; Cwyn's Death By Tea: Parched, de-CoN-ed and w/o Tea ;

Friday, July 24, 2015

Parched, de-CoN-ed and w/o Tea

Summer hasn't really been hot enough for me, so to change things up I spent this week at the local air field doing mass disaster training with the National Guards, Air Force and emergency medical units. The call for help promised to include opportunities for GIs to carry me to a safe location, cut off my clothes and hose me down. How could I possibly resist all this? After all, it beats what I've been doing lately at the truck stop for my tea budget, and if I truly must confess, lately the tea world leaves me so parched, what with all that Zen meditation, hushed reverence and vanilla roiboos, I swear to god some days enough with the bamboo, boots on the ground are what I need. And I'm going to get up at 3 a.m. to find them.

Volk Field

Approximately 99 people answer the call to duty +1 who leaves her teacakes behind. After a long security clearance and waiting in line for chemical burn make-up, I am handed my "acting" instruction card for the day. Reads too good to be true.

Early a.m. check-in
At the Scene

You are screaming in pain, hysterical. Hot and shallow breathing.

At the Hospital

Conscious, semi-conscious, fading in and out. Rapid, shallow breaths and fainting. Thirsty.

Actually, the Hospital description sounds like me most of the time. I keep a fainting couch and hoard tea for just these reasons. Our own event commander tells us the general scenario.

Distance capture of the rubble staging area, Volk Field.
"You are going to a rubble pile where a train de-railed onto a building which fell over onto a stadium full of people leaving chemical burns on everyone left alive. The soldiers will lead you out of the disaster area to a hospital where you will have your clothes cut off, and you will be showered down. When you are finished, get in line and do it again."

Blood and dirt effects.
So off we went to sit on a massive pile of broken concrete, pipes and twisted metal. Eventually the GIs arrive in hasmat suits yelling to get us up off the pile. The "fading in and out" bit easily gets me a soldier or two to help me to the hospital. I make sure a cute GI is nearby when I get to the fainting part, so that I have someone's arms to fall into with a swoon.

"I'm so very thirsty, I need tea," I moan with some realism. Really, Method Acting is so easy to do when you have a huge store of Reality banked up to draw from.

"We'll help you ma'am, just hang in there ma'am," as they haul me up on a gurney, stripped off my clothes and rolled me into a warm shower.

These dummies are not so lucky. But they don't require tea.
A gurney is momentarily restful, but honestly at my age I'm not supposed to get off one of those things on my own and nowadays they are a bit too tall for a lady of an older generation. So I revise my fainting routine and restrict it to just before the shower to try and get my clothes cut off me and help with the shower as often as possible. Because you try and act like you're feeling too well, the soldiers will try and skip all that, even though we were promised at least the stripping part. 

Can't tell what he's supposed to be doing.
The only real downside to the first day is the porta-potties didn't arrive at our base camp until close to the end of the day. This meant walking a quarter mile to the closest location. I gave up on that in favor of peeing in the woods and complain loudly on behalf of the other older people in the group who are less adventurous in the bush, though I will go on to pay in wood ticks and chiggers no doubt. Complaining seems to work and the military vets in charge of handling us start to remember me as the porta-potty lady, which isn't that far off from my filthy tea blog anyway. So we continue with the shower scenarios meant to remove decontamination in the case of a mass disaster, soaking ourselves for hours and keeping hydrated with water and salt snacks.

Old cargo plane.
Early the next morning, we are informed that the military generals and local politicians are doing an inspection and visit of the entire DeCon operation along with the news media. So that means I need to be on my best fainting behavior for the camera. And the showers last two minutes instead of just one and we get a lot more water, a welcome respite from the high heat and humidity outside. With my medications and the intense heat and no tea, I actually stop peeing and swell up instead. On the first day, I dealt with that using a bit of Hekai gushu steeped at home and brought in a steel water bottle, but on day two I can't be bothered to make the tea ahead. I'm lucky to make it out of bed at 3 a.m. But we get plenty of water, soda and gatorade, and the Salvation Army and Red Cross also have beverages to hand out. So lo and behold, I drink no tea during the day for the next two whole days and rely instead on the rehydration beverages.

Heat and shade on the tarmac. De-con showers ahead.
Day 3 got tougher still, when the exercises move from continuous de-Con to a new search and rescue scenario, and when the rations reduced to just water. Here we try and keep in the shade underneath the wings of an old cargo plane on the tarmac while the showers sit unused just a few feet away.

