Sunday, July 30, 2006


Super High Intensity Training

I was just told that's what that stands for. There, now I don't feel so bad!!!

Oh, and SGT Aaron told me that if it was in the Bible, it's not swearing. So that means words like "damnation" and "hell" are OK. I won't share the other words that we decided just had to be in the Bible Does that mean you can call someone and "asp?"


Before we got activated, we had a meeting with a representative from the Church’s Military Relations Committee. In addition to all the necessary things we needed to know about having church overseas, he emphasized that people would notice something different about us. I didn’t think that “recognition factor” would happen here but it did when we were out on the ECP (see earlier posting) lane. As the platoon leader, I interacted with the OC’s (observer/controller) throughout the whole day. At one point we were talking about the humidity. I mentioned that I’d lived in two different places where the humidity was high – Virginia Beach when I was on active duty and the Dominican Republic where I lived when I served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After I told him that, he said that he knew there was something special or different about me. He said he didn’t know what it was but he knew. He then said something about maybe it having to do with my last name but when I told him that I was a Mormon, he said that was it. He then said the “sh” word and apologized for cursing in front of me. Of course, I was inwardly ashamed at the fact that I had used that word earlier in the day with my troops. I told him it was OK. THEN, that young punk SGT Aaron laughed and told him that I’d said the same word earlier. (Thanks a lot Aaron!!! Dirty, rotten, snot-nosed can’t keep a secret SGT.)

That allowed me to talk to him a little bit about the gospel. He is from Illinois so we talked about Nauvoo and the exodus of the saints to Salt Lake.

That experience made me realize that people do watch us and if we try and live by our standards, they’ll notice something about us. Let’s hope it’s something positive.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Last Week or So

The last two days of squad lanes went by without a hitch. They were physically demanding, but we were successful in completing that lane of instruction. Let me walk you through, albeit it quickly, on what we did.

We formed up in a wedge formation. Here’s what we looked like:

Team Leader

Grenadier Automatic Rifleman

Squad Leader

Automatic Rifleman Grenadier


Or something like that. (I don't think the actual formation will format right on the blog page once it's published. Sorry)

The team leader is the guy in charge of the entire team. The squad leader is over the smaller part of the team, the squad. The grenadier is responsible for the hand grenades, the automatic rifleman carries, yes, the automatic rifle, the rifleman carries the M4, the one we all carry. We didn’t actually get to carry hand grenades which was a bummer. We each played each role. The only one I didn’t get to be was the squad leader.

I’m no longer in the mood to write a detailed description of what we did. The moment has passed. Actually, several days have passed since I started writing this. We’ve been in the field for the last three days and have six more to look forward to. I’ll get to that in a minute. I’d better finish up writing about squad lanes.

We did two different iterations. One had us crossing south through an open field to the tree line. We then turned west and skirted the tree line up a small rise. Our objective was a village where terrorists were manufacturing RPG‘s (rocket propelled grenades). We found positions of concealment and took up watch. The other team was also approaching from the south, but further west from us. The village was on top of the small rise so they were approaching through a small ravine. Upon the signal from the team leader, we began to engage the terrorists to draw their fire. At roughly the same time, the other team moved in to assault the village. As soon as they got close, they popped a green smoke canister which signaled us to shift our fire away from them, but to continue firing to keep the enemy engaged. On the cease fire command, we, uh, ceased firing. Go figure. We then moved in to assist with cleanup. We were responsible for establishing a pickup zone for any casualties as well as setting up a holding area for the terrorists. It was fun. We were firing blanks but it still seemed pretty real.

Out other iteration was through the trees. The tree iteration was actually our first so it wasn’t quite as intense as the second one assaulting the village. We were supposed to look for IEDs and respond appropriately.

I can’t remember if I mentioned before, but the trainers said we were the oldest group of soldiers they had trained. Our Command Sergeant Major is 58 and he’s the oldest. We’re also a very senior command with lots of Lieutenant Colonels, Majors and senior enlisted. Anyway, the trainer said that every group that had been out there had several heat casualties. We didn’t. That really surprised the trainers. We decided that there were several factors in our favor. We had been at Camp Shelby for over a month so we were better acclimated. Also, we weren’t staying up late every night drinking lots of alcohol like some of these other squads. We were pretty proud.

