddy of mine.

Dear Brian,
On the day before I left for Basic, the commander of my Minnesota National Guard Unit called me. First he invited me to a Twins game later that evening. I politely declined; it was too great a distance on such short notice. So then he invited me to Iraq in January. I told him that I had college-first non-deployable status for two years.
This was news to him. He switched me to a PFC Cassinos, who had waived her non-deployable status earlier in the year and who had been instructed to seduce me into doing the same. We shot the bull for a while, and eventually she asked me if I was going to be “relaxin’ at Ft. Jackson.” I told her that I had been under the impression that I was, but alas, Ft. Benning, home of the infantry. She paused.
“Oh, so you’re going to the hard one.”
Everyday I think about how much easier I would have had it at Ft. Jackson. I’d be having milk and cookies every night and be sleeping in every day, probably.
However, we do get to do some high-speed shit here at Ft. Benning. So far, I’ve shot the M16A4, the M203 grenade launcher, the M2 .50 cal MG, the M249 SAW, the M240B MG, the MR19 automatic grenade launcher, and the AT-4 anti-tank missile.
I’ve thrown hand grenades, detonated a claymore, survived tear gas, rappelled off an eighty foot wall, used close quarter optics red dot sights, administered an IV, and learned how to land nav, how to administer combat first aid, and how to clear a room.
Our company, Delta Company, started out with about 240 soldiers, although three have gone AWOL and one of those three is now in Mexico.
The company is divided into four platoons, each with three drill sergeants.
My platoon, 2nd Platoon Maddogs, has fifty-eight soldiers, half of whom are still in High School. There are 29 different states represented and over 33 different MOS’s, with one heat stroke idiot who’s going home, one suicidal who prompted a federal investigation, three idiots we kicked out of the platoon, one forty year old mid-life crisis who steals candy and does whatever he wants, six idiots who gave each other jailhouse tattoos are now facing destruction of government property charges, and three perfect PT scores; one of them is mine.
The Army Physical Fitness Test is scored out of 300 and consists of two minutes of pushups, two minutes of situps, and a two mile run. At least 72 pushups, 78 situps, and then a 13 minute time are the requirements for a maximum Physical Training score.
The first APPT I did 91 pushups, 73 situps, and ran a 12:17 two mile. This was good enough for 292 points, which is not maximum but still the highest in the company. The second time I, along with two other privates, maxed out; I got 81 pushups, 78 situps, and ran a 12:04 two mile.
I got an Army Presidential Fitness Award patch and ice cream, plus if our platoon as a whole continues to score high on the PT tests, we should get Honor Platoon. Which is an honor, I guess.
Our platoon actually kicks ass, probably as a result of all the smokings we get from our senior drill sergeant, SFC Alan Barton. He is a ranger, a war hero who received the Bronze Star for valor for his work securing the first crash site during Blackhawk Down, a forty-five year old machine who still maxes out his PT tests, a father figure who treats us like men, and a living legend whom we all respect and for whom would probably take a bullet.
Our company as a whole has a very squared away cadre: we have three rangers, two SWAT commanders, the current and former drill sergeants of the year, the runner-up drill sergeant of the year, the current and former NCOs of the year, and the first female drill sergeant ever stationed at Ft. Benning.
But enough; I’ll leave ya with a few notes.
• How is Obama doing? What’s up with Russia? How are the Twins winning?
• I am definitely in the Army. The Army has two components: Active and Reserve. Reserve is then broken down into Reserve and National Guard. Believe me, the drill sergeants, and the paperwork people: I am Army.
• I’m not having any problems with authority. As a matter of fact I’m having troubles taking the initiative and not waiting to be told what to do.
• I am having troubles shooting, but I’ll be fine.
• America lost the Vietnam War. Deal with it.
“Why are you looking at me soldier? Why are you looking at me? Do you want to fuck me in the ass or something?”
“I am not the one you want private. Do you realize I’m so hard that I can stir my coffee with my dick?”
“Sorry Drill Sergeant? Are you calling me a sorry drill sergeant?”
“I’m going to skullfuck the shit of you with my knee, Private.”
“Yes? Yes what? Yes drill sergeant? Or yes motherfucker?”
“That’s as wrong as two boys kissing in church.”
“Privates, do you know the shortest point between two points? A straight line? Wrong! Haven’t you privates ever heard of Einstein? Here, take a piece of paper and draw two dots. Ok, now draw a line between the two. You see the distance? Now fold that paper over so that the two points touch. You see that distance now? It’s zero, privates! Curvilinear space! That’s a college education, privates!”
“I gotta piss so bad it’s like I have a piss boner.”
“Here’s a story privates. Private Loser goes on Myspace and finds himself some ugly ass chick. They go to dinner or something gay like that and she invites him to her apartment. It’s dark, and they’re fumbling around, and she asks him if he wants a handjob. He hands her his dick but then she says, “Sorry, but I don’t smoke.”
“You want an outrageous story? Fine, but you’ll have to listen to both parts. See, alright where I live there’s a town called Delhi, and it has like twenty people. I was working for some of those people, and they told me that there once was a mayoral election, and it was tied 10-10 or something like that. So what they did was flip a coin, and whoever won got the job. It was on the news and everything. Turns out though, the guy who won apparently sent a picture of himself to Playgirl Magazine. People were outraged and he was run out of town. Now I’m riding along with this girl a couple weeks later, and I tell her this story. At the end, she says, “Wait, that’s my dad.” So she pulls out that very issue of Playgirl Magazine out of her glove compartment, and sure enough, there’s the very naked picture of her father. I asked her, “Why the fuck do you have a naked picture of your father in the dashboard compartment of your car?” Turns out, her father got run out of Delhi so fast the only thing in the world she has to remember her father is that naked picture in Playgirl Magazine. And let me tell you, that girl was fucked.”
J. Prince Lawrence

Friday, February 20, 2009

1st Post

Hello, I am Pfc. J.p. Lawrence. I am an Army journalist who is deploying to Iraq.
I'm not that good of a writer, and I'm not that good of a soldier, but if you want to know what it is like being an 18-year-old private at the bottom of the military totem pole, read on. If you want links to sites that talk about what we do, read on.
If you want pics that weren't good enough for the Red Bulls Report but I think are totally awesome, then read on. If not, well then you can always go here.