Alexandra's Notebook

Living the 24/7 Life

Even though I had a vague understanding that I might be asked to work at any and all hours of the day and night, as a service member, it wasn’t really till I was posted to Germany on my first overseas assignment that it hit home exactly what that truly meant. Being in the military is a 24/7 commitment come rain or shine. There are no lie-ins, not taking a sick day because, no skiving off because you’re playing hooky with a buddy.

When the shit hits the fan you better be dressed and stood in front of it, ready for anything.

My first serious wake-up call happened not a month in after arriving on base. I was totally unprepared for the reality. Even though I had already been issued with my NBC (nuclear, biological & chemical warfare) gear 5 minutes after my first work shift, it hadn’t quite sunk in that here, on this frontline base, Exercises (yes, capital E) were done on a micro level (your immediate team), mini level (your whole section, which, in my case, was air traffic control & operations) and the dreaded TacEval (Tactical Evaluation), which was station wide and brutal on Newbies.

Guess who was woken at 2 am on my supposed day off for her first major Tactical Evaluation?

Yes, me … along with several thousand other personnel on camp. Sirens blare waking up not only us, but everyone three villages over. The tannoy announces we’re at war, and we’re all instructed to don our gear (in nine minutes of less please, we don’t want you to die from gas/chemical exposure) and report to our place of work immediately.

No wash your face or take a leisurely shower, no breakfast, you barely have time to take a pee. As every last person is timed getting into work down to the second. There are monitors everywhere, stop-watches in hand, jotting stuff down on clipboards. As if the sirens waking you were not terrifying enough.

Hell settles in pretty quickly when you realise you can’t breath, the mask you are wearing is fogging up and you’re trying to ride your issue bike 2 miles across camp at the same time as several thousand other people. It’s organised chaos. You can spot the Newbies instantly. Like me. Clumsily trying to avoid crashing into everything.

But there is worst to come. By the time your logged in at your place of work realising you’re last to arrive, you then have to quell your rising panic as you are briefed the Russians have invaded and, for the next 2 hours aid in the take off of four full squadrons of fighter jets on sorties to repel the Orange Force invaders.

Six solid hours of sheer terror later, usually somewhere around 8 am, the cookhouse delivers breakfast. And, if you’re lucky, by this time, masks off, you get to eat a slightly cold bacon and egg sandwich washed down by a large mug of bitter strong tea.

If you are unlucky, as I was this first time outing for me, the tannoy announces a gas attack from the enemy and you have sit, mask on, watching your breakfast congeal into a cold lump of stone, while clipboard carrying monitors stop by to spray you with bug repellent to check the seal and filter on your mask!

Yes, really.

There is, of course, so much more I could write about this, rest assured I’ll come back to the topic in a later post. For now, know this much, I learnt pretty quickly how to be in the right place at the right time for future evals.