Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Mall of America and the SRP

I just returned from my SRP (Soldier Readiness Processing). It was conducted at Ft Snelling, MN, which is in the Minneapolis area. I flew in on Monday 9/11, and they put me up at a Ramada Inn near the airport. I arrived and got settled well before noon. Right across from the hotel was the Mall of America. It was only about a two block walk over there, and since I didn't have anything to do until Tuesday morning, I walked over and spent the afternoon at the mall.

The Mall of America is a large indoor mall that was constructed with much hoopla in the early 1990's. I think it was supposed to be the largest indoor mall in the world. It's certainly large, and has quite a variety of stores. It is three stories in height, and consists of four "markets" (North, South, East, and West) arrayed around a central square which is open from floor to ceiling and contains an amusement park with various rides. I don't know exactly what I expected, but it didn't really seem all that huge. Perhaps I had envisioned more open space. The surrounding "markets" were really exactly like any other mall, just that there were more stores. They lined both sides of a walkway on each floor, in a square around the middle. The open area in the middle with the amusement park was interesting but geared for small children. I walked through it once, just to get to a restaurant on the other side, but didn't feel that it held much attraction for me as an adult. So on balance, since I spent most of my time walking around the stores, it felt just about like any other mall.

But it *was* pretty big - one lady at mall information told me that it's about a mile around. Since I walked all around each floor once, and twice around one of them, plus there and back, I think I walked between four and five miles that afternoon. I had done PT in the morning but not gone for my walk, so this made up for it!

I wasn't shopping for anything in particular, although I did stop into the Apple store and talk to them about power supplies. I learned that I don't need a transformer for my iPod - just an adapter. Same for my computer, as I learned the other day. So if my battery charger will work on 220V, I can ditch the transformer entirely - everything else I have works on AA batteries.

The variety of stores was impressive. I enjoyed simply walking around, looking at all the stores and just sort of taking it in. It was hard to avoid the "I won't be seeing anything like this for awhile" mindset. But I suppose it's true. It may be due to my unusual frame of mind, but it seemed appropriate somehow to be in the "Mall of America" as I prepared to begin my mobilization processing.

The SRP was about what I expected. I went over there with one other soldier, a sergeant that I met at breakfast. He was from the Upper Peninsula, and was being deployed for the second time. He had hoped to be an MP when he enlisted, but they made him a truck driver instead. He gave me some helpful hints about things to take and what to expect when I get there. I ask everyone I meet who's already been there for tips and suggestions about what they would take if they went again.

Interestingly, he had done the same thing I almost did - he had both of his personal duffel bags, fully packed. So I guess it wasn't only my unit that didn't understand the SRP. You'd think they'd have this process down to a science by now, at least to the point where a person mobilized would know he didn't have to drag all his stuff along on the first trip.

Actually, it was pretty organized, and they took good care of us. I had a form (DA Form 7425) that had roughly 50-60 lines that needed to be checked off, and they walked us through the various staff sections going over our records. Personnel information, emergency contacts, insurance, will, dependent ID's, etc. were all checked, updated and verified. I got a good idea in finance what to expect in the way of pay, and it's a pretty good deal. Not only is the military paying pretty well these days, but in a combat zone the pay is tax free. That's like receiving a giant pay raise in and of itself.

I read an article the other day about tax strategies for retirement, and comparing Roth IRA's with conventional IRA's. With a conventional IRA, your contributions are tax-free and grow tax-free, but you are taxed at your current rate upon withdrawal. With a Roth IRA, your contributions are taxed at your current tax rate but grow tax free and are tax free at withdrawal. Once I saw the numbers, I decided to immediately open a Roth IRA and contribute the maximum amount while over there. Since my tax rate while contributing will be zero, it will be a completely tax-free retirement plan. That's hard to argue with!

There's also a special savings plan for soldiers that you can only start once you get over there. It guarantees a 10% return, so that's hard to argue with, too. So If possible I'll do both.

My medical records were a pretty quick exercise, since there basically aren't any, just my physical from the reappointment process. I'll have to get a filling or two once I get to Ft. Benning, but I already knew that. The medical guy was pretty impressed that I still had my original shot record, and that it was still in its original plastic case. Not that it did me any good - the only one still current is polio, and all the rest will have to be redone. So I'll have to get a bunch of shots. Maybe I'll get to run the gauntlet again, just like basic training, where they lined us up like cattle and hit us with multiple pneumatic injections in both arms simultaneously as we walked between two lines of medical personnel. That made pushups painful for a couple of days!

Somehow I doubt it, though. Going through this process as an individual is much different than doing it as a unit. We got a lot of personal attention and people went out of their way to help us. I saw the schedule, and they had 1-2 people scheduled to come through every day this week. They do get surges when entire units come through, and then they do the cattle-call style processing. But this was not bad.

The very last person to process me was a crusty old Chief Warrant Officer from Ottumwa, Iowa. His job was quality control. He found a couple of things wrong with my paperwork and I had to go around and get them fixed . The funny thing about this whole process is that they do it all over again once I get to my mobe station. So this was a pre-check, and everything will be checked all over again down there. At one level you could look at it as a wasted trip, since they could just check it all at once and be done with it. But they must have figured out that it's cheaper or more efficient to do it this way. The Army would *never* do anything redundant or unnecessary.... (!)

They cut my orders transferring me from 8th Army to 3rd Army, effective today. So now I'm in Patton's old outfit! They got me out of there by about 3:00, and I was at the airport by 3:30. I managed to get on an earlier flight so I left an hour earlier than I was expecting.

This was the first time I'd flown in uniform since getting back into the Army this year. I was a bit self-conscious at first, but not for long. There are enough people traveling in uniform now that it's a pretty common sight in the airport and I don't think I really stood out too much.

So - the SRP is done, and I'm deployable. Now I have a long list of to-do's over the next couple of weeks, as I get ready to head for Ft. McPherson for the real deal.

Mood: Tired
Music: Silence


At 23:08, Anonymous Gelita said...

OK, you made me feel better about not making it to Mall of America!


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