Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Recurring Fields

So yes, we spent more time "under God's blanket" (what a friend referred to the sky as), playing Infantry, no mortar gear included this time.

Pause for wild celebrations that put Spring Break and Mardi Gras to shame.

The bad news was that we were....STAYING OUT IN THE FIELD AGAIN! None of us were in the least bit excited, considering we had just returned from sleeping in the dirt in Yakima, and we're all a bunch of whiny little babies who would rather play Fight Night Round 3 on PlayStation 2 than do our jobs.

As much as we kicked and screamed and clung to each other's legs, we still somehow ended up in the field. Nothing we could do about it now. So we coddled each other like lost orphans, took turns wiping our buddies' tears away, and loaded our magazines with blank rounds. Then we consumed living proof that God hates us: MREs.

The training exercise took place in the same spot that our bunker assault was, except the concertina wire was all gone, the bunkers and all the holes were filled in, and the tread marks from the combat engineers were also gone. One of my friends didn't even realize where we were til I said, "Remember carrying my lifeless corpse up this hill?" I love watching people being hit with realization, when it smashes into them with all the force of the generic fat drunk guy through a coffee table.

The way the mission basically ran down, we were divided into two teams, and the whole squad piled into a Stryker. One dude hadn't gone to Yakistan, so he'd never been in a Stryker before. Giddy. We lurched around, jammed together in that cliche sardine fashion, until we reached our stopping point and the vehicle commander spoke the magic words.

"Prepare to dismount......drop the ramp.....dismount!"

We piled out the back ramp about as fast as you can when you're hunkered down that low in such a cramped space. Imagine trying to keep up with a stampede in your house's crawlspace. Once we were on the ground, we peeled off the road and into the thick bushes and ferns that I love about as much as I love the common cold. There's nothing greater than trying not to trip while trying to keep up while trying not to catch a recoiling branch in the face. I'd prefer that over winning the lottery, becoming Hugh Hefner, or going to college. Oh, I'm sorry, I'm lying again. Silly me.

We had done this whole assault three times by the time we were done. Blank fire, live fire, and then another night iteration with blanks. Just after dismounting during the night operation, one of the team leaders stepped right into a two and a half foot ditch and completely ate it. So naturally, we were crashing through the woods, laughing the entire time. Even when we got to our little "ready spot".

Back to the story.

In each case, after coming through the aforementioned woods, we'd arrive at a spot where we'd chill out (and by that, I mean pull 360 degree security) while we waited for our signal to move out and assault. Once that happened, you can probably guess what we did. We moved out and assaulted. Run to a spot with your team, hit the dirt behind a burm, shoot at unarmed targets (I'm remorseless like that), repeat, until we reach the end of the course. As always, I don't want to go into too much detail, because even though pretty much anyone could get the information on these tactics, I'd rather be safe than stupid.

And for the record, I still hate NODs (the nightvision devices), and they also hate me, and choose to fog up, and refuse to adjust properly to my eyes. Its very comical watching me in action. I make Pauly Shore look good.

We were relieved to find that we wouldnt be spending the rest of the week in the field, but rather just the night, but there was still a chance we'd be able to go back that night. We held on to that dream with a deathgrip that would make Sly Stallone proud. Well, dreams are made to be broken, as I realized while I zipped my sleeping bag up under God's blanket.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Yakistan

I spent the last week "in the field", and by that, I mean at Yakima Training Center. We, my friends, played the part of the bad guy, the OPFOR (opposing force). You'd think that'd be pretty fun right? Well, at times it was.

We woke up on Sunday and got all of our gear loaded up, and played the waiting game. Then some E6 (Staff Sergeant) came out and rattled off a lot of words to us, which we pretended to listen to, and we then finally piled into two vans, and down the Yellow Brick Road did we travel to this fun training center we'd been hearing about.

How the HELL is there a desert in Washington?!

That's what everyone was calling this area, a desert, and I suppose it made sense. Then I realized that it looked exactly like the place I grew up for 12 years in Montana. I grew up in a freaking DESERT?! Dirt and dust everywhere. And this was at the Yakima military installation, I'm not even talking about the actual field.

