Sunday, March 14, 2010

Green Zone

Well, as is par for Iraq movies, this movie was pretty terrible. It is based on the book, Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone by Rajiv Chandrasekaran. I read this book, in Iraq, actually. I thought it was pretty good.

First of all, it has Matt Damon. Strike one. Aside from Good Will Hunting, I can't think of any other movie Matt Damon has been in that doesn't have shaky-as-fuck camera angles. I am not in a position to judge any Hollywood actor on their acting skills, however I can judge a movie and its actors based on how much I want to throw up during chase scenes filmed by Michael J. Fox with a Fisher Price camcorder. Paul Greengrass directed the Bourne films as well as Green Zone, so I wasn't too surprised when my brain couldn't keep up with the "intense" action scenes that look like they just tied the camera to a car bumper and drove down the street.

Second, as usual, the uniforms are all dicked up as is the rank structure. Matt Damon is a CW2 in charge of a chemical corps unit. Some of his guys are clean shaven, some guys have full beards. One guy on the squad is about 400 lbs. There is no visible senior NCO or officer in charge. In one of the first scenes, Damon takes control of a cordon from an infantry lieutenant in charge of a platoon pinned down by a single sniper. CW2 Patton arrives on scene and appears to have the only M249 in country and is easily able to suppress and kill the sniper. I wasn't in Iraq during the invasion, but I think there were plenty of SAWs. Kind of exaggerated. Why don't these movies have military advisors? They could pay PVT Joe Snuffy from Fort Benning $100 to come over on a Saturday and show them how fucked up their stuff is.

Third, the plot. The theme of the movie is overall, how we fucked up the invasion and reconstruction of Iraq. The movie hints on how we fucked it up, but more or less beats around the bush. The book goes into much more detail: disbanding the Iraqi Army, letting 20 year old college interns attempt to convert Iraq into a democracy over night, and basically fucking shit up in general. This is pretty true, however, the movie ends abruptly after it tip toes around these statements, as every movie on Iraq does. There is no movie on OIF to date that continues the story to show how the surge worked, how the American military slammed AQI into the dirt and worked with the Iraqi people to turn them against the insurgency.

I wonder how many Americans actually know that we're doing so well there that we're drawing down, starting this summer? I went with a few buddies from school, and ran into a few guys from my unit in the audience. Catching up with them after, one girlfriend asked us, "So was it really like that? You got to hang out at the pool and drink martinis?" While discussing the upcoming deployment to Afghanistan, one of my buddies asked if we were still fighting there. When you hear crap like this, it's clear how these movies do so well with the civilian population. When you have no idea what's going on in the world, it's easy to be impressed by shitty movies with cool special effects.

The best part about this movie was that we saw it at some fancy new theater that gives a military discount to your entire party, and also has a bar inside.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Another drill weekend come and gone. They were pressing people hard to see if people were going to deploy to Afghanistan or not. It will be interesting, as only 3 or 4 NCOs from our platoon will be going, and most of the Joes will not be. I await with anticipation to see who comes in to fill all these spots.

It always shocks me how wise my dad is, and how much foresight he seems to have. I was talking with him last week about my pay problem and he said, "Well, they owe you money and this deployment is optional for you, so they've got you where they want you. They're going to pressure you to go in exchange for that money or "forget" about it again if you don't go." This is pretty much what happened. I was told that if I wasn't extending my ETS to go on this deployment, I wouldn't "be in anyone's lane" for admin issues and that they would get to me when they could. If I was willing to go, they could make a call this (monday) morning and see about swapping the worthless tax deduction voucher out for a cash payment. How does my old man see into the future like this?

Our drill schedule got updated and the rest of the year starting in May are MUTA 10's or 12's. A MUTA is a Multiple Unit Training Assembly, or a 4 hour drill period. Most drills are MUTA 4's, or two full days of training. A MUTA 5 is 2.5 days..etc. When we mobilized throughout 2007, we had MUTA 7's which were Thursday night - Sunday night drills. Those were slightly manageable. A MUTA 10 is 5.5 days and a MUTA 12 is 6 full days. By law, an employer can't fire a Guardsmen or Reservist for missing work for training, but what job is going to keep a person on the books that will be gone for one week, every month for a year who then leaves for an entire year? I need to sit down with the VA rep here at school as well, to see what I can work out for taking class in the fall. I don't think I can get away with missing a week of class every month, and when I was just missing thursdays and fridays in 2007, I had to fight it out with a few professors who refused to give me make-up exams/homework until pressured by the VA rep and Ombudsman.

Speaking of the VA, I think the G.I. Bill thing is worked out. It turns out they still have me listed as active duty and deployed. Even though I finished my fall 2007 semester, they had me down as being deployed then, assumed I couldn't have finished that semester and charged that payment as a debt to me, then never told me about it until now. I guess it's true what they say about assumptions.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

VA Shenanigans

So I thought I had my GI Bill issue fixed, after an entire year of trying to get it upgraded from chapter 1606 to chapter 1607. I was told I would have a big back pay check coming, and my monthly checks would now start flowing.

Wrong. Despite having my bank information for years, they mailed a paper check. I bank with USAA which does not have a physical location, so I had to request some deposit slips from them to mail in this archaic, paper check. Before I could even get the check deposited, I received a letter that I was overpaid $2700 and that interest was already accruing on this balance, so I needed to give it back right away. I called the number for the VA Debt Management office and spoke to the nicest, most helpful VA employee I've ever had contact with. The lady on the phone told me they could start taking the debt from my monthly checks and that it would be paid off by February's check. I asked why this wasn't the default option and she didn't know why. She changed my preference back to direct deposit and that was that. So I thought.

Yesterday I receive 5 letters in the mail from the VA, all stamped 23FEB2010 which each individual letter dated 15JAN2010. One letter tells me I've been denied VA benefits. One says I've been accepted for chapter 1606 benefits. Another says I've been accepted for chapter 1607 benefits. One says my GI Bill is on hold because I've been deployed since 2007. The fifth says that I had a debt of $189 but now it's $0 (which would mean I had $0 owed when I called the VA).

What the fuck, over. Also, still owed $5000 from the National Guard, marching towards 3.5 years on that issue. A part of me deep inside knows that this issue will persist through the deployment, as filling out wills and power of attorney forms takes "priority" over getting paid.

EDIT: I should clarify a bit:

In November 2009 I received half of what I was owed: $5000 in cash less 25% federal taxes. The other $5000 was "given" to me in the form of a DoD form that says that the federal government acknowledges that I "overpaid" $5000 from 2006-2008 and that it is a "certificate to reduce tax liability." These were "emergency" concessions made by one of my state senators and my chain of command. Everyone is 100% convinced that this means I will get an extra $5000 back on my 2009 federal taxes. This is not what it means. Reduction of tax liability is another way to say tax deduction. As I am single, with no house, children, investments nor do I own my own business, I am only eligible for one standard deduction ($5700) and no more. Tax deductions do not stack to infinity and since the $5000 deduction certificate is less than $5700, I would lose money by using it. I have taken it to multiple independent tax preparers and corporate chains (H&R block, etc) and everyone has said the same thing. If I were to use this deduction certificate, I would be taxed on $700 more of 2009's income, meaning my refund would be less and I would lose money.