A week or so later, one of our teams was out training with a younger team that had just arrived at Camp Shelby. The lanes were the first time they wore their body armor. Not a good mix. Those things are so heavy the first time you put them on and to be crawling and running and climbing in the heat and humidity is not a good mix. They had dozens of heat casualties. The only good thing about it was that our team out there got lots of practice administering IV’s. I’m glad it wasn’t us.

I know there’s not a lot of detail here about the lane itself, but like I said, the mood to write about that training has passed. I’ll include some pictures of the event to try and give you an idea.

We were supposed to be in the lane by 0600 which meant getting up around 0400. The only good thing about getting up that early was that we were done with the training by noon, sometimes earlier. We were in full battle-rattle which meant that the sweat was flowing fast and free. I think I may have mentioned in an earlier message, I have never been so wet from sweat before…in my life. I was sitting on a log and when I got up, I left a butt print. I know, some of you are saying, “how gross” and you know what, I agree. It was pretty gross.

OK, now what can I talk about. It’s 2130 hours (9:30 p.m.) and I’m tired. I don’t sleep well on cots so am pretty tired tonight. Our FOB (forward operating base –where we’re “camping”) is pretty close to our rooms so we’ve gone in every night to shower. That’s been nice.

The training we’ve been doing here has been close to what we’ll actually do in-country. We’ve had our paid actors playing the parts of the Afghan military. Actually the scenario has created a fictitious country of Shelbystan so they’re supposed to be officers from Shelbystan.

Anyway, we’ve been working with them on developing a plan to search the local village for terrorists. I’m playing the part of the civil affairs officer. I’ve met with the General on a couple of occasions to discuss the need to establish a medical command here to treat his soldiers and the local population. I’ve also been meeting with the Chief of Police to work through issues he’s got. The operations office and myself met with the General’s staff and the chief to work out some issues of mistrust they have. Our scenario requires that we use the local police force to help with the search. It requires that the police and Shelbystan officers work together to come up with a working plan. The only problem is the Chief of Police stole the Shelbystan operation officer’s sister’s goat so there are feelings of mistrust. The military also suspects that the police are really working for the terrorists and can’t be trusted. My Ops officer and I had to negotiate a resolution between the two. It was interesting. Of course, everyone but us was operating off a loosely formulated script but it was good practice on trying to resolve their issues.

I’m having a hard time formulating my thoughts so I’ll finish up. We’re down to less than a month of time here at Shelby. I can’t believe we’re almost done. The individual days have gone by agonizingly slow but looking back, the time has gone incredibly fast. I only hope our time in-country goes just as fast.

OK, I’m back. I’m still tired but let me add a few more details to explain the pictures you’ll see. LTC Mundt, LTC Slugowski, SSG Gerogeson, myself and the guys playing the Shelbystan Operations Officer and the Chief of Police, we all went on a reconnaissance of the village we were going to assault. Here’s a couple of pictures of the recon – a group of us and some from the village itself.

Before we execute an operation, we conduct what’s called a “sand-table.” These pictures show a literal sand table. A couple of our guys made buildings out of 3x5 cards. We had some plastic Army soldiers and some colored string. We created a mock up of the village and used the string to show the various areas of operation. We were able to move the figures around to show what the actual units will do. We were told that it was the best sand table that this officer had every seen. It was pretty cool. We can also do sand-tables on the ground scratching things in the dirt, using sticks and rocks. But it was cool to see such a great sand-table. So the pictures show the sand-table and us standing around it.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Platoon Squad Lanes

There’s something incredibly soothing about listening to the rain. Especially when you’re dry and able to sit in a chair, under a covered walk-way, just outside your room and watch the rain and lightening and listen to the thunder. It’s almost intoxicating. Mississippi has the most incredible rain storms – so much rain in such a short period of time. They’re like the rainstorms we’d have in the Dominican Republic when I was on my mission. But then, I guess that’s what you get when you live so close to the ocean. We had so much rain during one rain storm that a couple of our officers rooms almost got flooded. The water crept to within a couple of inches of going over the thresholds into their rooms.