We got our barracks for the night and crashed there after many hours of boredom. Invest in a PSP if you're in the army, I'm probably going to go out and buy one after I post this. Better investment than the ACUs...

The next morning, we loaded all our gear up into an FMTV (big truck) and we piled into humvees and strykers to ride out there. I'd never ridden in a humvee before, so that was pretty sweet. The doors are like rubber tarps with metal rods for the frame. Reassuring. Humvees are pretty noisy too. Strykers are actually more quiet, believe it or not. After a long, dusty, boring, bumpy convoy ride, we arrived at our destination and more or less set up camp. And then we, the OPFOR, did NOTHING. We seriously didn't do anything at all the whole day. Why are we here?

I remember coming out of one of the Porta Johns and seeing all the vehicles in the camp and the soldiers hanging out in small colonies with this huge open sky above our plateaulike hill, and a river ran around two sides of our camp off in the distance, and on the other side of it was some small town, and the sun was setting, and it reminded me of a scene from the original Star Wars where Luke is on Tattooine and is being a big whiny baby because no one loves him and James Earl Jones didn't hug him enough as a kid, and he's watching two of the suns set. I thought it would be funny to take the panorama I recorded and add that mellow star wars music, because I am a really big dork.

The next day, we prepared for our first ambush. Let me spare you the monotony and let you know how all of our attacks against the infidels went.

-Prepare, takes like five minutes.
-Ride to ambush site, takes like 20 minutes.
-Prepare ambush, takes like 10 minutes.
-Wait, takes like two hours.
-Engage the stupid heartless evil American imperialistic dogs with the most massive Jihad ever, takes like two minutes if Allah even remotely likes you, otherwise thirty seconds.
-Be dead and wait, takes like anywhere from a half hour to two hours.
-Return to camp and wait for another mission, takes like two or three more comings of Christ. I swear I saw him walk by a few times while I was out there.

Repeat.

Now, for OPSEC reasons or whatever, I'm not really going to touch on how we ambushed them and how they reacted and what worked well and what didn't. Besides, I had enough of that at the repetitive AARs (After Action Report).

Anyway, just heading out there, or when we'd roll out in Strykers to do another mission, or anything, just having all those vehicles around and people doing the jobs they signed up to do, I actually felt a little like an actual soldier. Strykers are cramped inside, and when they lurch forward, they make a sound that you'd figure a big five year old with a tuba would make. I found this slightly entertaining. More entertaining than when I found out that dust and sand had gotten inside the earpieces to my iPod. The field is rough. Especially when you're sleeping outside because you and your friends dont have your own vehicle yet, and everyone else is racked out inside their strykers, humvees, and five-tons, and when you wake up for your 0200 guard shift, you find that your sleeping bag is covered with a thick layer of frost. I pouted.

An LT from the unit we were supporting dubbed me Chandler, from Friends. Apparently I've always got some witty quip or remark. I suppose I could see that happening. Overall, for as long as I was out there, not a whole lot really happened a lot. Maybe I'll write more if the mood catches me, because I'm clearly not into it right now. So yeah, in summary, we went out to a desert and did stuff.
"How was your week dear?"
"Fine."
"That's good."

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Mortar Range Revisited

We just returned from another fun filled day out on one of the mortar points. We woke up this morning, got all of our gear ready, and then waited, as always. Waiting is more sure and more recurring than the wildfire spread of reality television and low calibur Hollywood films. Get used to it. By the way, the average American spends some ungodly fraction of their lives waiting in line. Something to think about.

Once we arrived at our mortar point, naturally, the weather was bad. The gods of weather couldn't decide if they felt like raining or snowing, so they threw in plenty of both. Cold and wet, welcome to Fort Lewis. We set our cute little 60mm mortars up quickly enough, and then waited a couple HOURS for the ammo truck to deliver the rounds for us. Yes, logically, we could have stayed back in the rear (back at our barracks for you civilian types), until that afternoon. But WHERE is the fun in logic? Sorry, there is none. I prefer to shiver.

