Monday, August 17, 2009

Dancing Through Minefields

First of all, a question/remark/observation for my lovely case manager, Erin, who hails from the frothy shores of New Jersey. What's up with your state?!
First there are the arrests of 44 people in a sting operation for corruption charges, money laundering, and trafficking in human organs, including 2 state assembly members, the mayors of Ridgefield, Secaucus, and Hoboken, and a bunch of Rabbis!
Now it seems that poor old music legend Bob Dylan was taking a stroll through Long Branch, New Jersey recently, just passing the time before his next show, looking at houses, when stopped and harassed by the local police department, who did not recognize him. Since when is walking through a neighborhood scouting, I er mean, checking out houses with no ID, and carrying a bunch of burglary tools a crime? What has this country come to Erin, I ask you, WHAT HAS IT COME TO? I certainly will not be visiting the garden state anytime soon. Especially with my EZ Snap Lock Pick Gun.
I saw the film, "The Hurt Locker," over the weekend with a friend of mine, Heather, and her boyfriend, Gil. We saw it at what is now called the Arclight Theater, in Hollywood. This used to be called the Cinerama Dome, as the theater looked like a big box with the top third of a huge golf ball sticking up through the roof, before it became a multiplex. I've gone to this particular theater throughout my life. My father took me there to see the James Bond film, "Thunderball," when it first came out. I saw both, "2001 A Space Odyssey," and "2010," it's sequel, fifteen years later, under the dome. Most recently I've been there to watch "Reservation Road," the exceptionally depressing film concerning a tragic hit and run incident, starring Jennifer Connelly and Mira Sorvino, and of course now, "The Hurt Locker."
This film follows the exploits of an Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) team of the U.S. Army, in Baghdad during the Iraq occupation, in 2004. The picture above is taken from the film. It is of a soldier wearing a bombsuit, which is designed to protect him while trying to defuse bombs.
And there are a lot of bombs! All over the place. One particularly harrowing scene involved the protagonist attempting to defuse a bomb he has found buried in a dusty street. After defusing it he finds more wires leading to other possible bombs. Instead he finds more wires, eventually pulling up from the earth six or seven bombs surrounding him in a circle.
"Oh, my," he says.
He manages to defuse them, but that scene was early on in the film, and there are a lot more chances for everyone to get blown up.
Or shot. A lot of people get shot in this movie. As a matter of fact, if you are offered a cameo appearance in this film, dear readers, I would seriously consider turning it down.
I think the point of the movie is to demonstrate what a dangerous environment our soldiers are working in while deployed in Iraq, and that you rarely know who the real enemy is because everyone looks the same. It also documents the mentality one must maintain in order to survive, the toll of living under constant stress, and the special skills one develops in these unique situations, skills that are hardly transferable to civilian life. It also tells a very interesting story about some very interesting characters, almost essential in films.
I have never had to defuse a bomb while serving in the Navy. But I did serve on a minesweeper once. For an entire weekend. Let me set this up.
Fresh out of Boot Camp, and after a failed attempt to finish electronics school (booze), the Navy lost my personnel records, thereby stranding me at the Navel Training Center, in San Diego. I was assigned to the Transient Barracks Unit, which was where those folks awaiting orders, like me, or just passing through, lived. I was made the manager of the place, checking sailors and sailorettes in and out. My boss was a Master Chief Boiler Technician (snipe). My supervisor was a First Class Boatswainsmate (the guy who steers the ship).
I liked the job, mainly because I didn't have to do much, and I had the run of the place. The Master Chief thought I was his son for some reason, and let me get away with anything, the First Class was another story.
After catching me in the laundry/pool hall area slugging down a cold one during working hours (by the way, they have beer vending machines on military bases, at least on that one they did, the greatest invention ever made!) one day, he thought up and interesting punishment, which I'm sure amused him greatly. He had me and a friend of mine assigned to a minesweeper during its weekend exercises.
This would have been the first ship I'd actually stepped foot on after joining the service. That was okay, might even be fun.
Except I came on board so hung over I could hardly move, and would remain sick throughout the voyage.
This is what I remember of it. Being dragged out of my bunk, and told to report on deck for minesweeping exercises. And this is what we did.
A minesweeper is the only U.S. Navel vessel that is made out of wood. It is made out of wood so as not to attract magnetic mines and get itself blown up. A minesweeper sweeps mines in two ways. First, it drags a looped thick cable behind its stern (looped meaning the two ends of the cable are both kept attached to the deck of the ship). This cable, apparently transmits a pulse that detonates magnetic mines.
We couldn't manage to keep both ends on deck though, one end breaking off and winding into the sea (not my fault). We spent the rest of the day retrieving it (it was really big, long, and heavy).
The other way a minesweeper sweeps mines is to drag out two submerged chains behind it in a V pattern, each chain fitted with explosive catches at equal intervals along the chain, the idea being as the ship sweeps a submerged mine field (assuming the ship doesn't hit one) mines attached to cables will get caught in the explosive catches, which cut the cables, releasing the mines which float to the surface, where they are simply shot at until they explode.
We did that the second day.
The night before, of course, still sick as hell, I was awarded the mid-watch (midnight until four), outside as a lookout, in an actual crows-nest, the highest point on the ship which was constantly swaying back and forth, up and down, sideways and byways. Four hours. Barf City.
When it was all over, me and my friend congratulated ourselves on a job well done, then headed for a bar.
Ah, the memories.
After the movie we went dancing in Hollywood at the Knitting Factory. Synchronized Hip Hop!

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