I bless the rains down in Africa
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How cool is it that I get to go to Tanzania for a month this summer? I’ll tell you. Very Cool. (Side note: Google tells me that “cool” in Swahili is “cool,” which is awesome and also probably wrong, considering the kind of cool I meant. “Awesome” is “kutisha.”)

I’ll explain. In the past couple of years, Cadet Command has seriously expanded a program called the Culture and Language Deployment (CULP). Basically, you say what area of the world you want to go and whether you’d prefer working with a non-profit or checking out another country’s military. And then you get sent there. For free.

Well, you know, it’s almost free. If something is on the army’s dime, it’s going to come with a lot of paperwork, and maybe a little bit of miscommunication thrown in for funsies.

Take for example the fact that I was originally put down for a trip to El Salvador (pretty Kutisha as well) but I would have had to jet off in the middle of my 2nd semester finals. One can dream, of course, but the dean don’t like those kinds of dreams. He’s got a machine that sucks those dreams away. Like a dream dyson.

Anyhow, the cadre thankfully got that sorted out, and so I’m going to be volunteering in Moshi, Tanzania, along with a bunch of other khaki-and-polo-clad cadets from throughout the country.

I’m sure I’m going to write about this later, so for now I’ll just share a few details from some of the pre-deployment tasks we’ve had to do (a bunch of other Princeton kids are doing CULPs as well).

From the convenience of my laptop, I learned about Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE). Some of the information was not surprising. For example, when you hole up to get your evading on, use dirt to cover that oily, ugly face of yours, and use tree branches to break up the distinctly human outline of your person. Of course. Makes sense. If you need to build rapport with your captor, chat with him about football and his family. Sure. Yeah. Absolutely.

Some of the other information was completely new to me. Did you know that you can eat worms raw if you let them soak in potable water for 15 minutes? They purify themselves. MMM, DELICIOUS. Actually I shouldn’t joke. Princeton has a bug-eating club. And you thought we were just nerdy-weird!

It's called protein, and you need it

We also had to take a basic level anti-terrorism course, which I found extremely interesting. Pro tip: if you have to book a hotel room, pick one that does not have a shared bathroom and don’t get one too close to an exit (makes it easy for them to get away!).

Thanks also to this course, I stumbled upon what can only be the DoD’s euphemistic definition of “seduction.” Here goes:

“Operatives may use members of the opposite sex to gain access to facilities and collect information”

So steamy. I can’t take it.

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Black gawk down
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Seven or so pairs of eyes just turned, at once, to look at me.  It’s Tuesday morning, and I am sitting at the table in my military science classroom, my hand cradling a pen for the notes that I never end up taking.

You know, usually when this happens, it is because I have said something incredibly witty and insightful, often both.

Laughter, respect, awe–I see it all in those eyes.  I dare say that sometimes I even see tears, little salty proofs of the powerful emotional response that my comment has elicited in my audience.  (Yes, my classmates might still be a little bleary and bloodshot at oh-dark-thirty in the morning but my explanation makes sense, too)

This time, however, I saw shock.  Confusion.  Outrage, even.  They all looked at me as if the nametape on my chest now read “MARTIAN” instead of “MARTINS.”  I twisted uncomfortably in my boots.

“You’ve never seen ‘Black Hawk Down?””

“What!?!”

“I don’t believe it.”

We were going to watch a clip of the movie, and before the “play” button had even been pressed, I was alone in the middle of a firestorm.

Black Hawk Down

He's mad at me.

They all seemed to have seen it.  I found out that for some of my classmates, “Black Hawk Down” is a favorite film, one they have seen multiple times, can actually quote from, on demand.  They were surprised that I hadn’t seen it before, not just because I am contracted in ROTC but because I grew up in an army family.

And most of them also seemed to think it crucial that I fix this problem as soon as possible.

I blinked, feeling like I should apologize.  But I didn’t understand.  When had cinematic preferences become an indication of preparedness?  Of dedication?  What does having parents in the army have to do with my taste in movies?

I mean, if this film is actually part of the ROTC curriculum, I am obviously missing something.

And it’s not just “Black Hawk Down.”  I can’t say that I have seen very many war movies at all.  I certainly can’t think of any very modern ones, either based on recent conflicts or produced within the last ten years.

Here’s the best list I can come up with.  Let the embarrassment begin:

  1. “Saving Private Ryan,” 1998 (rated “R” but I watched it in 3rd grade, go me!)
  2. “The Longest Day,” 1962
  3. “Stalag 17,” 1953 (very funny dialogue, considering the sad POW storyline)
  4. “The Thin Red Line,” 1998 (meh.  I watched it to get extra credit for my history class in 8th grade)
  5. “Tora! Tora! Tora!,” 1970  (I swear, the Japanese has to be fake…)
  6. “Dr. Strangelove,” 1964 (there is no way this counts, but I love it)

All this list does for me is prove I’m a nerd.  Like really nerdy.  I mean, most of these are like, you know, the classics.  They’re not only old, but I watched them ages ago, so I have trouble remembering their details.  And even if I could, they simply do not depict a modern army with current issues.

Getting over the immediate insecurity I feel about admitting my lack of experience with war movies, I am trying to come to grips with what this means.

For one thing, I am not naturally drawn to these kinds of films.  I don’t for a second think that this indicates I am somehow less invested or passionate about being in the army.  No, it indicates that I simply prefer to spend my time and money differently.  As a side note, I would say action movies in general, not just war movies, are usually not my cups of tea.  Go ahead and call it a girl thing, but don’t call it a bad thing.

This is not to say I don’t think war movies are important.  There is a reason that helmets and fighter planes have graced the screen since the invention of motion picture; certainly the themes of war are universal, not to mention unavoidably heart-wrenching and complex.

But there is more.  The modern war movie is educational, in a way that I don’t think war movies have ever been before.  It seems to me that a whole generation of young soldiers has grown up watching them and in turn has used them to form ideas about the military.

For them, this information provides both a level of detail (seeing certain equipment in action, for example–something I think video games have also supplemented) and a more broad scope.  Perhaps watching these movies, often based on true stories and depicting great heroism, actually inspired them, at least a little, in their decision to join up.

I am not sure what the broader implications of this may be.  But I realize now that there really is a whole cache of shared knowledge and vocabulary that I do not have access to right now because I have not seen these films.  Certainly the soldiers I hope to lead as a Lieutenant will have seen them, will have opinions about them, will be influenced by them.

So I have decided that while I have time in the summer, I will do a little studying and catch up.  Don’t laugh; it could get tough, having to sit there on the couch watching movies.  Real hard work, you know.

I’m thinking:

  1. “Black Hawk Down,” naturally
  2. “The Hurt Locker”
  3. “Stop-Loss”
  4. “Jarhead”
  5. “Behind Enemy Lines”
  6. “Green Zone”
  7. “Restrepo” (Documentary, so not the same, but looks interesting)

Anything I should add?  Let me know.

I’d better head over to Blockbuster, I might be able to prevent it from going out of business.