The last couple of days we’ve been conducting squad lane training. That’s where we learn to conduct patrols through various scenarios – dangerous locations, crossing roads, traveling through villages, open terrain, etc. We start early but get done early which is nice as it has allowed me to sit outside my room and watch the rain.

The squad lanes are the most physically demanding training we’ve undertaken so far and should be the most physically challenging things we do here. Actually, it’s the first day that’s the most challenging. From a previous posting you’ll remember that I talked about learning about doing the low crawl, high crawl and rush tactics. Well this is where we implemented that training, only we had a much further distance to go.

We low crawled about 10 meters under barbed wire. We did it four at a time and it was fun to watch the high-speed guys who took the training literally. We were taught that you keep your face turned to the side and planted on the ground and you simply reach out in front of you and pull yourself forward. You don’t want to risk getting your head shot so you don’t lift it up. Well a couple of guys did just that – didn’t lift their heads or look where they were going so they crossed into the neighboring lane. It was fun to watch. I admit that I didn’t actually lift up my head and look. I just realized that as long as I was crawling through the dirt, I was in the right lane. If you ended up in the weeds, you had moved out of your lane.

So to get a visual, you’re lying completely flat on your IBA. You position your rifle across your arm so as to keep it out of the dirt. (Of course that’s not always possible. I did an OK job but my pistol – I have it on a leg holster, worked itself under my thigh so I was dragging it through the dirt. As you can imagine, it was filthy.) You have one leg bent to push with and the opposite arm out in front of you to pull you along. Your head is turned on its side looking sideways. Then you pull and push yourself along. It’s actually harder that it sounds. By the time I was done with that portion, I was dripping in sweat and sucking air and that was only the first portion of the exercise.

After the low crawl, we high crawled a further distance from sandbag location to sandbag location. Different technique. You straddle your rifle in the crook of your arms and crawl on your elbows and knees, trying to keep your butt down. As I reached one sandbag, I noticed the tell-tale signs of a Black Widow web. By now, you know how much I hate spiders, but I was proud of myself and did not freak out. I had made sure that I had my gloves on and had tightened down the cuffs of my sleeves just so that nothing creepy or crawly could get to me.

As we completed the low crawl, we then came to the rushing portion. We would jump up, move forward at a rapid pace for 3-5 seconds and fall to the ground at various sandbag locations. It takes the average person 3-5 seconds to get a bead on you so as long as you’re not up for more than that amount of time, you have a better chance of making forward progress. Then, as you’re ready to move to the next position, you roll one way or the other so as to throw the enemy off – so that you don’t get up from the same location that you went down at, get up and sprint forward another 3-5 seconds. OK, confession time, I actually went further than 3-5 seconds. I was feeling like a total FOG that I went 2-3 sandbag locations before I actually dropped. That way I got through that portion of the course faster. I think the “infantry tactic gods” were not too pleased with that as during one “rush” I tripped on something and went crashing to the ground. You’d be proud of me though, I tucked my shoulder and rolled right over and came out on my stomach. I had my Camelback strapped to my back and it survived. I say that only as another of our high-speed soldiers also did the same thing. Only, he’s about 100 lbs heavier than I am and as he rolled over onto his Camelback, it popped and all the water gushed out all over him. It’s a good thing that he’s the supply sergeant and can get himself another one.

After the rush, we had to crawl under a barbed wire fence on our backs. Since I didn’t want to take a chance on popping my Camelback like I’d just seen happen, I did it on my side. OK, I cheated on that one too. So what are you going to do to punish me? Send me to Afghanistan?

Then came another “rush” section only this time we did it in pairs. We’d cover the guy in the lane next to us as he’d rush to a sandbag location. Then he’d cover me as I ran to a position beyond him. We leapfrogged like that for 20 meters or so until we came to a position of cover – a pallet standing on its side. Then came the final challenge – the WALL.

