Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Army Annual Training - Part 2

I've made it back home last Saturday. Boy, am I happy to be back! Actually, our Annual Training (AT) wasn't too bad. The first week was slow and boring since we didn't have anything to do. But that's how port operations are in general; vessels get delayed, stuff happens. But when it rains, it pours! So the second week we were extremely busy offloading three vessels in a row.
But please, don't be thinking that we were breaking our backs lifting and carrying stuff or driving vehicles off the ramps. It's all done by civilians now. What do we get to do? Not much, really. We supervise. Mostly it's just standing around watching the civilian contractors do things and writing down the number of pieces of cargo they offloaded and the amount of time it took them. That's how they get paid. Another aspect of our job is to tell these civilians where to put the offloaded cargo so it is segregated by final destination. Each piece of cargo has a shipment label on it, very much like the ones on UPS and FedEx boxes, with a unique Transportation Control Number and whole bunch of other information about the piece. Well, these have to be scanned with handheld scanners that look very much like the ones at a Wal-Mart store. Then the information is fed into a big computer system that allows us to keep track of cargo at all times (ideally, of course). It's not a strenious job, scanning things. It's pretty much a point-and-shoot operation and a slow one as well.
But I wasn't doing any of this. My job is to make sure that all the hazardous cargo, such as oxygen cylinders, fire extinguishers, and gas residue in fuel cans, is properly marked, labeled, placarded, segregated, documented, and in general made safe to transport. When a vessel is being loaded, it is a pain in the neck kind of job. But it's not so bad on the offload. It does involve a lot of leg work. Hazmat certified specialists are always in short supply. I had to be everywhere - walking the decks of the ships, the container yard, the rail yard, and all the equipment staging areas. The Army doesn't make it any easier on you either. Consider this - my computer was in one building, but a copy machine and a fax were in a totally different building, 50 yards away. 50 yards sure don't sound like much until you have to walk back and forth twenty times every day.
I was still pretty happy doing this. It's really a very interesting job, working with hazmat. Makes you feel important and valued. I spent most of my days outside and that was a welcome change after months of working from home. Plus I had to work with many different people face to face: representatives from Army units, Coast Guards, civilian contractors, vessel crew. At my normal job I get to interact mostly with my cat and my computer screen, day after day after day. In short, I had so much fun that I didn't even mind getting up at 4:30-5 in the morning or work long days if necessary or even being out in the cold most of the day.
But I'm still glad to be home! First of all, I enjoy spending time with Chris and Xander way too much. And then, as I mentioned, the food was absolutely terrible. We had to eat at Denny's on a very limited budget for two whole weeks! Try to beat that! The last couple of days we didn't even bother going because we counldn't stand the same old grease any longer.