Goodreads Reading Challenge 2018

So it was always a goal of mine to turn this blog into not just an historic recounting of my memorable times at BCT and OCS, but also an outlet for, well, whatever the heck I want to write about. Before I ever left for basic, I had the idea to create another separate blog for my Goodreads challenge and book reviews. Well, to absolutely no one’s surprise–I ended up creating that blog, and currently I have no idea what it was called or how I logged into it. RIP baby blog that never even got it’s first book related posting.

Thus, a new pet project here. In the end, it’s probably for the best anyway, since I’m looking forward to sharing  some fresh #content out of the realm of everything Army.

As background, I’ve always been a reader of sorts. I’m pretty sure I started reading at like five years old because I have distinct memories of being a special student that was pulled aside by my kindergarten teachers and allowed to bring secret books home to read because the rest of the peasant children in my class just were not on my level. I grew into the great comedian I am today because I was sculpted by the likes of Captain Underpants and Junie B. Jones (embarrassingly, I used to walk around in my ONE pair of block heels and read Junie B. Jones books to myself, acting out each part in different voices to no one).

Two years ago, as my parents struggled to think of adequate Christmas present ideas for me, I gave them the suggestion of a subscription to Book of the Month club. It was a company I had sort of happened upon, and unsure of what the quality of books was going to be or if they were even going to be any good, my parents obliged with a lengthy 3-month subscription. (Note: for those that are curious, BOTM is one of the best things I’ve ever willingly spent money on. At the beginning of every month, you have the option to use one of your monthly credits on one out of five book selections their judges choose, or if nothing speaks to you that month, you can skip the month and end up carrying your credits over. With that being said, it’s obvious some months are going to be better than others, but in general, the quality of the books [both physically and content-wise] are very good, and they do their best to have a wide selection of topics to try to cater to everyone. In the grand total of like 15 months I’ve had BOTM, there was only one book I started and didn’t finish, and that was because I chose the book to try to read something out of my normal taste. If you generally choose a book that you think you’ll like–you probably will! Not only that but it seems like almost every month they have a selection from a debut author or a book that’s not available in wide release yet, so you really are getting up and coming books that typically end up being highly rated on Goodreads).

SPEAKING OF GOODREADS (great segue), I downloaded the Goodreads app about the same time I started BOTM club. While, at its core, it’s a handy app to track books that you’ve already read and/or books that you eventually want to read, its rating system seems pretty solid. In general, books rated high 3 through above 4 stars are worth reading, low 3 to mid 3 stars can be hit or miss, and anything below 3 is probably not worth wasting your time on reading. Especially for niches that I am really interested in (war autobiographies, selections from specific authors like Steven King and Chuck Palahniuk), I get a really good gauge on what books I should pick up and what to skip over.

very briefly mentioned my reading goals last year in my Before Boot Camp Bucket List post that my goal was to read eight more books before leaving for basic to bring my total book count up to 30. My original Goodreads challenge goal in 2017 was 75, I believe, which would have been feasible had I not wasted spent the months of August through December with virtually no free time to partake in comfort reading. This year, with the understanding that I still have 19 weeks of BOLC (Basic Officer Leadership Course for those wondering) to complete, and not quite knowing what my year was going to look like with free time, I decided to set my Goodreads goal at 40 books. So far in 2018, I have finished 8. They are:

  1. Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
  2. It, Stephen King
  3. One of Us Is Lying, Karen M. McManus
  4. I Wrote This For You, pleasefindthis (Iain S. Thomas)
  5. Not That I Could Tell, Jessica Strawser (March BOTM selection)
  6. I Didn’t Come Here to Make Friends, Courtney Robertson
  7. The Call, Peadar O Guilin
  8. Our Kind of Cruelty, Araminta Hall (April BOTM selection)

I’m looking forward to doing a book review post on my last read, Our Kind of Cruelty, because in a rare instance, I actually feel like its ratings on Goodreads are a bit unjustified and it deserves higher. But, my rave reviews will be saved for a later date.

So, for y’all that came here strictly for military content, you’ll have to sift through the mundane posts about life. And for those that will humor me and love on my book reviews and other meaningless agendas, bless your hearts.