It was about 8 feet high. It had several sandbags stacked in front of it so that you could stand on them and “take a peek over the top” to see what was on the other side. We were told to use the buddy system to get over and as I approached I was thinking, “where’s the crane to lift my fat old body over?” Well as I established my position of cover at the pallet, it was my turn to assault the wall. My “buddy” – not SGT Aaron, came behind me. SGT Aaron would have helped me over but this guy just stood there and watched. Jerk. Actually, I’m glad he didn’t help. I’m proud to say that as I stood on the sandbags, I was able to jump, yes jump, with my IBA, a full Camelback, my pistol strapped to my leg and my rifle, up enough to get a good handhold on the wall, was able to pull my leg up and swing it over the wall. Hooah!! (That’s an Army thing. It means “yes,” “I understand,” “success” and whatever else you want it to mean. Instructors will often say “hooah” after a sentence or two and expect you to respond with a “hooah” just so they know that you’re “tracking” – paying attention.) As I got over the wall, I was supposed to help my “buddy” get over. For a brief moment I thought, “You didn’t help me so I’m not going to help you.” He had a harder time. It took him a couple of tries before he got a leg up that I could grab onto and help him.

After we scaled the wall, we took up a defensive perimeter and pulled security. We were able to strip off our IBAs. What a welcome relief. You wear the IBA strapped as tight to you as possible as it relieves pressure off the shoulders. The effect is that you can’t breathe very well. Remember the scene from “Pirates of the Carribbean” where Elizabeth can’t breath and finally due to the lack of oxygen falls off the wall into the ocean, well that’s how I was feeling. I was sucking so much wind, or at least attempting to, that I was ripping that thing off as fast as I could just to catch a decent breath.

With all that exertion, being strapped in the oven that we call and IBA, with the humidity being extremely high that morning, we all continued to sweat profusely. I can honestly say, I have never been so wet with sweat in my entire life. I could not find a dry piece of clothing anywhere. Even my boots were wet with sweat. I've got a "skull-cap" that I wear under my helmet to keep the sweat from dripping into my eyes. It does a pretty good job, but once it gets soaked, it can't do much more. Throughout the morning, I would wring it out and I was literally getting 3-4 ounces of persperation out of it. Pretty disgusting. I was hoping that I would dry out a little as we sat through another class, but I just kept sweating. We were sitting on logs for the class and as the sweat dripped off me, I would try and aim the sweat drops at the ants crawling around in the dirt underneath me. I know, you’re thinking how gross but it’s amazing the things you do to entertain yourself.

Tomorrow, in addition to more squad patrol techniques, we get to react to sniper fire. We'll be issued blanks so will actually get to shoot. That's always fun. The last day we conduct an all-out assault against a target, again shooting blanks. It should be a great learning experience as well as a lot of fun.

That training takes four days. We start at 6:00 a.m. which means I have to get up by 4:00 a.m. but the nice thing is that we’re done by noon or so. Which leads me full circle to the rain. I had hung my sweaty, dripping uniforms outside my room to dry and air out and proceeded to fall asleep. I was awakened by the thunder and the sound of rain on the roof. At first I didn’t realize what it was, but then jumped out of bed and went out and got my uniform before it got too wet. It had been hanging there for almost three hours so was almost dry.

Anyway, I just sat there for 10-15 minutes watching the rain feeling quite blessed that we were not out in the field working some lane in the pouring rain because “training does not stop for the rain.”

Combat JAGs

This is me and my two combat JAGs. 1LT Dusty Kawai and MAJ Paul Waldron. They're great guys and great JAGs.

The guys on my team are calling me "Jag-Wayne" because of the way I wear my chin strap a la John Wayne from his WWII movies. I hate that thing so let it hang loose as often as I can, as you can see from this picture.

IV - CLS Certification

As I mentioned in a previous posting, I was looking forward to the experience of administering and IV into the arm of a lucky victim. I had a feeling of some trepidation all afternoon. I don’t really like needles that much – but then who does other than a drug user – but I digress. We got some excellent instruction on how to do it as well as some great tips from our small-group instructor. We then divided up into pairs and got to work. We were outside on the grass and I was the give-or the first time. (I don’t have any picture of me giving the IV so you’ll have to take my word for it. Actually, everyone around me was working and couldn’t take one for me.) The LT who was my partner, had great veins. After flexing his arm with the restricting band on, his veins were just begging to be stuck. I followed the instructions to the “T” and slipped that needle into his arm without any problem. I got the catheter in just fine. Then I pulled out the needle and he began to ooze blood. Not unexpected as I hadn’t put on the saline lock or an IV bag. (The saline lock is a device that you can put on before you put on the IV bag. It stops the flow of blood. You can then tape that to the patients arm and later come back and administer the IV.) It was a little disconcerting and I got momentarily flustered looking for the saline lock so he bled more than I’d have liked. He was a good sport though. After I got the saline lock on, I got him taped up and had the instructor check my work to that point. Then we had to flush the saline lock with saline from the IV bag and then insert the IV into the lock, get a good saline drip, show the instructor and then we were done. It was actually a lot easier than I thought it would be so if anyone needs an IV now, I’ll feel like I could actually do it. (As we train in the heat and humidity, if anyone suffers from heat exhaustion or becomes a heat casualty, that’s one of the first things we do when administering first aid – stick them with a saline IV to get their body fluids up.)

