We've been spending ungodly amounts of time in the field this week. The weather itself wasn't very sympathetic to our presence, but atleast it didn't rain or snow. Though I will attest that out in the boonies, there's still snow in Washington. Take my word for it. Now that its over (for today), I don't care at all about the cold. Its over, so its suddenly not so bad.
Our purpose out there was to do a squad sized assault on a a couple bunkers that have obstacles in our way. Thing is, this type of thing really doesn't impress as much as the old me would have thought. However, if anyone is going to take time out of their day to read this, then I'm going to take the time to atleast try to make it somewhat interesting, but forgive me when I don't marinade it in Hollywood sauce.
Mind you, we ran over this exercise many times, and it takes it out of you a little, but not terribly bad. I won't bore you with the mundane details, even though that's what most of the army is. Here's your badass, gung ho version, which is my scattered recollection of our final live fire run through the exercise.
We began out in the sticks, moving as quietly as we can through the thick woods, which basically means we might as well have had a mosh pit amidst us. I was somewhat nervous, but the thing is that most of the nervousness you may have takes a back seat once you actually start doing whatever it is you're doing. You've got officers watching you, observing, and looking for every wrong move to scrutinize, plus you've got live ammo, and you're a freshfaced moron with no real experience, and you're not John Rambo or G.I. Joe, but instead you're The New Guy (yes I'm referring to the movie again).
Now, this won't be the most informative narrative, because I want to make sure I'm not selling out our battle tactics or anything, but here's more or less what I can give you and still not have to worry that I'm not pissing off the OPSEC monster. So instead you'll get my personal experience, without the who what when where why and how.
We were walking through the woods, bushes thwacking against me from the guy ahead of me pushing through them. Our breath comes out in fog, and I can hear my own breath more clearly because of the foam earplugs I had in. I also had my goggles, I guess you'd call them, on, because usually we're required to wear eye protection. They were cutting off my peripheral vision and slightly dimmed everything. With the muffled sounds and the constricted line of sight, I felt extremely disconnected from everything, and I'd need to be as aware as I could, especially with live rounds, so I lifted the goggles off my eyes and let them rest on my helmet, which probably made them look like a second set of eyes.
My team leader stopped and signaled for us to get down, so naturally I did, and began watching my sector while we waited. After a short time, the ripping sounds of the 240Bravo machine guns broke the silence and we got up and started pushing through the woods again. Stepping over logs and all the foliage of this wet state, and finally pushing through the last of the brush, we came onto a muddy road, which we hauled ass down. At this point, my own breathing is pretty loud with the volume of the rest of the world turned down. I was doing everything I could to keep from flagging anyone with my rifle as I sprinted, which isn't a strong suit of mine, even as skinny as I am. We came to a burm and I found a place on it next to our SAW gunner, and we started shooting.
Across from us was a constantina wire fence, beyond that, two mock machine gun emplacements set up with the comical looking army targets. Beyond them was a downward slope, so nothing else was in view. We pounded rounds into the targets, and very soon, the only smell I knew was that of carbon. Expended shells from the guy next to me tapped off of my helmet. I have to shoot left handed because my left eye is dominant over my right eye, so with one eye, I'm looking through my optical sight, while the other one catches glimpses of my own shells flying past my face. To my right, the SAW is munching up rounds and spitting them out. As we light the machine gun nests up, we can see red tracers zipping through the air from the 240Bravos, whose location I never learned of until we had to pick up all the shell casings.
Two guys from the other team bounded towards the fence as we stopped firing. They hit the deck and went to work cutting a hole in the fence for us to pour in through. I can see them laying in the mud, working, while the 240s kept firing. The tracers are still doing their UFO streak through the air, and I wonder how close its firing to them. They finally get a hole made in the fence, and their team moves up, pouring through the hole while the 240s are still shooting. It looked like it was cut close when they finally did stop shooting. The first team ran to the end of the hill and hit the deck.
