Whoa, where to start on the recap of this last week? (After typing this out, I’ll warn you, it’s pretty long so don’t feel like you have to read the whole thing.) We’ve had a double training schedule, meaning we’ve had a full day of training as well as a full night of training as well for the last 5 days. In fact, one day, I was up for 20 hours. So where to start?
Rather than give you a day by day recap, let me hit the highlights as they come to mind. We were trained on several different weapons systems. I now know how to shoot, dismantle and put back together the MK19 40mm grenade machine gun, the M240, M249 and the Browning M2 machine gun. The grenade machine gun was the coolest, although we never got to shoot it. We spent two days on the range firing the different weapons. Those were hot, humid, miserable, yet fun days. You get quite the adrenaline rush laying in a prone position with a loaded semi automatic or automatic rifle in your hands, waiting for the targets to pop up. I didn’t get to fire the Browning but it’s an amazing weapon. It’s maximum range is 4 miles. Can you imagine that, this huge, 50mm shell traveling up to 4 miles? It’s a little mind boggling.
The 20 hour day was one of the range days. I had to get up at 4:30 a.m. in order to get dressed, eat and on the bus by 6:00 a.m. to take us to the range. We got in from the range by 4:30 p.m., had our daily staff meeting, had dinner and were back on a bus by 6:00 p.m. to go for our night training. That night was NBC training – no, not the television network, but nuclear, biological and chemical. Our first stop was the gas chamber. We were all exposed to, to use the common term, tear gas. We all donned our protective masks then filed into this small, brick room. Inside, the room was filled with the gas. It immediately began to burn any exposed skin. It was like getting an instantaneous painful sunburn. We then went through some simple exercises – jumping jacks, running in place, to make sure we had a good seal on our masks. The instructor was in his NBC protective suits, but we were just in our regular uniforms with the masks on. He then went around the room, one by one, and had us close our eyes and pull up our masks exposing our faces to the gas. He then counted to five, very slowly. Boy did my face burn. I was already sweating profusely and that seemed to add to the burn. We then did more exercises, then we had to take off our masks and exit the room. We got off pretty easy with that exercise. Mine was the last group to go through so a lot of the gas had dissipated. Also, the normal course of training is to require you to sing a song, recite the alphabet, or something similar after taking off your mask which obviously requires you to breathe in the gas, which then results in coughing, vomiting, snot dripping from noses, etc. We considered ourselves very lucky that we missed out on the snot-expulsion experience.
We then went to class. That night the classes were on NBC topics. Our first one was about the care and maintenance of our pro-masks. It was a great and timely class. Next came the protective NBC suit class. That was a good one as well. This is me and my “battle buddy” SGT Aaron Last-Name-Unknown, in our protective gear. (SGT Arron is a linguist and speaks Arabic and Pashtu. He works in the intelligence community so I’m not supposed to publish his first and last name together so I’ll just call him SGT Aaron when I refer to him. He’s a brilliant young man. I’m constantly amazed at his vast store of knowledge. He and I get along very well together – have the same interests, etc. He’s saved my sorry a** on many different occasions over the last few weeks. I certainly got lucky when he was assigned to be my enlisted counter-part.)
Then came the two classes from h*ll.
Do you speak “Mississipi?” No? Wanna learn? Here’s how you do it. First, get a really, really big bag of marshmallows. You know what, get about 100 bags. Open the bags. Open your mouth. Stuff about 513 of those white fluffy things in your mouth. Then, stuff about a dozen more in for good measure. Then speak. Viola!! You speak “Mississippi.” And you thought you’d have to buy one of those fancy, expensive language courses.
Should I tell you how I really feel about the way people talk down here?
OK, not everyone is that bad, but our next instructor was literally unintelligible. He was teaching us about personal first aid if we get exposed to a chemical/biological substance. I was all ears to learn about this. I mean, if I’m exposed, I want to know how to try and save myself.
SGT Aaron got us seats on the front row. We were set. I was all ears. I wanted to hear and learn about what I needed to do if I was ever exposed.
Our instructor started talking – and my mouth dropped to the floor in astonishment. I knew he was speaking English as I could distinguish a discernible word here and there, but everything else in between those few words was gibberish. He was joining words and phrases so fast and with so many missing consonants that I could not tell what he was saying. I turned to SGT Aaron and looked at him. He just shrugged his shoulders. I turned to my good friend, LTC Steve Esplin – he’s a Lieutenant in the Utah Highway Patrol in Cedar City – and no, I can’t help you get out of a ticket down there if you get one – to see if he knew what was being said. He had the same look I did. Well we both got the giggles and he didn’t help out the situation as he started leaning forward and whispering the translation in my ear. Finally I’d had it and I asked the instructor what he said. He repeated the phrase and I said, “I’m sorry, what did you say?” He repeated it and I said “I still can’t understand what you’re saying.” At that point, Steve leaned forward and said, “seek overhead protection.” The instructor was saying something like, and I’ll try and get if right – “see o’d pro ction” or something like that. It was pretty bad. Turns out, I wasn’t the only one who didn’t follow what he was saying.
So how do we administer self first aid, well we’ve got several different injections we have to administer. Basically, you take these different tubes, hold them against your butt or thigh, press firmly and hold for 10 seconds. You then get a needle jammed through your uniform and get injected with the antidotes. We got to see lovely pictures of just where to inject ourself. The drawing of the butt was particularly interesting.
