Field Artillery Captain's Career Course So Far

I love living in Oklahoma. The last time I was here for Field Artillery BOLC, I was so stressed out I couldn’t properly enjoy it. My friends and I went to the same handful of restaurants in between panicking on every single homework. Being in FA CCC, everything so far has been less stressful and more doable. I’ve already done a hike, checked out books from the library, and eaten at three new places. I’m sure it’s a combination of the instructor I have right now (a civilian) wanting us to pass gunnery and not wanting to scare us. It also helps that I can actually focus on what he is saying instead of being lost in the sauce and still uncomprehending of the differences between howitzers, let alone how to actually calculate data for them which was my problem as a new lieutenant.

Talking to newer LTs who were fresh out of BOLC at Polk, they seemed stressed too but less so. Sounds like the Artillery branch is trying its best to teach in a more approachable style. When I went through, we weren’t even allowed to have access to PowerPoint presentations but now they pass out every slideshow on discs, and you can take them home and study.

Picture in the hallways at FT Sill of 10th Mountain… my brigade Patriots logo is missing but at least we are the coolest looking artillery unit.

Picture in the hallways at FT Sill of 10th Mountain… my brigade Patriots logo is missing but at least we are the coolest looking artillery unit.

Since I have had less homework, I’ve also had more time to enjoy the surrounding area with friends. There’re many women in my class. We all realized we need to work on the new APFT standards. I am especially terrified of the dead-lift with a hex bar. The minimum standard is 180 lbs for combat MOS and all Officers. Every day during lunch we go and lift together. This week I’ve been doing 85 lbs…95 lbs to go. It’s nice having a group of women encourage me.

I’ve also been going to yoga, and I am in love with the instructor and class. Some of the stuff we are introduced to include: the crow pose, compass pose, handstands… it’s amazing. I’m glad to have a real hobby after work. I probably should’ve picked something like Cross Fit to really focus in on the new physical standards, but yoga gives me joy. In exchange for doing yoga, I must be more motivated by myself to workout. CCC is good about providing you work out time.

In the mornings we workout as a squad. I have three other women in my squad. Not to say I’m not becoming friends with the males, but it’s fun to have girlfriends to giggle about things with and who can assist you on pull-ups.

We pick a topic to discuss while we stretch out before starting a workout. So far, we have considered some thought-provoking things such as: if PT is useful; is staff duty for officers a good idea; is the new APFT a good idea.

You’d be surprised what we come up with. You’d probably think we would all be against staff duty, but the majority ended up arguing for keeping it, we all seemed to like the new APFT but are nervous about retention rates with it, and PT we all feel is a leadership opportunity more than a tool to have every single soldier max his PT test.

If I include working out as essential parts of my day, I still have a full day that probably takes me to 18/1900. But class time itself hasn’t been very long. We average getting out around 1500. Test days we get out before lunch/when you finish the test.

This is such a drastic change from working at Polk where I averaged leaving work at 1900/2000 and was way too exhausted (and hungry) to go workout.

We did get an in brief from the Commandant of the Field Artillery (BG Stephen G. Smith), and he did use the term ‘taking a knee’ aka getting a chance to take a break but warned us that it meant we needed to focus on improving our self with our free time. I’m glad he was honest that the schoolhouse for Captains is structured that way. No need to pretend its hard. Just tell us the reality.

If I can leave the schoolhouse with a respectable grade, pass the new APFT, able to do a handstand or headstand without wall support, and ready to sit and take the GRE, I will call this experience successful.

Maybe my goals and thoughts will change once we move past the gunnery block of instruction: I will keep you updated!

Leaving Fort Polk

Fort Polk is the worst duty station in the Army, and I’m finally leaving it. I get annoyed when other people try to claim that they are at the worst duty station that isn’t Polk. I’ve even had people stationed in Hawaii tell me they’re miserable.

What the hell?

I guess that’s proof that duty stations are what you make of them.

I was here before they built Chili’s though.