At one point, I was sitting in the back of the MTV (deuce and a half, whatever you'd like to call the stereotypical big green army truck with the back covered by tarp) in front of a propane heater, holding my gloves in front of it in an attempt to dry them. Steam rose from them, making me wonder if they were burning. They weren't. But they were pretty much useless for the rest of the day.

By some blessing of the spirits of productivity, our ammo finally arrived, and we spent a short time opening the crates, then the ammo cans, then the cardboard tubes that held the rounds, and we removed all of the excess packing, and it was the absolute most intense thing I've ever done. Heart pounding, non-stop action. And I'm a liar.

So now your guns are up and your rounds are ready, time to rock, right? WRONG! The other mortar was having all sorts of trouble getting layed in or something. They couldn't seem to get on target, and maybe our Forward Observers were sucking, maybe the sight was off, maybe the gunner is craptastic, who knows. My team played the Wait and Freeze game. It was AWESOME!

After all of that was finally over, we slowly picked up momentum. My sniper friend, who was out there for pretty much no reason, was complaining about how boring the mortar job is. Hey pal, eat me. You didn't get stiffed by being put in a mortar platoon in basic. Allow me to digress:

This site is called Eleven-Bravo, because I thought that my MOS was going to be 11B (Infantry). When you enlist for infantry, the temporary MOS (Military Occupational Specialty; Job) is 11X. X is the universal variable I guess.

Me: "K, I want Infantry as my MOS."
Recruiter: "Ok, we'll sign you up as eleven x-ray.'
Me: "Uh, I want eleven-bravo."
Recruiter: "11X IS infantry. That's the enlistment MOS for infantry."

I figured that they had changed the nomenclature for infantry or something. I didn't know that there were various forms of infantry, like REAL Infantry (11B) or Infantry With Mortar Specialization And The Wonderful Position of Being Shit On By The 11Bs And Receiving No Respect Or Praise Whatsoever (11C). But whatever, I'm a mortarman, I like it, it has its moments, I still get to do gung ho G.I. Joe trigger puller shit, so it all works just fine. I don't need to be figuratively fellated by everyone else in the army because I chose a particular flavor of army green.

Would I have come off a little less bitter if I would have just drowned a kitten instead of writing that? Close race.

Back to some shred of a point, after a slow and creaking start, we finally got it together, and were able to rock. I spent most of the time prepping the rounds, pulling extra charges (little half donut yellow looking things that ignite upon firing and propel the round through the air) off, setting the fuse to Impact or whatever the fire mission called for, pulling off the safety pin, and handing it to the dude hanging the rounds. When I wasn't doing that, I was practising my papparazi powers by whipping out the video camera and recording the wonderful destruction we rained upon the forests of Washington. Call it revenge.

My sniper buddy hung quite a few rounds, and at the end of the night, since I was done being the ammo bitch, I dropped the remaining rounds into the Wonder Tube and sent them on a one way trip to the rainforest, where they left their mark. Wait, no, I think I only fired off infrared illumination rounds. Oh well, its all the same at the end of the day. Here's a profound statement.

"Combat medics are the shit because they are sick, twisted fucks." -Me.

Our ears rang like bells today, and we had fun. I think I like my recruiter.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Another Roadmarch, and I Am Awesome

So we, the mighty "Leg" (non Airborne, non Ranger) Infantry fellas had ourselves another roadmarch, again, preparing us for the EIB. This was a 6 mile roadmarch to be completed in an hour and a half. Our platoon sergeant shaved an extra ten minutes off of the goal.

We stood around at our start point for a couple minutes, until we were given the 'Go'. I started walking with a friend of mine, but to be honest, he was all moody and down over some girl, so I did what any truly caring, concerned, and loyal friend would do. I took off and left him behind me, cuz it was bringing me down a little. Once I was far enough away from the start point, I pulled out my little iPod, tied it off to my belt loop the way we used to tie down our 550 cord in basic (with which you tie a knot in for every canteen of water you've consumed that day) to keep it from getting lost. Leaving the body of it in my pocket, I ran the headphones up between my brown t-shirt and my BDU top, and put in one earpiece on the right, which was concealed by my kevlar, but six inches of white cable could be seen clear as day anyway.