 

BCT Day 0: Departure Day

Wow. It’s been much too long and I need to get back into the blog game now that BCT and OCS are in the rearview mirror! I’m not going to lie–I’ve been putting off writing anything regarding my training because trying to remember everything comes out as bits and pieces of memory remnants, but the longer I put it off the worse my memories get. Luckily, at least during basic, I brought a composition notebook with me to basic and wrote as much down about each day as I could (between letters), so that helps.

This post is going to focus on the very first day of travel from my home RSP station in Bloomington, Minnesota to Fort Leonard Wood. To say it was a whirlwind of a day would be an understatement. At 0830 everyone leaving for their BCT destinations that was a part of Bloomington RSP met at the armory. We met with the civilian employee in charge of in- and out-processing from RSP who gave us a manila envelope containing all the paperwork we would need at and to get to BCT–our treatment folders from MEPS, plane ticket paperwork, and instructions on where to go once we arrived at our destination. From what I recall, there were two or three others there that were going to BCT, but none of them going to Leonard Wood. We left for MSP airport around 0930 in a cargo van driven by one of the RSP cadre.

What did I bring with me, you ask? That is a great question. Because I don’t remember. I know I brought everything in my NG backpack. I brought my notebook, a cheap book I bought at Target (at that point I wasn’t sure if I was going to have to throw it away as you’re not supposed to have ‘reading materials’ at basic), toiletries to last me the week or so at reception, and the clothes on my back.* Apparently parents/family members were allowed to sit and wait with us until we left for the airport, but I said goodbye to my family before I ever went into the armory. Even at 26, I suck at saying goodbyes, so I made it as short and to the point as I could.

Once we got to the airport and after getting our boarding passes, we were taken to the USO to wait until our flights left. My flight didn’t leave until around 1400, and at the USO I met a few others from Minnesota that were on their way to Leonard Wood (surprisingly, all of us weren’t even on the same flight). We boarded the plane at about 1420 and my trusty notebook tells me the flight was an uneventful 1 1/2 hours. We got to the St. Louis airport at 1630 and our instructions said to go to the airport USO. Now, us being the ripe Privates (ahem, Specialist) that we were, we did not check in with the USO before we went to a legit restaurant to get food. Somehow, we determined the next bus for Leonard Wood departed in 15-20 minutes, had to re-order our food to-go, and hop on the next bus out of town. The bus left at about 1730. We rode on a coach bus and were segregated by sex. There were about eight females that sat in front and an entire bus-full of males behind us. It was about a 2 1/2 hour bus ride from St. Louis to Leonard Wood, and we were free to use our phones as we wanted.

We finally arrived at Fort Leonard Wood around 2000. Let me tell you–I was shaking like a leaf as we got off the bus! For being so old I was sure not any more courageous. We were driven to the reception battalion and found out we were fortunate enough to be the first group of the night to arrive. We were told to get off the bus and form up into separate male and female ranks. We were led into the reception hall and for the next few hours, basically performed administrative tasks to hand in our paperwork, cell phones, and go over what we could and could not bring with us into the barracks. Per my notes (I don’t remember this), there was more/more aggressive yelling than I was prepared for. I do know I was told leading up to basic that the DS’s in reception are pretty lax, and I just recall being a bit surprised by their demeanor. I think I was also just naturally on edge most of the night (I walked into the reception hall literally shaking), so didn’t appreciate the fact that most of their yelling came when people were just in general not following instructions and/or being the 18 year old morons they were. Hint: if you don’t want to be screamed at, don’t be an idiot!

We were assigned to Bravo 1 Company, which would be our designation throughout the entirety of reception. It ends up that everyone assigned to Bravo 1 would be in the same Company once we actually shipped out to basic training. Each individual was also assigned a line number, which was determined literally only by how we formed up outside after getting off the bus. Typically whenever we were in any type of formation in reception, whether going to and from the barracks, lining up for uniform handout, etc., we would form up in line number order. It ended up being a blessing that there were only about 20 females in Bravo 1 because determining our line number order was super easy. We were issued a fair amount of stuff our first night, like our Blue Books, PT uniforms, Camelbak, laundry bags, linens, and wall locker locks. The non-personal items would be turned back in as we left reception and would be reissued at our basic training company.