Before they built Chili’s, there was nowhere to go on a Sunday besides Walmart and this halfway decent Tex-Mex place.

Of course, everyone always told me that I needed to go fishing on Sundays. I actually never went! I also never went noodling, but maybe that’s a good thing.

You might be thinking that means I didn’t make the most out of Polk. You’d be wrong.

While I know that life is more than food, I can tell I’ve made the most of Polk by just talking to others. It is super easy for me to name a restaurant in a 30 min radius that no one I work with has heard of - and my restaurant choices are always amazing. For example, not many people know that the best food in all of Leesville is a place called Cuore Coffee. They have three pages of coffee and fantastic bulgogi.

There’s just no real place to hang out here. Every bar is a strip club. Of course, as I grow up mentally, I know that there’s more to good hangouts than places to drink at. So, my friends and I drive about an hour one way to Alexandria or Lake Charles to go do those escape rooms...

It sounds like I’m complaining a lot.

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I have one more complaint.

My biggest complaint is that Polk is actually so small. No one tells you in college or in BOLC that there really isn’t a lot of lieutenants to hang out with. At Polk, since there’s only one brigade (and support units like the hospital etc. I know, but you guys don’t hang with us) and Geronimo (JRTC OPFOR) it’s really really hard to find a good group. I came to Fort Polk with two other people from BOLC, and they both immediately went to Geronimo where their schedules just didn’t align with mine. I was also on rear d at the time of my arrival so I had only one other LT in my unit and he was fresh from Geronimo aka he had his group.

I apparently found my tribe here though as I got to meet my husband and a few close friends to include one of my bridesmaids.

I also can’t forget that I got my cat at the Western Louisiana Humane Society.

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I also learned a lot career-wise.

When I was in Kuwait during a norovirus quarantine, I got to spend a lot of time with one of my friends from BOLC who got stationed at FT Campbell. After talking to her, she said she had never met someone outside of Campbell that had done so many artillery things. I don’t know if she was just making a hyperbole but everyone calls Bragg and Campbell the place of opportunities, so it was nice to know that Polk had given me a seemingly good shot at making the best out of the Army in the eyes of someone stationed at a prestigious place.

#neverforget my FDC was best in the brigade 🙌🏻🤘🏼

I feel like I can also say I know how to walk in night vision now. Or at least bounce back after running with no sight and hitting a tree full force. Luckily, my next unit should be heavy which means less walking.

Some things I’ll miss about Fort Polk besides getting margaritas at a drive-thru after work is the small stuff -Crawfish boils and spontaneous trips to New Orleans which also means weird festivals, King cake, and oysters.

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I’ll oddly miss sitting in the field and watching all the wild horses.

One of the guys packing up my house told me how his wife likes to dress up in giant fancy hats with her friends and they go down to Natchitoches and have parties and pretend they’re in the film Steel Magnolias. Natchitoches is where they filmed that movie and I regret not wearing a large hat with strands of pearls on that river-walk.

I don’t think I’ll ever come back to Louisiana for fun unless one of my friends (probably a non-Fort Polk person) decides to have a bachelorette party in NOLA...Or if there’s a lawful order for me to go with the Army I guess. Fort Polk is doable, but I can’t wait for something new.

Acclimation is Slow

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The french camp I'm at right now is actually kind of quaint. They went out of their way to plant trees along the walkways. Measly trees but definetly oxygen prouting sticks. There's also fun vases with painted smiley faces. Whatever was planted there before is now dead, but I appreciate the effort. It's a very stark contrast to the camp I was at for three days while waiting for a helicopter to take me to this current one. This first one was massive and had coffee shops and pxs. But, it was just concrete everywhere. Occasionally, there would be some painted unit symbols to break up the grey but overall, it was just dusty and bleak. My body starts sweating when it recalls the overall Army feel of that camp.

It did have separate female bathrooms though.