Now, the past few years, I haven't been to into metal. More the melodic, progressive, and slightly bizarre music. I'd been into Tool and A Perfect Circle heavily, The Mars Volta, and a few other bands here and there. But since I've been in the army, I've slowly regained my taste for sonic ass-kicking. So naturally, my iPod is crammed with songs by Disturbed (the first album, only the best will suffice) and plenty of Slipknot. How can you NOT get pumped?

So anyway, there I am, rucking my cute little heart out, passing up the guys in my platoon who took off faster. Wasn't long before I was in 3rd place, behind this tall lanky guy from Arkansas who can ruck like nobodies business. The supply Sgt that I unloaded on with blanks last week was in first. I blame his Airborne history.

I ran almost the entire way. Yes, I did walk a bit, because rucking kind of sucks a lot. For the most part, I'd be doing what is called the "Airborne Shuffle", which isn't necessarily running, but is certainly not walking. There were a couple times were I actually fell in to the rear of PT formations where guys were running in formation. You are correct, I do happen to be a smartass.

One thing about roadmarches is that you want to stay hydrated, because you sweat a lot. However, you don't want to drink too much water, because then you'll be kicked in the gut by the Nausea God. This may be a phenomenon with me alone, I don't know, but roadmarching makes my nose run, but in a sticky manner. I blow a lot of snot-rockets while rucking. At one point, my aim was not so true, and a thick, translucent gob of nose syrup shot out and clung to one of my shoulder straps. As I walked, I recall looking at my mess with an agitated look that likely spelled out, "....Why?"

I ended up finishing 2nd, behind the demonic supply sergeant. The tall Arkansan dude, as far as my suspicions go, let me beat him. He finished up practically right behind me, and I seriously think he could have burned my nerdy ass if he wanted to.

But since he didn't, I rule, and everyone should worship me. And no, this does not mean that I will become "high speed", or some sort of super soldier. I will still treat this endeavor as though I am crawling across a sea of broken glass, with an affectionate whining. Its what I do.

Happy trails, I'm off to some random range that I know nothing about because I didn't pay attention, but instead focused on not throwing up water at the finish line.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Thoughts On Basic Training

Basic was a hell of a fifteen weeks for me. I know I've touched on it a couple times before, but its hard to tell the whole broken, blurry story. Our first week, the inprocessing week, seemed to be the longest week by far. That's when broken privates who couldnt hack basic yelled at us as we were issued PT sweats, and where we had thick gooey penicillin shot into our asses. After that week, time passed relatively quick...for the most part.

You first arrive there, and the drill sergeants are playing all kinds of mindgames. There is no right answer, you are an idiot, and you are SHIT outta luck, pal. Everyone will always be screwed over when one dude messes up, and odds are, you'll have a couple people that are constantly screwing everything up. You lose count of the smoke sessions, of how many times you've been woken up in the middle of the night and were annihilated because the fireguards were sleeping when a drill sergeant walked in. You forget what real food is like, the fatty, greasy, kill-you-next week fast food burgers, huge pizzas, all of that. Nicotein is a thing of the past. Then again, so is free time for the most part.

Odds are, you'll get sick, and holy GOD will it suck. I was in pretty ba shape through most of basic. For about half of it, I was having back pain constantly, and when I got really sick and came down with bronchitis, constantly coughing made it hurt even worse. I could only sleep in ONE position. I remember a couple occasions where we'd been running the PT track, doing sprints and things like that, and my lungs would close up and it was nearly impossible for me to breathe. The drill sergeants thought I had asthma, and a couple times, I wished I did, so I could just get med dropped. But you never REALLY want that. You'll see other dudes do it, but what's the point of quitting? Its only 9 weeks, or 14 weeks in my case. Either way, its all temporary.

The thing about EVERY shitty day in the Army is this: Its just like every day period. No matter how horrible and impossible it is, it always ends. No day is eternal. Days become weeks, and soon you're wearing your jacked up Class A's or Class B's with your freebie ribbons, out on pass or fresh from graduation, seeing women again for the first time in ages, and you realize that they DO exist.

