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.

A Summary of Books I Read in 2018

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I’m not sure why I go through intense periods of reading voraciously followed by what can only be described as a literary blackout. I knew something was weird in January of this year when I had almost nothing to show for any book reading on Goodreads and couldn't relate to anything on the best of 2017 book lists. This year, perhaps because deployment is by definition, a little bit boring, I actually surpassed my reading goal. That isn’t a cause for celebration though because the period of not picking up any books can strike me at anytime. Also, a lot of the books I’ve read this year have been poetry and cookbooks, do those count?

The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman 

The His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman competes to be my favorite book series along with Harry Potter. If you saw the Golden Compass movie with Nicole Kidman, please shake that out of your head because it does not shine a light in comparison to how amazing the books are.

The Book of Dust is set as a prequel to The Golden Compass and explains how Lyra ended up at Oxford to begin with. It gives more insight into some of the lesser characters from the trilogy and thus, more depth. While one of the reasons I enjoyed His Dark Materials so much was because of how allegorical it was to Christianity and religion in general, I felt like the Book of Dust was trying too hard to do the same thing. While I definitely enjoyed it, it wasn’t as smooth as the trilogy was and I’d have to sit down again and really process all the different symbolism but I guess that’s half the fun with Philip Pullman.

Sourdough by Robin Sloan

This book is awesome. I was recently reading an article about how Netflix has invented this type of genre called ‘joyful experts’ which is where shows like Tidying Up With Marie Kondo would fall into. Sourdough by Robin Sloan is a work of fiction, but I think it might actually touch into joyful expert genre as it was just enjoying sourdough. It talked about the love and care of building a sourdough oven after experimenting with a dutch oven. The beauty that goes into smelling a starter and the history behind that starter. The fear when you come home and there’s only one bubble left because you forgot to feed it.

I honestly didn’t like the ending of the book because I thought it was kind of childish but overall, it made me happy and long to build my own sourdough oven.

Unqualified by Anna Faris

For some reason, I get a kick out of reading different memoirs by celebrities I know nothing about? For example, I read Mindy Kaling and Amy Poehler’s books and I have never seen their shows. Not even the office. A year after reading Mindy’s books, I did dabble with The Mindy Project but I didn’t like it. I liked her books though… very confusing.

This same thread made me be interested in Unqualified. Plus, my best friend Jackie Gawne sent it to me while I was deployed.

The book was well written and apparently ready to publish before news of her divorce was out. This meant she apparently had to go back and edit all the Chris stuff to be past tense. In the book though, you can tell there is a lot of love and respect for him and while overall this book was only average as it didn’t make me laugh out loud or relate too hard in any direction, it did make me feel for her as a mother and a person.

She’s a good writer.

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

A lot of the reviews that didn’t love this book talked about how unrealistic it was for teenagers to talk the way that John Green makes out them to. I disagree with these comments. One of the reasons why John Green is so popular in the young adult world is because I do think he actually gets ‘younger folk’. We are asking those hard to ask questions about life and death. We aren’t Aristotle or Socrates or anything, but as a teenager everything seems important and imminent and talking with someone who understands those lofty questions that hit you randomly are how I’ve developed some of my best friends.

Turtles All the Way Down has the classic John Green voice that also exists in Looking for Alaska. I liked the more modern details he bit in here as well like one of the friends writing intense fan fiction all on her smart phone.

Red Queen, Glass Sword, King’s Cage by Victoria Aveyard

These books are definitely along similar lines to the Hunger Games trope of girl who is beautiful but also plain from poor background has special skill power and now must topple the patriarchy.

I love it.

I mean, if something is a trope, that usually means it has worked. It works on me.

If anything, it was just super enjoyable to read. The book series keeps me turning the page for different action whether it’s battles or intense suspense. It might not be super unique but it’s well written.

Queen Song, Steel Scars by Victoria Aveyard

These two books are novellas that compliment the series above. I didn’t think they were as good as the actual series so I wouldn’t start with these even though they’re labeled in such a way that you think you should. You can read them after you’ve become dedicated to the series so you feel obligated to finish these novellas. Unfortunately, obligation was what got me through these but they did answer a lot of questions I had about some of the side characters that the main books only touch on for one sentence.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

This was a young adult book I could get behind. It was lighthearted but still had some powerful stories about growing up and becoming your own person away from home and at university. I wish I had read this book when I was a college freshmen. I thought that the fanfiction/nerd addition to the plot was a little forced and wasn’t really the main story or driving point that you’d think a book called, ‘Fangirl’ would have used it to be.

I still liked it as a coming of age book.