After I finished, the LT got up and we were both amazed at the pool of blood that had formed under his arm. There were ants all over the place and he was being eaten while he was laying there. They loved him for some reason. They didn't bother me fortunately. Anyway, a few minutes after he got up, we looked at his blood pool, and it was swarming with ants. It was morbidly fascinating watching that boiling ant mass. OK, sorry for grossing you out.

It was then my turn to get stuck. He did a good job. It didn't hurt, just a little discomfort as he pushed the catheter into my arm. I didn't bleed as much as he did so was grateful for that.

There was about 80 of us spread all over the grass doing IV's. It was like a mini-trauma center.

I can now say that I am a “combat lifesaver” as I got a 95% on the written exam and passed all the practicals. The practicals consisted of conducting a patrol and coming upon a unit that had taken casualties. The injuries ranged from road rash – my patient – to an amputated foot, to extensive gunshot wounds – those were my injuries when I was playing the patient, etc. The injured are given a card with a color photograph of an injury on the front with a written description of the injury on the back. (Some of the pictures are pretty gross, especially the double leg amputee and foot amputee. They’re mannequins but they look incredibly real. The instructor said that the fleshy, blood-oozing wounds were actually deer meet. They were disgusting.) As the combat life saver (CLS) would approach the patient, we had to do an initial assessment and try to discover the problem before the injured patient would give us his card. Of course, in real life some of the injuries would be obvious, but we needed to go through the routine.

When it was my turn to play CLS, we actually came under sniper fire from an injured enemy so myself and another officer got to deal with him. It was fun. The “enemy” put up a good fight as we struggled to take away his weapons to the point that I just about took the butt of my rifle and was going to give him a “butt-stroke” to the head – pretend of course, but we didn’t have to get to that point.

It was a good class.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Mounted Combat Patrol, Base Defense, Reflexive Fire

It’s been another busy week or so since I last posted anything. We’ve spent several days in the field. We were supposed to actually spend a couple of nights in the FOB (forward operating base) but there are so many soldiers already there that there wasn’t room for us. I so had my heart set on sleeping in a hot tent for two nights fighting the bugs. But darn it all, I had to come back to my room and take a shower in my private bathroom.

We were working on mounted combat patrol and base camp defense operations. Mounted combat patrol is where there’s a convoy of armored humvees, with gunners in the turrets, conducting convoy operations. We would travel through the range, looking for IED’s, reporting those that we found, requesting permission to take an alternate route, respond to exploding IED’s by taking evasive action, etc., treating our wounded, requesting medical evacuation, engaging the enemy at various points on the range from our vehicles as well as getting out to engage the targets. It was a lot of fun.

LTC James Slagowski, Slag, was our team commander, but because he was in the turret, I got to act as the team commander. What that meant is I got to communicate with the OC’s (trainers), give orders on where to go, what to do, radio in reports, etc. Because it was such a small range and things happened so fast, I often would be in the middle of one report when I needed to start another one. For example, I had to report every time we engaged an enemy. After the engagement, I had to report the weapons, equipment and casualty status of our team. I had to report when we encountered IED’s and request permission to take a different route. I had to report whenever we had a casualty and request medical evacuation. Several of these reports have very specific requirements of things that must be reported. Fortunately I have a couple of cheat-sheets with the information on them. It was just that so much information had to be conveyed and as I said, things happened so fast, it seemed like all I did was talk on the radio. The second day, I was concentrating so hard on getting the correct information relayed, that I didn’t realize that we’d been hit with and IED and that one of our guys had been injured. By the time I was aware, it was after Slag had gotten out of the turret, was administering first aid and had to yell at me to get my attention to get up in the turret to man the weapon. Never having used the radios to make reports before, it was a great learning experience. Now I’m not so nervous about tackling that job.