I remember a few of us from my basic training platoon going to Martin Army whatever hospital, because I was getting bloodwork done or some crap like that, and we stopped in the shopette to buy food. We thought we were smooth by taking our earplug cases and our 550 cord (used to tie knots in to keep track of water consumed) off of our collars, trying not to look like basic trainees. Didn't work so well. You see, we all had shaved heads, soft caps (can't wear the beret until you graduate), no unit patches on our shoulders, and most of us had no rank on our collar. Privates always think they're smooth and that they can beat the system, but you can't. As you learn more about the army, you realize how dumb you are, and its pretty comical.

There are always those kids that are constantly breaking the rules and trying to get away with it. The kind of guys that will go to sick call to get out of training, possibly to buy some contraband. They're called Shitbags. I always stayed away from those guys, because they aren't really worth the time and energy it takes to be around them, and guilty by association is an ugly thing.

Basic is something you'll actually miss, and kinda want to do again. Yeah, it SUCKS. But there's something about it that I can't quite touch on. My drill sergeants were the shit, even though they were like rabid rotweilers. You can't come out of basic without a fistful of funny stories (and hopefully a couple grand in the bank). We subjected a couple unbeknowing guys to The Impossible Sit-Up (consult the movie 'Heavyweights'). Hell, my memory kind of sucks, which is probably why I'm doing this. When I'm talking to some of my friends in my platoon that I went to basic with, the stories come out. For example, during the first week, we weren't ALL in bed in time, so our senior drill sergeant smoked the bejesus out of us. There were guys running out of the showers in their towels, then doing pushups etc, losing their towels in the process. Well, we didn't get to stretch out or anything, and immediately when he was done, we had I think 10 seconds to get in our bunks, under the covers. After I'd been asleep for about 20 minutes, I woke up to the absolute worst cramp I've ever had in my life. It was in my right calf, and the left one was trying to cramp up too, but I caught that one in time. The right one, however, was clenched so tightly, it was like a rock. I'd never seen it balled up like that before. I'd punch and grab at it and there was absolutely no give at all. It went a little something like this...

Fifty five stupid enlistees are laying in their bunks, light from the latrine spills out of one door and across the Kill Zone. The silence is suddenly shattered by the surprised and agonized cries of "Ah!? Ahhh! Gaaaahhh!!! FUCK ME!!!!!!!! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH!!!!"

Everyone is startled and wake up from their fresh dozes, some wonder if people are engaging in wild homosexual intercourse, others wonder if someone is dying, others assume that this nerdy voice is having withdrawals from women, but in no time, a laughing crowd gathers around the bunk of the victim. Different advice from twenty different people drones over each other, most of it wrong, and they try to get this dude to his feet so he can walk it off. Not going to happen. Eventually, a big black dude who used to play college football for Rutgers in New Jersey (or something like that) gets fed up with the dying shrieks of some young dumbass with a muscle cramp, and gets up to squeeze the knot out. Yes, he definitely had football experience.

To this day, I still hear about the "Fuck me!" episode. Or the time one guy buttstroked another dude with his M16 because he was pissed off about something stupid. Or the kid who didnt wear anything under his PT sweats, and then had to explain to the drill sergeant that he couldnt remove his sweats because he had nothing on. Or the kid that put his kevlar helmet on backwards and actually wore it like that until a drill sergeant, not sure if he was being a smartass or if he was just a moron, corrected him. I've got a million of them, and they seem to randomly pop up here and there, but never on demand unfortunately.

The trick to basic, and pretty much else, is to bitch and vent quietly if you need to, but adopt the mentality to just say, "Fuck it" and just get it done. Keep your chin up and your head down and do what you're told, and just wait it out. Basic isn't the real army. Its mainly there as a crash course and to weed out some of the selfish, useless wastes of space. The ones that make it through generally later tend to get themselves in trouble with the freedom at their duty station, especially with drugs. All you really have to do to successfully navigate basic is just keep on trucking, shrug off the bad and bask in the good.