At about 2200 we were led to our sleeping barracks. Like I previously said, we were lucky enough to be the first group to arrive that night and were shown into an empty bay. We were able to wash up, brush our teeth, and went straight to bed. It was a pretty sleepless night as more groups filtered in throughout the night at intervals of 2-3 hours and turning the light on to unpack their belongings and get to sleep. The last group (bless their hearts) arrived at like 0330 when we had to be up at 0345.

*Female note: I brought Hanes undies that covered your entire ass (like the ones worn to MEPS). I had heard that you’re only supposed to bring white, but didn’t have a problem bringing solid colored ones. I also brought my birth control prescription!! If you’re like me and wanted to stay on your prescription, it’s not that big of a hassle. All the extra work it required was telling the DS’s at reception that you’re on birth control, and they sent me to the hospital with an ‘escort’ (aka a holdover from a previous company), to get my new birth control prescribed. It took a few hours because I was competing with all the band-aids that were in BCT at sick call, but it was worth it for me.*

Obviously I don’t have everything written down in my notebook from every day, and random stories pop into my head that, usually, were terrifying at the time but I’ve learned to laugh at since. In each blog post, I’ve decided to share a random story from basic as well as any tips and tricks I can think of to make your time a success. I’m not going to lie, as foreign as the military world was to me before going to BCT and OCS, I actually did very well in both of them and hope I can help others be da best they can be, too! Without further ado, here’s your:

Legends from Leonard Wood, Installation I:
It was a place where children had forlorn looks on their faces and always had their eyes averted to their feet. It was the place where dreams died and hopes disappeared, never to be heard from again. It was the place we had only heard horror stories of and never dared to enter: it was…the reception DFAC.

In all seriousness, the DFAC was, without a doubt, the worst place to be from day 1 of reception through the last day of basic training. Surprisingly, reception DS’s were at their worst in the DFAC, where they could maneuver about the poor, lost souls of Bravo Company, just trying to figure out what table and what seat was supposed to be taken next. Stop yelling at me, Drill Sergeant! I’m just trying to eat my powdered eggs!

One rule DS’s tried to hit home throughout reception and BCT was fraternization. With how angry higher ups got about fraternization throughout training, I thought it was going to be a much bigger problem than it actually was. Well, to put the fraternizing fear of God into me ASAP, I got the $h!t screamed out of me in reception. I pride myself on not having been yelled at a whole lot at basic (aside from evil DS Medusa, but that’s a story for a different day), but I sure screwed the pooch on day 1.

Our dear Private Pendley, who will be a signature individual in weeks to come, showed up to breakfast with a black PT shirt on under his uniform. Why do you ask? Well, to give you the short answer, because it was Pendley. Quite literally, while eating my powdered eggs in peace, the guy next to me (to this day I don’t even remember who it was), casually leaned over and smugly commented how Pendley was about to get his ass chewed for being an idiot. What did I do to get screamed at? I looked at the dude next to me and smirked. I’m from Minnesota. I’m a generally nice person. I felt the need to acknowledge that yes, in fact, Pendley was about to get his ass chewed for being an idiot.

Well let me tell you, that minuscule one second moment earned me a REAMING from the nearest DS. He hunched over the end of our table, and pointed at me, singling me out. He started on a tirade about fraternizing and the level of offense he took from it. I was so taken aback that I didn’t even realize he was singling out ME until about the third time he asked me if I was listening to him. Oh shit, Drill Sergeant, yes I’m listening: I see you and I hear you when you tell me to, from this point forward, never give 18 year old high schoolers the time of day. ROGER, SARN’T.

That anecdote leads me to your:

Basic Training Tips n Tricks:
Never give 18 year old high schoolers the time of day. Don’t look at them, don’t talk to them, and God forbid you smile at them. For everyone’s benefit, including your own, make like the Minnesota Wild during playoffs and disappear. (AYYY!)

MEPS Part II: Medical

So the big juicy part of the enlistment procedure that apparently most people salivate and/or have massive anxiety attacks over: the physical at MEPS.

I’m here to set the record straight–it’s nothing to be afraid of!

They don’t lie when they tell you the wakeup call at the hotel is early…I believe it was around 0430. I don’t remember exact details but I’m fairly certain we were to have all our things packed and be downstairs by about 0500. We were able to have breakfast and were scheduled to leave at I believe 0530. We took the same bus ride back to MEPS, went through the airport type security again with a MEPS type of liaison (that morning security took longer as all the recruits arrived at the same time and civilians were starting their workday so we were trying not to hold them up as well).

