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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Mounted Landnav

Dismounted (a.k.a. on-foot) land navigation is interesting, but realistically a Psyop soldier will not spend much time walking from place-to-place. We will drive in vehicles (generally as part of a small convoy). We learned how to navigate through unfamiliar terrain using maps, compass and GPS. We were not given moving-map type GPS units (though they may be available while deployed). Instead we used a large-but-reliable unit known as a PLUGGER.

We were given a list of "grid coordinates" to find for each of several missions. A grid coordinate is the military way of specifying a specific position on the surface of the earth. It is similar to specifying latitude and longitude, but uses a different numbering system.

We had a great time taking turns driving the HMMWV, navigating, and communicating (the person in the communication slot worked the radio to report mission progress to the TOC - Tactical Operations Center).

The experience we gained in the past few days will be invaluable for the FTX at the end of the course. The FTX is the final Field Training eXercise. Most of the FTX missions involve first locating and driving to the objective.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Foreign Weapons

Everyone going through BCT gets to qualify on the M16. In AIT, we get to qualify with other US weapons as well. Today we did something that few do in AIT - learned about foreign weapons - the weapons most likely to be used against us.

The class was divided into groups, and rotated around various stations. My first stop was to learn how to disassemble and reassemble an AK-47. It's a very simple weapon, yet effective for that same reason. It's simplicity makes it very reliable. Not accurate, but reliable. We learned that the average enemy we are likely to encounter is poorly trained in the use of the AK-47, making it even less likely that a given shot will find its mark. However, what the AK lacks in accuracy (especially in the hands of poorly trained combatants) it makes up for in sheer volume of lead it can hurl down range.

After learning to disassemble the AK, we had an opportunity to fire it. Unfortunately TRADOC will not let us fire live ammo from foreign weapons, but we did get to shoot blanks. Not as good as the real thing, but fun nevertheless.

After learning about the AK, I moved on to a station that teaches about the RPG-7 (RPG stands for Rocket Propelled Grenade). They are very cheap in a country like Iraq, with the launcher costing perhaps $50 and individual grenades selling for only a few dollars. The weapon can be effective if used properly. It can also be deadly to the user. We were told of a Marine in Iraq who was severely injured when an RPG he was firing "just for kicks" malfunctioned.

We also got to spend a little time with the Dragonov sniper rifle, and the RPK machine gun. The RPK is similar to the AK, but has a heavier barrel to substain high rates of fire for longer without overheating.

Part of the Psyop job is convincing the supported unit that you can add value to their mission. One of the instructors was traveling with a Marine battalion when they discovered a weapons cache. He picked up an AK-47 and properly cleared and disassembled it like it was the most natural thing in the world. Talk about instant credibility.

Thursday, November 03, 2005


Most people passed the Land Nav test, but many struggled. Of course the two lost boys had to retest today (see yesterday's blog). The Instructors decided it would be a good idea to send us off solo again, with a new list of points, to refine our skills.

On the way to my first point, I looked up at the treeline just in time to see an A-10 attack aircraft flying just above it, perhaps 200' above the ground. What a great reminder of my ultimate goal - to become an Army Aviator!

I was already good at Land Nav going in to the Army. By now I could pretty much walk straight to my points. So, I quickly located all of my targets, then settled down next to the last one to soak up the sun and write my fiancee a long letter. Few and far between are the times you have an opportunity to just relax in BCT and AIT. If you learn your job well, you may be able to make a few opportunities for yourself.

Once the sun went down, we received a real treat (by SIT - Soldier in Training - standards anyway). We maintained a fire 24 hours a day since arriving at the training location. The Drill Sergeants felt that it was time for us to celebrate our accomplishments. Up they rolled with the company van, and unloaded boxes of hotdogs, buns, desserts, soda (yes - soda. A rare treat!). We enjoyed a feast, roasting our hotdogs over the bonfire.

We began telling jokes, some quite PC and some most certainly not. One really dumb one somehow stuck with me:

A pirate walks into a bar with a big ship’s wheel down his pants. The bartender says, "Excuse me, sir, do you know you have a ship’s wheel down the front of your pants?" The pirate answers… "Aargh, it’s driving me nuts!!"

Then, suddenly, a disturbance in the brush! A figure was running around our camp, holding what looked like chemical lights. It was running... comically. Literally. The Senior Drill Sergeant instructed some of us to give chase. Our team rushed into the trees. The figure ran off, then turned to run right through our festivities! Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No... it's... Spiderman?!?! That's right, Spiderman came running through our camp. After quite a chase he was brought down, and his mask removed. Spiderman was really ... Wait! Some of my readers are headed off to AIT soon. Better not spoil the suprise :-)

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