And then you, too, will someday be bored in your barracks room, and decide to wrap up your post so you can walk to the PX and grab some food to kill some time.

Too easy.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Dude, Where's My Post?

So yes, we did in fact spend the night in the field, and what a magical day it was. We walked through the woods with mortar equipment, randomly setting up when instructed to. To anyone who, for some ungodly reason, has ever wondered what its like to move through the woods with all that gear, imagine what it would sound like if elephants were tiptoeing through a forest. Gear snagging on branches and bushes, which then cordially welcome you to their habitat by striking you in the face. Once night fell, we practiced even more emplacement drills. I could write about flossing my teeth, and it would be more interesting.

After we finished, we basically stood around and BSed, sharing stories with our First Sergeant, it was pretty sweet, and you would have had to have been there. Too bad you weren't. It was cooler than Tony Danza.

The next morning, we packed up. A friend of mine and I decided we were going to ambush our supply sergeant, who was picking up breakfast for us. We loaded up a mag of blanks each and walked a for a while down the road, and found a pile of broken furniture and vacuums, etc, that we used to block the road. I climbed into a tree that hid me from his view as he approached, and gave me a perfect shot when he'd stop and get out to move all the junk. Taking my blank adapter off (to make the shot louder and more intimidating), my friend and I decided that once I fired, he'd pop up with his rifle on burst and really let him have it.

Yes, we're total geeks. Its awesome.

And so we waited in our positions, with anticipation welling up inside us. I felt like a liddle kid again, waiting to nail someone with a water balloon. We waited, and waited, and waited. Soon, we hear his truck coming, and realize he took a different road. Ruined.

So we walked back, feeling useless, and I decided that I was going to get him, one way or another. Our platoon sergeant had prior knowledge of our ambush, as it was his idea. My friend went back to the camp, and I started stalking through the brush. Within thirty seconds, my pants were soaked from crawling through the bushes and across the moss. I got a decent visual of some of the camp, but couldn't positively ID my mark, so I get back down and crawl some more.

At a snails pace, I'm getting closer, while the whole time I can hear them talking as they eat, and I wonder if they can hear me. My arms were smoked in no time, crawling that distance, but this was too good. For some geeky reason, I was all fired up to commit this solitary annoying and ultimately inconsequential act.

I had finally made it so close, another minute or two, and I'd have a guaranteed shot, seeing as I was only sporting an M4, and not some godly sniper rifle. Unfortunately, by then, it was time to start loading up, so my platoon sergeant is calling for me to get my ass back there. "Dammit" doesn't quite say it, but its an excellent try. Turns out, they didn't know I was there, which was surprising. If they'd posted guards, I'd have been found I'm sure.

So we're getting ready to load up, and my platoon sergeant takes off. Then he turns right back around and tells us that the sergeant major is on his way out. So me and my pal set up a couple roadblocks, where we can supervise two roads. We pile up big branches that no humvee would want to drive over. I take cover behind a berm and he occupies a hole, and we wait. After a good ten to fifteen minutes pass, a big green deuce and a half truck comes rolling in and annihilates our roadblock. Great. So once again, we decide to bring it back in.

Turns out, he was never coming. Go figure. By now, I was frustrated, and I was talking with the supply sergeant, my previous mark, and he asked me what happened with our supposed ambush. I explained what had happened as I screwed my blank adapter (basically a metal plug that attaches to the end of the barrel for use with blank rounds) back onto my weapon.

He turned his back to get something out of his truck, and I lit him up, twenty rounds. I wish you all could have seen him jump. It wasn't as glorious as I had originally planned, but dammit, I got him. I filled my tag.

Since then, nothing cool has happened. I'm now busy converting oxygen into carbon dioxide.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Comments

Thank you and hello to everyone who takes the time to leave comments. I'm not always good about responding to them sometimes, though I suppose I should start. Glad to hear from all of you. I'm heading out to the field now, for yet another night under the stars, and by that I mean rainclouds. I'll fill you in on anything interesting when I get back.

Happy trails.