Sunday, November 9, 2008

Part I: Processing

I reported in at the Naval Operational Support Center Alameda, California on the 19th of September fully expecting to find myself back in the full swing of a life in uniform. That turned out to be a half day running through a mobilization checklist and listening to the staff there complain about their supervisors. I also ended up having the next couple of days off before I got to fly out to the Navy/Marine Corps Processing Station, my first real taste of being back on active duty. At this point I still had no idea what my job would be when I finally got into Afghanistan.

The Navy has four mobilization processing sites. Two of them are in California, one is in Virginia, and one is in Mississippi. Since I was coming from California, naturally, I was sent to the processing site in Mississippi. The logic is that they wanted to make sure that all of the processing sites would have an even workload. This logic was apparently not applied to the human resources side of the problem. The processing site in Gulfport, MS is the smallest, and reputedly most inept, by far.

I spent a week in Gulfport, MS and it turned out to be a really great deal. It wasn't a great deal because I because of the Navy's mobilization processing. That was mostly a lot of frustration and waiting in lines. It wasn't a great deal because of the excitement and intrigue offered by the booming metropolis of Gulfport, Mississippi. That could easily be used up and worn out in the course of a weekend and still leave most of Sunday with nothing to do. No, it was a great deal because my gorgeous new wife happened to be stationed just an hour down the road in New Orleans and she was willing to commute so we could spend a few extra nights together.

The mobilization process itself was exactly what you might expect. There were a bit more than a hundred people, each with a separate agenda, individual problems, and disparate backgrounds, being pushed through a rubber-stamp checklist that was standardized in order to make it easier for the staff to get everybody checked out. So no matter if you were a ship driver, civil engineer, aviator, or staff officer, or whether you were going to Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, the Philippines, or the Horn of Africa, everybody was handled the exact same way, given the exact same briefs, and injected with the exact same vaccines. The whole attitude was summed up on the first day of the five-day ordeal, when the civilian contractor who runs the facility showed us a Powerpoint brief that detailed what we were about to endure. The first slide read, "No battle is won 'til the checklist is done." Those are fighting words if I ever heard them.

Gulfport itself may have once been a worthwhile place to visit. I'm not sure when that would've been though. This was my second time there and so far I fail to recognize the source of whatever drawing power it might have. The last time I was there, it was still showing the after-effects of damage from hurricane Katrina. This time around, Gustav had left even more waste and debris piled on top of the Katrina waste and debris. By my calculations, that town only gets four or five more storms until nature has completely smitten it from the face of the Earth.
The only thing that made the week worthwhile was having Ana there. We ended up doing a little shopping, dining out, and going to the movies a few times. Basically, it was an exercise in acting like we had some degree of normalcy going on.

After a week in Gulfport, it was time to continue on to Columbia, South Carolina for training. At this point I still had no idea what my job would be when I finally got into Afghanistan.

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