The base camp defense operation involved our three teams defending a “base camp” from the enemy. The first group took up defensive positions along our outer cordon. They were in two towers and various buildings. We were warned that when we were in the towers and buildings we needed to be careful as they were locations where Black Widows and Brown Recluse spiders were known to make their homes. I hate spiders so was hoping that I wouldn’t have to go in them. I didn’t. However, as we were picking up brass casings, I saw a couple of Black Widows in their webs, but no Recluses. I only saw them in my dreams that night. I kept dreaming that they were crawling on my headboard and I’d wake up, sit up, turn on the light and only then realizing that I was dreaming. I hate spiders!!!

The second team, our team, acted as medics, ammo resupply guys as well as being available to move up to assume the primary positions. The third team was in the rear in their armored humvees. They were the quick reaction force (QRF). When we got low on ammo, we called in the “calvary” and they came roaring in and engaged the enemy from their vehicles as well as dismounted positions. It was a cool exercise. The first night we did it with blanks so that we could work out the kinks without endangering anyone. The second night was with live fire.

SGT Aaron and I were the primary litter team. The first night, when a soldier went down, we ran up and tried to lift him using the cross-armed carry technique. It was harder that I expected. Then, SGT Aaron being younger and faster took off at a brisk trot. It was all I could do to keep up. I finally had to tell him that I couldn’t run that fast. As we reached our destination – about 25 yards away – I know, that’s nothing, but remember, I’m a FOG, I about dropped our guy. The CLS (combat life saver) guys and SGT Aaron took over and began to administer first aid. I just stood there sucking breath. I was a pretty pathetic sight. After I got my breath I assisted as much as I could.

The second night, an even bigger guy was the casualty. It took 5 of us to get him back to the CLS guys. SGT Aaron started dragging him by the scruff of his neck through the rocks – there’s a handle on our IBA on the neckline, but he didn’t get too far. We had to pick him up by the neck handle as well as the arms and legs. Then, when we got him to the medevac location, the CLS guy stuck him three different times, trying to get and IV inserted. This guys veins were so hard to locate, that the CLS guy was unsuccessful. All he did was poke him in three different locations.

Another days training involved “reflexive fire” training - walking through a “village” and responding reflexively to pop-up targets, engaging the targets, all while on the move. Because of the optical/laser sites on our M4’s it made it easier to hit the targets. I didn’t have to focus through the sites, but simply had to put the laser dot on the target and squeeze the trigger. The 9M was much more difficult. We worked on holding the 9M in the low ready, down in front of us, and simply raising our arms towards the target, and squeezing the trigger. Believe me, it’s harder than the movies make it look. It takes concentration and the ability to raise the gun in a smooth level manner and getting it in the center of mass. I had to learn to quit shooting into the sandbags in front of the target. It was still a lot of fun.

Those of us not CLS certified, are now in the class to become certified. Of course, it’s an additional class, after hours, after we’ve already had a long day. The first night – last night – was death by PowerPoint for several hours. The material was obviously important, but it was hard to really pay attention after having spent the whole day in the field. However, I’m proud to say, I stayed awake the whole evening. Tonight and tomorrow we’ll be doing the hands-on part. Tonight, everyone will get to administer an IV as well as being the recipient of an IV. They told us that if we haven’t been drinking enough fluids, it makes it hard to find the vein. So the obvious suggestion was that we all drink plenty of fluids today. I’ve been drinking so much that I feel like I’m living in the bathroom. I just hope that whoever sticks me does a good job. I’m sure whoever I stick is thinking the same thing. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Small Pox

We all have to get tested for small pox. If you were immunized as a child, as I was, you get 15 pricks with a very small needle. It injects the virus into your skin where it grows into this disgusting, weeping pustule. I'm still in the growing stage. It hasn't started to "weep" yet. Can hardly wait until that happens.

I had the test done 6 days ago and this is what it looks like. If you think it's gross, you should see it in person.

