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.

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