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.”


Julie Washburn said...

Hey Jag man cool pics. They posted your blog page site in the ward bulletin so now we can all keep up. Nice IV start! you should put pressure just above the end of the catheter and it won't bleed out. It is cool! Medicine Woman

Anonymous said...

I am so glad that Janae sent your blog address with her latest email. What a kick I got reading about all of your adventures!! I have been laughing soooooooooo hard! Especially the cookies and milk one! But I am so grateful that there are men like you that prefer cookies and milk over that other stuff. And I'm sure that it's just a matter of time before you have all of them trading in their beer, etc. for a big bag of Chips Ahoy and moo juice. Thanks for being such a great example to them and for all of us!! Keep in touch. The Six's