Once we arrived at the MEPS floor, we lined up and checked in at the front desk and sent over to a set of double doors leading to the area of the floor where the physical assessment components took place. We again checked in at the front desk of the medical area where we were given our file folders containing papers to be filled out by the medical professionals on the floor as we completed each physical component. Throughout the morning they mostly seemed to send recruits wherever they had things that had yet to be completed, but in some semblance of order, meaning: generally we performed our medical screenings in the same order. I was lucky because I was the second person that checked in at the medical front desk second so I was able to complete most of my screenings first and didn’t have to wait long at many stations.

The first station was the visual exam which consisted of a test to assess colorblindness (reading off a series of colored numbers on various colored backgrounds–super simple), and two vision tests with and without glasses, as needed. I believe both were varied versions of  the Snellen eye chart test where you attempt to read the smallest line as possible. The entire vision assessment took like 3 minutes total.

I then went to the auditory assessment across the floor where I had to wait until five others had completed their vision assessments, as we completed the auditory test in groups of six. We were led into a box with six stools facing the outer perimeter and were told to put on headphones and pick up our joystick type button. The goal is to click the button every time you heard a beep in either earphone. The beeps range in tone and get gradually louder. I’m not sure what my final ‘score’ was on this test but it seemed to me that there was a pattern that I may or may not have picked up on which tended to make me more apt to click the button on softer tones, but I guess that was a risk I was willing to take.

Upon finishing the hearing exam, we all met in a conference room where a military liaison gave us a brief Powerpoint lecture on the MEPS physical process, what to expect, and, of course, what happens if you’re caught lying at MEPS about a physical condition you may have. We filled out the massive medical condition form that recruits have previously filled out with their recruiters, checking any and all boxes that apply to any current or previous medical conditions/surgeries/medications/etc. We filled out some other various paperwork that honestly I don’t remember what it was. Finally, we all took a breathalyzer test to finish.

From there, we all were more dispersed through our evaluations and went where there were medical professionals available. I first went to, what I would consider, a pre-physical physical where I met with the doctor who went over the massive checklist of pre-existing conditions to make sure everything was kosher and then did a very brief ENT physical. Nothing scary at all, and our physician was very kind and straightforward–no tricks or traps.

From there, I then completed my blood draw, blood pressure and pulse readings, and urinalysis. I’m gonna be real–I have a shy bladder. I have a hard time peeing in a bathroom with other people in general, let alone with the door open. I didn’t even pee at all that morning after waking up because I knew I was going to have to do the urinalysis test. Well….I was told not to get someone to take me to the bathroom until I felt like I was going to pee my pants which took a good chunk of the morning. Even once we got into the bathroom it took me a solid 20 minutes to go. I have little to no advice other than don’t fret–you’re going to have to do it one way or another. The real upside here is that this was just the first of the many times I’m going to have to take to pee in a cup in front of someone in my military career…it can only get better from here.

I believe those were the only other stations, and we all filtered into the conference room where we watched TV until everyone was finished and ready to perform the “underwear Olympics”. The females at MEPS were fortunate because there were only three of us so we were able to get undressed to our skivvies and get our physicals done pretty quickly. Like most of the MEPS experience, people try to scare you to prepare you for something that’s much worse than what you actually experience. Of course you have to disrobe into your bra and underwear (for God’s sake just buy/wear the biggest panties you can find. One of the girls that was doing the physical with us was ONLY completing the physical that day because she was previously sent home for wearing underwear that didn’t cover your ass. Don’t be one of those girls. People continuously tell you to wear granny panties because the last thing you want is to not even be able to begin your physical because your butt cheeks pop out of your underwear when you squat. They’re right! Just get some gosh darn big panties!!!)

The doctor will make you perform some strange physical tasks: the infamous duck walk (walk in a low squat with knees bent outward, stepping heel-toe, heel-toe without touching the ground), crossing the floor on your knees, speed walking diagonally across the room and immediately turning around and coming back, etc. It’s all odd things but nothing that someone with mild motor skills can’t pass. The one part I was a little nervous about was the scoliosis test because that’s completely out of your control. I’m small and skinny and the last time I took a scoliosis test was in like fifth grade where the elementary school nurse told me I might have slight scoliosis.

