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.

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