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the Health & Welfare Inspection

Wow, this one really pissed me off. I had to jot it down for you. Don't remember if I mentioned this, but I've many topics yet to write, so if you'll indulge me, I'll keep sending you my thoughts/experiences on the deployment. Here are a few more:

Health & Welfare

There are few things more personally violating and annoying than a Health & Welfare inspection. Here’s the background – way back in the day (probably the War of 1812) a Health & Welfare was intended to ensure lower enlisted Soldiers living in the barracks kept their area in a clean state of readiness. You see, Soldiers can be slobs – and it’s not unusual to find piles of dirty clothes, overflowing trash cans, food residue and used dishes in Soldiers’ quarters. Naturally all that filth attracts bugs and vermin – or what the Army calls disease vectors. It makes sense to ensure quarters are not in a putrid state of unhealthy disorder, so the Health & Welfare inspection is used – usually by the senior leadership.

I think the current regime of the H&W evolved as a result of the Vietnam era. Early in my career I met Soldiers who had served in the Army during the Vietnam war. Some had tales of rampant drug and alcohol abuse by many Soldiers of that time. I bet our thorough H&W inspection dates to that behavior. Nowadays a Health & Welfare consists not only of looking at the obvious state of cleanliness of a Soldier’s living space, it also encompasses going through all of his possessions in the pursuit of contraband. Nothing is sacred. This hit home after Christmas, I think. We had a Health & Welfare mandated by Battalion – remember, we are led by a micromanaging control freak.

Company Commanders (our battalion consists of 4 companies) were instructed to conduct a Health & Welfare inspection of their Soldiers’ living conditions soon after Xmas. Good timing, because if a friend/spouse/etc had sent a Soldier booze, porn or other “illegal” substances it probably would’ve arrived in the onslaught of packages which preceded the holidays. A post holiday H&W inspection would and did nail the offenders. But there are ways around getting caught.

Once the first person is inspected, word gets out. Sometimes we get advance warning and Soldiers go to great lengths to hide their stashes. Although someone told me in advance of what was coming, I had nothing to hide so I didn’t care when the inspection took place – the element of surprise meant nothing to me. One morning the Cdr and First Sergeant called me to their office and marched me to my room where I unlocked everything and stood aside for them to rifle through my stuff. One started on the bags of military equipment I had stored under my bed while the other went through my wall locker.

I could tell they were enjoying this – which was a bit annoying. I mean, come on guys. I’m an adult, have worked with you for how many years back in the states, 5? How about some professional courtesy, officer to officer, ask me where my stuff is, if any – I respond, and you accept my answer? Nothing doing. I did have one bottle of Stolichnaya vodka used as an incentive for the locals I meet. It was unopened and as soon as I opened my wall locker I showed it to them and the receipt saying it came from our HQ in BARF. Their faces lit up, suggesting either they intended to confiscate it – that didn’t happen, or they had caught me with contraband – I had none. They took out their disappointment on the remainder of my things.

The Cdr found bottles of shampoo, mouthwash, liquid soap, etc which he opened up and sniffed. Yes, an ingenious location for alcohol, but I had none. They went through my junk box and discovered old medication from the previous room occupant that even I didn’t know was there. Confiscated! Big deal, I don’t want someone else’s stuff. Then they found my bag of condoms and both smiled greedily. Well folks, I was a Boy Scout for a short while and if I learned anything it was “Be prepared!” Although I had a bag full of rubbers, I’ve not had to use one in Afghanistan. There’s no cause to use them. Trust me, I wish I had used every one of them and had more shipped to me from the states, but alas, no such luck. They left me with my skins, almost adding insult to injury.

So, with the Health & Welfare over, my room in disarray with stuff spread everywhere I began to organize the chaos. I thought, why is this even necessary? Who cares if someone has a bottle of booze or porn or whatever, if he’s doing his job and doesn’t get in trouble otherwise? Why must every aspect of a Soldier’s life be up for inspection? Why – because that’s the way it is. But that’s not the way it is everywhere.

Friends who are team leaders at other locations had to conduct their own Health & Welfare inspections, which of course “they did.” Those team leaders “inspected” their Soldiers’ quarters and miraculously found no “contraband.” Imagine, only Soldiers unfortunate enough to be co-located with their command staff or don’t get advance warning turn out to be delinquents. Others could have a nip of booze every night – or even brew beer and be considered model Soldiers. What an absurd disconnect.

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