Well, the doctor took a little longer to assess me and tell me I was good to go, but after the underwear Olympics and before the gynecological exam he sure enough had me bend over one more time to take a look at my back again. Let me tell you, I thought my military career was about to end before it began. I was sure he was going to DQ me and send me packing. Well..he took another look and cleared me. Either I was really good to go, or whatever curvature he saw wasn’t enough to DQ me and for that I am grateful because he could have easily sent me home.

The gynecological exam was honestly the easiest part of the entire thing. They had us change out of our underwear and into paper gowns, entered a separate room one by one where the doctor performed a breast exam and took like two seconds to look at your ‘other areas’ like across the room. If you’re concerned about this part–don’t be. Literally nothing happens other than a free lump check.

From there, we were given our complete medical files and told to wait by the front desk for us to hand our files back to a clerk who did whatever they needed to do with the paperwork. Honestly it was a huge relief at that point because everything was finished and you’ve been cleared. Truly there isn’t anything that can or should disqualify you at this point and the REAL fun begins because you get to find out when you ship out! To come in Part III because this monster has taken way too long to write!

MEPS Part I: ASVAB

I’ve been dragging my feet on writing Parts I and II of the MEPS process, mostly because at this point it’s been about a month and a half since it all happened and I’m desperately trying to recall any and all memories to make this blog what I wanted it to be! Second, I’m mostly just lazy and have been putting it off. This post will be rather short as I’m only covering the ASVAB which was day 1 of MEPS. The next post about all the physical, administrative, and swearing in processes will be much longer and hopefully I’ll have that written at some point in the next decade.

After finishing my OCS board interview, I changed out of my skirt suit into more casual clothes and waited around the recruiting office for a while. The main reason for this was that we didn’t want to leave for MEPS too early because although I would be able to take my ASVAB whenever I got there, I would have to wait longer for others filing in to take theirs before we could leave at the end of the day for the hotel. Essentially, the earlier I got there, the earlier I could take my ASVAB, the sooner I would finish and have to sit and wait longer for everyone else.

We left the recruiting office I believe around 1300 and drove from central Minneapolis to the Whipple Building in south Minneapolis, close to the MSP airport. Security inside the building was pretty strict and much like airport security–all belongings on your person and electronics you had went into a bin that was scanned as well as your bags and yourself. All individuals entering the building also had to show ID and no aerosol type spray cans would be admitted. I, unfortunately, had been house-sitting the previous three days before my interview and MEPS and didn’t have time to drop all my excess belongings at home, so I had a huge gym bag full of miscellaneous items that set off the detector. Way to go, Kels!

We rode the elevators to the MEPS level and the first thing I did was check-in at the front desk and have my picture taken (which one of the staff members photo-bombed thank you very much). He also took two fingerprints that would be used to check-in with on an electronic pad (at least I think that’s how it worked–my memory is hazy). My bag and other belongings were all stowed away in a locker in a separated room, and all I kept with me were my drivers license and social security card (I don’t recall if I needed them but I wanted to have them on me just in case).

Essentially, I was just given a folder of paperwork from the front desk that I took down the hallway to the testing center. I handed the folder over to the testing administrator (who questioned why I was joining the military at 25) and had my computer setup for the ASVAB. This is the same testing center that other military entry/qualifying tests are given (i.e. DLAB, AFOQT maybe?), so the computer had to specifically be setup for the ASVAB. I was given a sheet of printer paper and a pencil for calculations and began the test. The test is comprised of general science, arithmetic reasoning, word knowledge, paragraph comprehension, mathematics knowledge, electronics, auto, shop, mechanical comprehension, and object assembling questions, presented in that order. One thing I was not privy to prior to taking the test was that there is no option to go back in sections, so you must answer the question you’re given and be confident in your answer because you cannot go back.

I want to say I completed the test in about an hour and a half. I really struggled on the electronics/auto/mechanical/shop sections, which doesn’t particularly matter since they’re not calculated into your final AFQT scoring (but for certain MOS’s you need to surpass the cut-off E/A/M/S score to qualify for that MOS). I’m not even sure if I ever saw what my scores in those areas were, but I was given my AFQT score immediately after finishing the test. The scores were recorded in my information folder which I brought back out to the check-in desk. After that, it was a lot of sitting and waiting. They had lunch options for recruits to eat already prepared, although I did bring a sandwich and left it in the locker room.

