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.