Depression and Other Magic Tricks by Sabrina Benaim

I didn’t relate to this poetry as much as I relate to the author’s poetry performed live. Perhaps I was just reading it wrong? I felt like the formatting was distracting instead of adding to her meanings and more rambling than poetic. I will read her future works though.

Seeds Planted in Concrete by Bianca Sparacino

I thought the collection Bianca chose to include in this book was very smart and cohesive. All the works worked together! I enjoyed reading this book. I didn’t think it was earth-shattering the way a book like Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur is but this book was very genuine and nice.

Adulting by Kelly Williams Brown

I thought this book was going to be funny but it was not. It was literally just a how-to. Almost like googling various adult task and reading the wiki-how for them, but with less fun and awkward photos. I couldn’t finish this and I am not even close to being an expert at adulting. Perhaps, this would be a good stocking stuffer for a fifteen year old, but otherwise, it’s meh.

Your Soul is a River by Nikita Gill

I really liked this poetry book. I also really like Nikita Gill as a person on her social media. Everything she wrote was super relate-able and beautiful. I didn’t give it five stars on goodreads though because I felt like a lot of the poems were redundant and didn’t push the boundary as far as possible, but perhaps that is just her style and her way of processing and writing.

Cakes By Melissa by Melissa Ben-Ishay

This is actually a very clever cookbook. It has the cakes, frosting, and icing all separated out and encourages you to mix and match them to create different combinations. If you’ve ever eaten at Cakes by Melissa you’ll know that she is known for her crazy combos.

She included her startup story in here which I appreciated and found inspiring.

I used her recipe to make a normal sized cake instead of bite sized like she does and wow that was super sweet… no wonder her small cakes work much better. That being said, I feel like she truly gave us her recipes and didn’t change anything for publishing.

The Geeky Chef Cookbook and The Geeky Chef Strikes Back by Cassandra Reeder

These two cookbooks are fun. They make me want to write down every edible thing I come across in a book or video game and try to re-imagine it as real food later on. Cassandra makes me excited about food in a way only other nerds could truly understand.

That being said, I think she is a nerd first before baker? I’ve made quite a few of her recipes and there’s something very different about her chocolate cake versus a more well known chef’s chocolate cake I’ve baked. Something is a bit more basic with hers. That’s fine though as I got these cookbooks to inspire myself and I hope to be at Cassandra’s level one day where I can just make up things inspired by my nerd loves.

Churchill’s Wit by Churchill

One of the French Officers I got to work with over deployment told me to read this book. I think it was his way of mentoring me as a junior officer with him being a senior officer. I will forever appreciate that because while I grew as a Soldier and Officer downrange, I obviously lacked some mentorship as I was one of two Americans at my camp.

I did find this book a bit boring though and me and the French Officer spoke about this. He thought it was super hilarious because the thoughts explained how British men were and really put stuff in historical context….

Having only worked with maybe three British Soldiers ever and only for less than an hour at a time, I couldn’t relate as much as he could.

Life and Death by Stephanie Meyer

This is a retelling of Twilight with Bella as a guy named Beau. It’s actually hilarious because Beau is still passing out at the sight of blood testing in science class and a female Edward has to walk him to the nurse’s office. I’m not one for gender roles but it’s still kind of funny especially since Twilight is very into gender roles. Apparently, Stephanie Meyer made a statement saying if you thought it was weird then you have to rethink your ideals. I’m not sure.

Cravings: Hungry for More by Chrissy Teigen

I love Chrissy Teigen and I will buy anything she publishes. This specific cookbook has her famous banana bread.

Alice in the Country of Hearts by Quinrose

This is a manga. I’m going to count manga in my reading. I don’t read it that often but by counting it towards a reading challenge maybe it can also sort of encompass all the reading I do online?

As far as this manga goes, I really loved the pictures. The drawings were beautiful and all the panels flowed from one to the next which you would be surprised, but many mangas cannot accomplish this. While I really enjoyed the first half of the book, the second half became super chaotic? The story line splintered the way that the television series Lost did. I needed subtitles to the subtitles to understand what was going on. I will not be continuing this.

Bite Me by Ally Hilfiger

Wow, I really didn’t like this. As someone who thinks they maybe potentially have Lyme disease and that it explains that awful stint in the hospital, I thought I could relate. While I agree with Ally that whatever she went through was awful, the writing made it hard to emphasize with her and came out a bit whiny.

When I come across books where I don’t like the main voice, I always feel vaguely guilty. I can’t figure out if I am mad because she is rich? Am I mad because her writing just isn’t good? What makes it not good? A lot of questions I have that I can’t figure out.