Recruits ended up vegetating in front of Impractical Jokers for five hours before ~1830 rolled around and we were told we were leaving. We gathered our belongings and rode on a school bus to the hotel we would be staying at (which was surprisingly very nice?!), and it was a pretty lax evening from then on. We were given a brief ten minute synopsis and video to watch on what would occur the following day at MEPS (which wasn’t anything new), and given the option to stay up in the recruit lounge area of the hotel. I was extremely lucky to have been paired up in a room with a seventeen year old high schooler that went to bed at 2100 like me! I was so worried I would be stuck with someone who wanted to stay up late and watch TV or make noise, but she was the ideal hotel room partner for me and it worked out great.

RSP Drill: Red Phase Day 2

As everyone that was lucky enough to be in Minnesota last weekend knows–it was a TORRENTIAL DOWNPOUR Sunday morning!

We were to report to the Bloomington armory by 0730 again on Sunday and formation was again at 0800. We initially formed up into our Red Phase platoon before the 1SG dispersed us into our home platoons (First through Fourth). We were under the direction of familiar faces from the recruiting office on Sunday which was nice–always a positive to be taking direction from people you already know. The original plan was to start a nine mile ruck march at 0930, however while waiting in our platoons for that time to roll around, the rain started. And didn’t stop.

We passed the time by getting our uniforms (only the Red Phasers in Fourth PLT got our ACUs and PT-wear because I asked my recruiter ever-so-nicely and luckily…he let us!), and practicing some camouflaging techniques by painting some poor other chap’s face (my drill BFF/battle buddy Hannah and I, as well as most other girls in Fourth PLT, got out of actually having to paint our faces). At about 1030 we had our MRE lunch while still waiting to hear if we were still planning on doing the ruck march or if we would somehow get to go home…

No such luck. After moooooore waiting, Fourth PLT piled into three minivans (somehow….I still cannot figure out how 38 people fit into three vehicles but that’s neither here nor there), and drove to a nearby public trail for our march. The term ruck march is a little misleading considering (1) most of us didn’t even have rucks, and (2) somehow we got fooled into doing sprints/light jog along the way. We began with about a half a mile walk before performing some drill in which we crawled up a hillside in groups of seven while sustaining “gunfire” in the form of one recruit at the top of the hill yelling “bang bang” at the rest of us. Plot twist though: once finishing the drill and walking back down the hill, my new friend Jake and I happened across a ‘sniper’ laying in the brush RIGHT in front of us that we had NO CLUE was there. Clearly we have a lot to learn!

The only other ‘drill’ we did during the march was stopping at a crossroads in the trail and learning to pull security by lining up next to one another and yelling at the group when there was a runner or walker coming down the trail. Somehow I don’t think I particularly did that part right but, not gonna lie, it was at least partly entertaining watching civilians very awkwardly continue their run through a bunch of 20 year olds in ACUs with their arms up pretending to hold a rifle.

The rest of the march/run was uneventful but so much fun. In the moment, every time our cadre would start up a sprint again, I would dread it because I’m sweating my @$$ off in heavy ACUs and I can’t feel my left toes and how much longer is this going to go on?!?! Some females fell out of the sprints early on. Hannah and I persevered. I was smelly and sweaty and miserable. Once we got back to the armory I was ecstatic. It was the first semi-Army thing I had done all weekend and it was so much fun!

Overall my first RSP drill was a mixed bag. After Saturday my dad asked if I was ready to do that again every month for the next six years and I…was not. Saturday was long, boring, more boring, and more long. Sunday, while still dull at time because of the wait, was so much fun. I understand not all drilling weekends we’ll get to go out on nine mile ruck marches, but it was the perfect balance between challenging myself and knowing I could accomplish what we were set out to do.

And God bless Jake–I lost my waterbottle while trying to climb up that gd hill on our stomachs and was dying in the humidity and mosquitoes and runs. The saint found it on our way back and for that I am forever grateful.

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Hannah and me following our ruck march–look at those dirty boots!
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A brand new cap fashioned with a Specialist pin that my recruiter/cadre personally hunted for