I have to keep a bandaid on it for 2 weeks. After that, I can take the bandaid off for an hour or so at a time to help it dry out. It's supposed to eventually turn into a "cornflake" and fall off.

Can't wait till that happens.

Sorry if this grosses you out, but I thought my boys might like it. Probably not.

Happy 4th and Latest Cool Stuff

As America celebrated her birthday with parties and fireworks, so did we. OK, no fireworks, but we ate ourselves silly. We had a couple of days off which was well received. Several of the guys flew their wives out and were able to spend some quality time with them. Jerks!! All of ‘em!! Even SGT Aaron. The all showed up at work on the 5th with big stupid grins on their big stupid faces. Those of us without such reasons to be smiling wanted to wipe those big stupid grins right off. OK, I’m just jealous!

I was not alone though, for the holiday. My good friend, Jeff McIntosh, drove up from Houston and spent a day with me. He drove 8 hours on Sunday. I took him to dinner that night - the food was less than outstanding but the company was great. I tried to get him a room in my complex but was told that all the rooms were going to be filled the next day so I couldn't get him one. He had to sleep on the floor on an air mattress. Oh well. I'm just glad that he was able to come up.

We had a command barbecue the afternoon of the 4th. One of our officer’s brothers is a professor here at the local university. He brought venison brauts, his catfish fryer and pounds of catfish, and a dozen or more watermelon. MWR (morale, welfare and recreation) provided burgers, dogs, beans, potato salad, drinks and chips. We had more food than we knew what to do with. I had reserved a pavilion near my quarters as well as bought some extra chips, drinks and the charcoal. Our supply section the S-4 section, made all the arrangements with MWR, getting the food as well as a volleyball net and softball equipment. In our house, there’s a long standing joke, actually it’s a fact; whenever I plan a barbecue it rains. Always, always happens. And this time proved to be no exception. For the two days previous and for the next week, there’s a tropical front moving through the area and sure enough, thick, black clouds began building around 3:30 p.m. – we started at 3:00 – and by 5:00 you could hear the thunder rumbling in the distance. We were just about done anyway but the lightening in the sky convinced the softball players to give it up. We rushed to get everything packed and moved but didn’t quite make it. Huge drops of rain began falling…and falling…until it became a downpour. The thunder was incredibly loud and the lightening lit up the sky despite the fact that it was still daylight. My room was only 100 yards from the pavilion but since I had to make a couple of trips back and forth, I was soaked by the time things were completely cleared up. It was a lot of fun though and quite the say to end the day.

I was in bed by 8:30 that night and asleep by 9:00 p.m. so didn’t get to see any fireworks. Why so early, well, because I had to be up at 4:00 a.m. the next morning. We’d turned in our M9 and M4 to be stored in our supply section’s vault. Since our training the next day started at 6:00 a.m., we had to draw our weapons from supply before we started training. That’s the earliest I’ve had to get up since we’ve been here, but the day was great.

We spent the morning in class learning about the armored HMMVWs we’ll be driving. They’re armor plated vehicles that can withstand quite a lot of firepower. We saw slides of one of these vehicles that had an IED (improvised explosive device) explode underneath it. The vehicle was beat up pretty badly, but all four occupants walked away.

We also learned about the use of NVGs ( night vision goggles). We were going to be doing some night driving through the woods that night so had to be trained up on the use and operation. That was pretty cool.

After lunch, we got to drive the armored vehicles. It was cool – literally. They’re air conditioned with is a must since you can’t, or I should say, you’re not supposed to roll down the windows. Without the AC, you’d die of heat. The pump that runs the AC though, is incredibly loud. I kept thinking that something was broken, but our OC (observer/controller) didn’t say anything so I realized all the racket was normal. The Army wants each soldier to have an hours worth of driving to be certified. I was excited, thinking that we were going to get to drive these in some cool places. That was not to be. We drove them on the local highway, around the camp and on dirt roads. It was fun at first, but got pretty boring. Since there were three of us, plus an OC in the vehicle, we each had to sit through the others driving. I had nightmarish flashbacks back to driver’s ed remembering what it was like having to drive with the other students. Aaaagggghhh!

But a little bit of pain was worth what came next.

After we all got our driving time in – there 3 armored HHMMVWs out driving – we swapped with the drivers of the regular HHMMVWs. They’d been out on the rough terrain course. That was where the real fun was.