At this small french camp, i share a bathroom with the males. It's kind of nice because just close the door behind you like a female restroom and it's not problem. No urinals out in the open so I don't have to see any of that. The only struggle for me is I don't want to be an inconvenance so I try to wake up early to workout and shower before everyone else. They built a sign i can put up in front of the shower area so I can have some privacy but I don't want to make people wait on me. I think coed bathrooms could be the way of the future for the army but separate shower time is needed. Maybe I am being too girly?

I must rely on friends to send me restocks of shampoo and soap in the mail or I can simply slip a 10 dollar bill to someone who gets to visit the big camps for business and if they have time I ask: "can you please pick me up some hot cheetos and as much laundry detergent as possible". Apparently Sephora can ship to me though. I haven't tried yet but every soldier orders pre-workout and vitamins from GNC so I feel like Sephora is the same thing, just a different set of priorities. Sometimes, you just don't want to smell like the only scent at the Army PX: Old Spice Body Wash.

Needing to speak French isn't incredibly vital. Would it make things a lot more efficient? Of course! But a lot of the officers seem to be pretty fluent in English. Fun fact, I no longer believe that Frenchmen are picky about accents. It took me 30 minutes of hand gestures and discussion to realize that what they were trying to tell me was "Sean Penn is a great actor" and not "champagne is great" because apparently I am the one who needs the right accent!

I'm doing my best to learn. I bought a subscription to "news in slow french" and Rosetta Stone. Rosetta Stone is mind numbingly boring but I bought a 90 day subscription so I. Must. Persevere.

I didn't realize how prevalent American television and movies are though. I tried asking a lot of people what french shows I could watch assuming this would help me learn French culture and French language. Alas, everyone just named off shows I have seen in English. Watching something more that once (besides Mulan and Amelie Poulain) is very painful for me. My goal is to become more social and also to speak more French and luckily for me, every week they play a movie for everyone to view together so I want to try to go to those more. Two weeks ago was Deadpool (with french voiceover). This week I think it was The Revenant? I'm sure all three words spoken in that movie were in french.

At the end of the day though, i just need to try to speak french even if it's ugly! Also, studying is just as painful as it was in school so I need to get motivated and try to study a lot more than I've been doing here.

Women in RTAC and Field Artillery

My future is for the most part, pretty clear. I was able to branch my first choice for the US Army and will be an active duty Field Artillery officer.

While I do get a very positive reaction to branching FA, I always have to field the question of if it was my first choice. The conversation then leads to discussing how many females were 'forced' to branch FA for year set '15.

It is unfortunate that women must be ‘forced’ to fill slots that did not want it but I think it is important that the Army does this. There is a stigma with combat arms even for males. In my experience, those that want infantry are considered the ‘tough guys’ who want to run around in the woods. The same goes for females in Field Artillery. By placing more females into this branch, younger generations can see that it is not such a big deal to branch FA and can thus imagine themselves doing it even if they are not the stereotypical tough combat arms female.

That being said, I am still confused about where women stand in today’s military.

Just because Field Artillery is trying to integrate women still leads the questions about what is the Army doing next.

I think it is great that we are having females go through different pre-ranger schools such as the recent news that 5 females have completed Ranger Training Assessment Course (RTAC). It is just a testament that if the Army is gender blind and sets the standard, any Soldier should be given a chance to meet that standard.

I do not think anyone in favor of seeing the combat role increased for women is saying we should lower the standard for females.

What is not being talked about it that this is just an experiment and that these RTAC courses might not include women when ‘testing’ is over.

The verbiage for combat arms inclusion of females is still grey:

...the Pentagon ordered the services to open ground combat fields to women by 2016. Services can still request a waiver if they want to exclude women from any occupational field. -USA Today

Also, for Army ROTC duty station selection, it should be noted that females such as myself branching field artillery are restricted to what posts we can pick. Currently, I can only choose between nine posts compared to my male counterparts who can pick between 16 different posts. Some of the posts I could not pick were Alaska, Hawaii, and Campbell.