We waited for the command for us to haul ass through the hole. None, so we remained there, laying on the burm. The 240 gunners stormed through the hole next and took up another position. This had never happened in the practice runs. They'd forgotten about us. The other team leader finally shouted for us, so we eagerly popped up and sprinted. The constantina wire and its hole kept growing as I got closer, and I began to wonder in the back of my mind if I was going to make it through without getting snagged. I did, and continued to sprint to an open spot on the hilltop, at which spot I dropped to the ground and began firing at one of the bunkers. I ran out of ammo after a couple shots, so I screamed, "Mag change" and yanked a fresh magazine out of my ammo pouch and stuffed the old one back in there. I slammed the new mag in and slapped the left side of my rifle to release the bolt catch, so a new round would be ready for me to fire. It was ready, and with the squeeze of a trigger, I sent it soaring at ungodly speeds to the bunker, where it probably drove itself into a sandbag and stopped. I'm sure it wasn't lonely though, because I sent a good deal of companions with it, and I so did everyone else, and the SAW gunner brought even more to the party.
The air was filled with puffs of foggy breath and clouds spewing out of our rifles when we were given the order to pick up and move. We leapt to our feet and started racing down the edge of the hill. I was absolutely positive I was going to slip on one of the icy snow patches, or screw my ankle up in a small indentation in the ground or something. Downhill sprinting with a loaded weapon? I vaguely remember my hunter's safety classes way back when. I think they frown on this kind of thing. This was the sprint that our SAW gunner ate shit on during the last practice run. By some miracle, I made it down just fine and thumped my pathetically thin form onto another burm. We cleared the bunker with a grenade, which was actually a training explosive designed to simulate artillery. It even whistles in that decrescendo before the loud BOOM! Once that was clear, once again we were running, and then we were on the ground again, taking cover, and the other team was already taking out the second bunker. And then we were running again, and then we were on the ground again, lots of shouting, people doing their individual jobs to tie the mission up, and then we were off again. Not a bad run.
Now here's an interesting sidestory. During the last practice before the final run, things went horribly wrong just because our CO felt it should. Our squad leader was killed by indirect fire (mortars or artillery, whichever). There was then confusion as to which team leader would step up. We had managed to clear both bunkers, but things were degrading fast. We waited for the right orders to get the area finished up so we could move out, but they never came. Atleast not fast enough. The CO threw another artillery simulator. At this point, two people were already struggling to get our squad leader off of the field, and he is a BIG dude. The rest of us picked up and began to move out. One team leader pointed to me and ordered me to be the flank/rear security as we pulled out. So there I am, covering a very wide sector of fire with what must have been a priceless facial expression denoting confusion, anger, and an overall sense that we were doomed. I took a knee when they stopped, as they were struggling with the big dude. I'm scanning the area and fearing to think what the CO and First Sergeant are thinking as they watch this pitiful spectacle. It was right about that time that I noticed the CO look directly at me, and pull out another artillery simulator. He tosses it near our general area, and in order to play fair, I wait until it starts whistling, then I scream "INCOMING!!!" I sprint a few steps and hit the dirt, facing away from the explosion, praying that the slight dropoff from the grass to the road is enough to save my ass. BOOM!!!
The First Sergeant walks up to me as I prepare to jump back up. "Don't move, don't say nothin. You DEAD, private," he says with a grin, a heroic amount of chew in his lip. So I did as instructed, unslung my rifle, and went completely limp. I layed there for maybe fifteen seconds of confusion, when finally someone comes running back for me.
"Hey! What's your status? You all right?" He rolls me over. I say nothing and stare at the clouds, thinking about how cold we're going to be once the excess heat leaves us and only the sweat remains.
"Hey!!! Can you hear me?"
"What's wrong with him? What's his status?"
"AID AND LITTER!!! GET YOUR FUCKIN ASSES BACK DOWN HERE!!! NO, THE FIRST TEAM!!!"
Two or three guys come running down, one takes my rifle, and the other two hastily try to decide how to carry me. I'm not cooperating either. I'm a wet noodle. Completely limp. One guy stands me up and the other gets me in a fireman's carry. Still I do nothing to assist, and don't use a single muscle. I'm slowly sliding down his back, and his elbow hits me in the helmet with every movement of his arm as he runs. My head is bouncing up and down, but I still didn't move. In the back of my mind, I was kind of hoping that I'd slide right off the back of him, because that would be pretty funny, but we got to our rally point before that happened.
During the After Action Report, we were told that we executed the mission first, and this was done to remind us that sometimes, things go bad, quick. Big inspirational speech, and then we walked back to go choke down some disgusting MREs.