It had been raining most of the day so it was pretty wet. As the name of the course suggests, it was truly rough terrain. There were huge mud holes, huge moguls in the road, hills to climb and trees to not hit. I was the last to drive in my vehicle so had the benefit of watching the others and getting a feel for the course. I also had the benefit of being shaken up the most. The passengers in the back seats in these vehicles really take a beating. At least I did. I was wearing my seat belt and was glad that I was. I was being thrown all over the place. I also had on my Kevlar helmet and was glad for that as my head was thrown into the ceiling a couple of times. I also was hating the fact that I was wearing my helmet. The thing weighs a few pounds and with all the bouncing up and down I was doing, I swear I was a few inches shorter when I got out.

Prior to starting the course, we received a safety briefing. The OC said that the maximum speed on the range was 15 mph. I thought, “that’s not very fast” but soon learned that for that course, it was plenty fast.

As we pulled off the road onto the dirt, we immediately went down a short hill only be met by several moguls/bumps in the road as we worked our way up. That’s where they bouncing and head-banging came into play. At least, that was the first place. The mud holes soon followed with more bumps and slide-outs and all kinds of great fun.

SGT Aaron was next and he treated us to another wild ride. At one point, the OC told him to slow down as there was a very sharp left-hand turn. He said to slow down because several drivers in the first group had failed to slow down and slid into the tree that was there at the turn. He made it around that turn without any mishaps.

It was finally my turn. I got to start all over on the course so I knew what was coming. It was a vastly different experience being in the driver’s seat. It wasn’t as jostling as in the back. I kept an eye on my speedometer and I was reaching the 20-25 mph mark. At one point, the OC said that it was OK to have fun but to be safe. I made sure to thank 1SGT Potter – the first driver, for my experience by taking those initial moguls and a fast pace. He was definitely “shaken but not stirred.”

As I came to the mud hole, I gunned it a little bit and lost control. I started sliding sideways and even though I tried to correct the sideways movement, I only succeeded in sliding into some low lying branches.

Earlier that day, SGT Aaron and I made an agreement that every time I cursed, I’d have to pay $5 into some sort of fund. Now don’t get the wrong impression, I’m doing really well controlling my language, but the s-word is one that slips out every now and then.

As I was sliding into the branches, I thought for sure I was going to hit the tree. After we stopped, I told SGT Aaron that I owed $5 to the fund.

After I completed the course, that snot-nosed brat, SGT Aaron got out and kissed the ground. Jeez, you’d have thought I was endangering his life or something.

Actually, it was more for show. I was the lead vehicle so everyone behind me saw my great driving skills. One of the guys said I actually got some air going over one of the bumps. It was the most fun day I’ve had since I’ve been here.

The unanimous comment was what a great exercise it was but more importantly, we were glad the motor pool guys didn’t see what we’d just done to their vehicles.

That night we got to drive with the NVG’s. We had seen slides showing the goggles that had two tubes – like binoculars, so when I got mine and it was a single tube – monocular, I was disappointed. They still worked really well. It just made me feel just a little off looking through one lens.

We waited until it was nearly dark before we left the classroom area. We drove to a secluded part of base and pulled off the road. We were in the woods where it was pretty dark. We drove the route first with headlights, then with them off. It was just like in the movies. Looking through the lens, everything was green. I was the 8th of 9 vehicles so could see the HHMVWs in front of me as well as the one in the rear-view mirror. As I said, by the time the third driver had his turn, I was wanting to take them off. I think if I had a binocular type set I would have been fine. I hope we don’t do much night driving over there where we need the NVGs. Otherwise, I might be tempted to buy my own set.

A couple of our guys are smokers. As they were smoking before we actually drove the course, I watched them through the goggles. It was pretty cool. When looking with the naked eye, the cigarette butt was barely visible, but through the goggles, it looked like they were holding Tinkerbell in their hands. Their whole hand was glowing and there was a circular glow around their hand as well. Some brought their laser pointers and that was also really cool to watch. Depending on where you were standing, you could actually see the laser beam leaving the pointer and traveling out to its target. We could see the beam as far as a mile or more with the goggles but not with the naked eye. Pretty cool.