Dorthy Must Die, The Wicked Will Rise, Yellow Brick War by Danielle Paige

These books flip the script on what we imagine the Wizard of Oz to be and who is wicked and who is good. We end up wanting Dorthy to die which I think is impressive to get the reader to buy into that want so quickly after we have been indoctrinated for all our lives by the movie. I found the first two books super riveting and filled with action and good plot but the third slowing down. I read the final book this month in 2019 which is why I didn’t include it on here, but I still hold that the first two in the series were the best.

Hawaii Honeymoon

Listen, I know that Hawaii is super cliche for honeymoons, but Matt and I had an amazing time. It could simply be because we were pumped just to be together for an extended period of time. This September will be exactly two years apart but the current plan is that we will live together before July ends. Thus, not reaching that two year mark. As it’s the Army though, we will just be thankful for the days we do get together.

Since we have already been to Hawaii together (it’s where Matt proposed), we didn’t feel the same kind of stress to ‘must-see’ everything. We ended up seeing a comedy show on one of the days featuring a few comics with Hannibal Buress as the main man. He summed up our time in Hawaii perfectly: you just enjoy the breezes. People ask you what you’re doing? The weather man, it’s great.

Interestingly enough, near the end we both looked at each other and at the same time said, wow this vacation is really long. We are really relaxed.

Not that we are two people who would ever complain about being relaxed.

We did do a lot though. I’m not trying to scare anyone off from ever traveling with me but I am known for being an over-planner and kind of detail oriented? Shocked gasps are heard through out the audience. Here’s an example of the spreadsheet I made to work us through our vacation:

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Those who know me though know that I did cut back a lot on my planning tendencies because the end goal was to end up relaxed so I tried my best not to overload the schedule but we still got in two different islands (Maui and the Big Island) and various meanderings.

Our first days in Hawaii, we were in Hilo and we were honestly SHOOK at how…rural and unlike Oahu it was. Everyone has heard of Hilo so we just assumed it would be poppin’. We were very wrong but we still got a good meal and AirBNB stay. I think the most romantic thing we did was just get a box of food with spam musubi, chicken, and football rolls and find a random black sand beach and just sit and eat.

Not to get too sappy on you.

Our next stop was Volcano, HI which was…more rural but I suppose we weren’t surprised this time. We were also staying in a tree house which featured a hot tub! But also limited electricity and a compostable toilet. We did enjoy the hot tub immensely but we promptly lost power the first day after making coffee and boiling eggs. I suppose I shouldn’t be that surprised because once when I was a Fire Direction Officer (math person for artillery) one of my soldiers plugged in their hot pot and the truck shuttered sadly and died. I guess those suckers take a lot of watts.

As far as compostable toilets go, you essentially just need to bury what you left behind in the toilet.

Like cats.

The Volcano National park was only a five minute drive away. Most of it was closed due to recent problems and rumbling but we still had a lot of fun and saw a lot of things.

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After our stay in Volcano, we made our way to the other side of the island, Kona. This side is the more touristy side which we weren’t mad to see. More touristy means more food! A notable place we ate at was Umekes where Matt tried poke for the first time. It was a place that was featured on Guy Fieri’s show, Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.

We did a day trip to Waipio Valley to look at taro farms. Taro is what poi is made of and if you’ve ever been to a luau (Matt and I have been to three and I’m not sure what that says about us) you know about poi. Luau poi is usually watered down though, and the poi we had at the farm was actually pretty thick, like mochi.

After some breeze-enjoying-days, we headed to Maui on Christmas Day. We forgot to research any food options so we did what every American does when they don’t eat at home on a major holiday, got thai food.

In Maui, we did decide to splurge on a few adventures. From our last trip, we knew that there was no way in h e double hockey sticks that we were going to drive the road to Hana ourselves, so we hired someone and it ended up being one of the highlights of our trip. The guide was able to show us many cool waterfalls that even if Matt and I knew about before driving, we would be too stressed to even park. I guess it’s nicknamed the divorce drive due to the perilous turns and tight corners.

Another Maui adventure was checking out the Haleakala Crater which thankfully was open and clean, despite the government shutdown. I’d like to think that people care for national parks and can be trusted not to litter… luckily Haleakala was amazing and gorgeous. We didn’t wake up early to do the sunrise because we were breeze enjoyers, but we still found it awesome. After seeing what the drive was like in the day though, we were kind of happy that we didn’t risk the drive up in the dark.

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I think the crater was my favorite part of our vacation.

Our last day, we did a stand up paddleboard tour…we got to see a few turtles and just enjoy Maui’s waters. We learned that Matt doesn’t enjoy SUP as much as me.

Thank you for reading Matt and I’s honeymoon adventure.