Overheated people awaiting the staging ground in the distance.
We get water but no re-hydration fluids during the exercises, but I am grateful for the Salvation Army disaster response trucks and volunteers who give me Gatorade for real when I beg. Today our job is to hide in a staging area that eerily reminds me of the Koresh Compound of the Branch Davidians.

Top: staging at Volk Field. Bottom: Branch Davidian comp., Waco, TX 
For those too young to remember, the Branch Davidians were a cult in Waco, Texas waiting for the end of days and having children with the cult leader. They held a stand-off with the FBI for 53 days in 1993, resulting in an invasion and getting burnt to the ground which killed most of the cult members, including women and children along with the cult leader. I recall the story to my son when I get home, as he was only two at the time and has no memory of how that all went down on the news media. In fact, I'm convinced that the "positive engagement" techniques used now by the National Guard in today's exercises seem at least somewhat a development over time based on disasters like the Branch Davidians, an intervention with cultists gone bad.

Air National Guard 
The National Guard is a volunteer home guard militia of each state whose purpose to rescue and assist people of the state, and protect from a hostile invasion. They work on natural disasters and anything stateside, very often helping other states during wildfires or hurricanes, and in peace-keeping duties. Lately, however, many units have been deployed overseas in foreign wars, something that most guard members didn't sign on for, but the guard can be called up even though they are separate from the Regular army. Unlike the career military, guard members are mostly professionals working civilian jobs but serve on-call duty, and train a weekend a month and for several weeks in the summer. I've had many guard members and regular army pros in my family over the years, and I might have followed suit but chose clergy/religious which is the other traditional path in my family.

Hiding in the bunkers.
Today I get a mix of both hiding from the Guard in the metal buildings and bunkers. We are supposed to act hostile or non-cooperative, which over the past few days many guard officers assured us is more typical of disaster situations. They see much more resistance and paranoia doing rescue work and disaster aid than people willing to get help. Our job is to hide and Guard units rotated in to take turns finding the hidden civilians. Half our group hides in the forest, and half in the bunker grounds.

On our last drill, when the heat of the day is at its height, a group of us barricades into a bunker with wood barricades. I find a broomstick to go with my hat to play the old lady who expects the soldiers to be scared. 

Oddly enough, nobody searches our building, even though we are in one of the first and most accessible buildings. I find a chair and hide behind an open door. Several other civilians outside do a good job distracting the soldiers which allowed others to remain unseen.

After an hour in that sweltering building, I am about to die of heat stroke. At this point I'm done with the idea of getting carried out. Walking quickly to get to the water and subsequent ice bath is more on my mind. Finally a group of three soldiers plus the unit Commander searches the building.

The Commander is forced and determined to get his lame-ass recruits through the exercise. He sees me behind the door while the soldiers are getting out the three other people in the building.

"Is the building clear?" he asks.

"It's clear, sir."

"I am assured there one more person in the building!"

Still nobody saw the old lady in a chair and straw hat behind the door.

Finally the Commander grabs a recruit who looks younger than my son, and bodily turns him around, and then shoving him at me. I wave my broken broomstick weakly.

"I'm thirsty..." So much for religious resistance, a bit too much hardship and I break down for tea. People can be glad I'm not the one defending the country.

But even though these days have been too much for me physically at this point in my life, I have to admit I loved it. Listening to the stories of the veterans who also signed on, I recall my own history of crisis work in mental health street clinics, homeless shelters and schools from Harlem to New Mexico, and a stint in disaster counseling with the Red Cross after 9/11. I realize how much of an endorphin rush that crisis work was for me. And the extent to which I probably am looking for the same thing from tea. All the jokes I make about myself as a tea drunk are a new point to consider, as I begin to understand the experiences of some soldiers returning from wars who turn to alcohol or drugs. Even though my drug of choice is tea, maybe I haven't escaped so well from my career in human services. The tea I planned to get with the pay takes on a new perspective, and the tiny thought enters my brain that maybe I don't need so much tea after all.

For a half a minute anyway. Or, at least until I see my fermentation crocks. I still need a hobby.

Requiescat in Pace


  1. What a fascinating event! Thank you for recording it, it looks an equal part hellish and fun, like LARP with an actual purpose.

    1. Yeah it was pretty tough, the last day was so hot my ankles swelled wider than my feet. But I met some awesome people!

  2. I admire your community engagement! This was a great read and I look forward to following your adventures.

    1. Thanks for reading, and for leaving a note! :)