The final class of the night was pure hell. It started at 11:15 p.m. Remember, several of us had been up since 4:30’ish a.m. When he started the class, he said that he’d be going until 12:15 or 12:30 a.m. I actually said our loud and to him, “you’ve got to be kidding me?” He said, there was so much brass in the class – high ranking officers and senior enlisted that he wanted to make sure he got everything in. Well he did. He proceeded to read every word on every single slide he had. Most of the guys in my group have been through the combat life saver course and the rest of us will go through it so it was pretty redundant. But he didn’t just read the slides. He felt compelled to share with us every boring, useless, anecdote from his training. I was going crazy. I whispered to SGT Aaron at one point, “We don’t want to hear your stupid stories.” (I was pretty punchy by then and I’m afraid my bad side was starting to emerge. Because I’m trying to be a good example for him, I kept my language clean.) Apparently I didn’t say it softly enough as the guy in front of me heard it and started laughing. At midnight, he asked what time it was and said that he was just about done. I thought, “hallelujah!” but no, he kept going for another 15 minutes. Finally, the facilitator for the night’s training came in and told him he needed to wrap things up. We just about cheered. Then came the final blow, he said that he was one of the instructors for the combat life saver course, which is going to be a night course for me. I told SGT Aaron that if he was the instructor, I would start giving away my iPod, my computer, my camera, that everyone would be better off without me, etc. We were taught that these are signs that someone is contemplating suicide. He just laughed. Yah, of course he laughed. He’s already certified and doesn’t have to go through the class. Jerk!
The previous night we got to crawl through the mud. It has rained pretty hard most of the afternoon. The rainstorms here are incredible. So much water all at once. Lots of thunder and lightening as well. Anyway, when we showed up for training and realized that we’d be outside for quite a bit of the night I thought, “Great, I’m dripping wet from sweat, so now I’m just going to add mud to the combination.” That was Sunday night and the Lord must have heard my prayers as when we went outside to do a mine detection exercise, it quit raining after just a few minutes.
The crawling exercise was just a prelude to later training that will be much more grueling and intense. This one was just a glimpse of things to come. We had to high-crawl – hands and knees from the starting point to sandbags about 15 meters our. We then had to low-crawl to the next point, another 15 meters. Low crawl is face glued to the ground, reaching out with one hand and pulling yourself forward with that hand while pushing with your feet. Once we reached that sandbag, we then had to jump up and run the final distance. Remember, we’ve got our full body armor on, our Kevlar helmets and weapons on so we’re loaded down pretty good. Also, the sandbags were in the mud. Remember how I said that SGT Aaron was pretty smart, well he pointed out that the instructors were not making us lie in the mud, but could start from the side in the grass (I had actually already picked up on that one – I’m not as dumb as I look) so that’s what we did. We ended up not getting to wet on that one. However, I almost did a face plant when I got up to run. We were supposed to use our weapons to help us get up and to steady us, but I forgot. I launched myself up and was so top heavy that I stumbled for several feet before I got my balance and finished running the rest of the way. We also threw dummy hand grenades as well as did mine field extraction that night. It was actually a fun evening. But long. I didn’t get back to my room until after 11:30 p.m. (The next morning was the 4:30 a.m. morning.)
We had two days of land navigation. We learned how to read maps, navigate by compass and learned how to use the hand-held GPS system. We then went into the woods near our training site and had a treasure hunt of sorts. We had several locations that we had to get to using the GPS, find the location and write down the coordinates that were there. This is a picture of me holding the GPS making my way through the trees.
The next day we had to do mounted navigation. That’s where we got in a humvee and drove to the sites. That was fun as we had to have one person sitting in the turrent looking for IED’s (improvised explosive devices) along the way. We found a couple. Here’s a picture of the first one we found. It’s a cell-phone activated munitions shell set to explode on the side of the road. (Remember, we have certain systems that jam the triggering mechanism.) I did OK on everything except the map reading. I was the navigator on our last leg and I’m a lousy map reader. It didn’t help that the map was really small and I couldn’t read it very well – I needed my reading glasses – but I got us pretty lost. It was very embarrassing. Oh well, we finally found where we needed to go and finished on time.
The last two days we’ve been learning urban operations. We’ve learned how to patrol village streets, search and clear buildings, and react to sniper fire. Camp Shelby has built several mock villages. They hire people to come in and be villagers. Several of them are Iraqi’s, Egyptians, Iranians, etc. so that we get exposed to languages. We clear the rooms in buildings in 4-man stacks. Here’s a picture of our 4-man stack. It’s me, SGT Aaron, MSG Jimmy Stewart and LTC James Slagowski. They’re all on my team that's going to the same place in-country and are really great guys. James is a special forces guy so he’s our team leader. For that day, we got to fire blanks. It was really cool because as we’d cross a courtyard, the bad guys would pop up and we’d have to shoot them. As we were on patrol in the village, a sniper would shoot at us and we’d have to take cover and between our whole team, we’d have to approach the sniper’s location and take him out. For that exercise as well as the exercise where we were assigned to take and secure a building, I was assigned to be the squad leader.
I had three teams of 4-men each assigned to me. I was responsible for formulating our plan to provide security to the forces that went in and secured the area. I was a little nervous at first as I’d never done anything like that before, but SGT Aaron, James and others on my squad really helped me out. It was really cool leading my team through the forest to our position and making sure that we executed our mission.
I’m tired and am starting to forget details but maybe you’re glad for that.
To say that it’s been a busy week would be an understatement. To say that I’m ready for a break is an even bigger one. We get July 3rd and 4th off. I’m looking forward to that. SGT Aaron’s wife is coming to see him. Lucky dog. I’ve got a friend coming from Houston but he’s sloppy seconds at best to Janae. Oh well, I haven’t seen him in a few years so it will be fun.
Have a great evening.