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Wednesday, September 28, 2005


NIC, the Night Infiltration Course, is designed to provide a basic feeling for what it is like to be in a firefight. It seems more appropriate to a cold-war scenario, or perhaps even a landing on the beaches of Normandy, but it was interesting nonetheless. We started at one end of a sand pit the length of perhaps two football fields, and had to low crawl to the other end, with machine guns firing over our heads, simulated explosions left and right (the area where the explosions go off are carefully fenced in), and the occasional flare that gets shot up. When a flare goes off, it’s like a bit roman candle, except that the rocket pops a parachute, and returns to Earth still burning so that the “enemy” can spot us. We have to stop moving while a flare is burning, then resume crawling as soon as it goes out.

It was a fun little exercise, but has little to do with today’s real world combat.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


The day at the US weapons range was great, but things quickly took a turn for the worst for 6 of us. While we were out, our barracks was robbed. The perpetrators broke padlocks off of some of the wall lockers, and stole whatever money they could find. One person lost around $400, but it was truly poetic justice. He had been stealing food out of the DFAC (dining facility) – in particular things we’re not allowed to have like desserts, and selling it in the barracks.
For me, the ordeal turned out to be pretty interesting. The MP’s as well as civilian police responded (CSI does not handle petty theft) and conducted a full-blown investigation. That included searching the entire barracks along with each individual wall locker. The officer in charge had a peculiar sense of humor that I found quite funny. He kept teasing people to see how they react. For example, while searching one (rather gullible) private’s possessions, he came across liquid laundry soap. He told the private, in a very official sounding tone, “I need you to dump that out so I can inspect it.” The dumbfounded (and dumb) private actually began to comply, but the officer told him, grin suppressed but showing, “No, no, that’s OK. I trust you.” One of the officers is a former Psyop. He told me a bit about training at Ft. Bragg, and told me I will thoroughly love the job. In the end, the culprits were not found. However, it did make for an interesting diversion from otherwise not-so-exciting days. I just feel sorry for those who lost valuables that they actually earned.

US Weapons

Today was a fun day. We went out to the range and had the opportunity to try our hand at a number of weapons in the US arsenal. The M249 squad assault weapon fires the same ammunition that the M16 does, but is capable of automatic fire. It is a heavier weapon, better able to abate the heat build up by firing rounds repetitively. The M240B is a heavier weapon than the M249, firing 7.62mm rather than 5.56mm rounds. It is also considered a superior design. The M203 is a grenade launcher that bolts on under the handgrip of the M16, firing 40mm grenades out to several hundred meters. The AT4 is a light anti-armor weapon, playing a similar role to the Russian RPG, but much more accurate and reliable. Finally, the claymore mine provides good defense, and can also be used well in an ambush. We had the opportunity to fire all of these weapons. The day at the range was just basic familiarization. In a pinch, those of us who paid attention would know how to load, fire and clear each weapon. We did not have enough practice to be considered anywhere near qualified. Still, it provided a good taste of weapons some of us will train on in AIT or in our units, depending on whether our job requires it.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Dressing Up

So far we have been doing all our training in BDU’s – Battle Dress Uniforms. Now we’re approaching the end of BCT and graduation is in sight. Graduation is a ceremonial occasion, and BDU’s just will not do. Today, we were issued our Class A uniforms. Some people call them “dress uniforms”. It is amazing how quickly almost 200 people can be fitted for what amounts to suits and have them tailored to fit. It does feel good to put on the Class A’s. It’s a sign that training is almost done, and a sign of achievement.
Today they also started moving Drill Sergeants around. DS Annoyed has been moved to a different platoon, where he became the senior DS. He is knowledgeable and his skills will be missed, but on the other hand his approach makes the time in BCT unpleasant. Hopefully his replacement will have both the knowledge, and the skill to impart that knowledge without the need to be, well, annoyed all the time.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

A BCT Birthday

Most people don't look forward to celebrating their birthday in Basic Combat Training. I'm no different. To make things worse, the day did not start out well. Standing in the Company morning formation, the First Sergeant, the NCO in charge of running the Company, came out and yelled loud enough for all 170 people in the Company to hear, "Soldiers Johannsen and Brown report to the Commanding Officer immediately after formation!" Reporting to the C.O. is almost never a good thing. When I got there, I discovered that Brown was there for Article 15 punishment for starting a fight. Again I wondered, "What is going on?" The First Sergeant came out and asked my first name. Five minutes passed, and then another sergeant asked the same question. Curious, I thought. Then clarity - it turns out they were really interested in Private Jonas, who appears next to me on the Company roster, and is a short female. Relived, I returned to my Platoon. The rest of the day turned out to be a great birthday, except that my friends and loved ones weren't with me (except in spirit). We went to a confidence course, much of which requires teamwork. The first one we did had us climbing up a tower, walking across a balancing beam (with a net below in case we fall) and making our way to a platform where a DS strapped us into a parachute harness and pushed us off the tower - but the harness was attached to a cable, that we slid down to the ground - a drop at 40', while traveling about 200' away from the tower. The trip ends suddenly when the top of the harness strikes a cross beam, slinging the rider from vertical to horizontal almost instantly. Your team then helps you down. Another obstacle had a five man team climbing 5 successively higher log walls - the highest of which was about 12'. Tall, strong people go up first, being heaved up by their team mates. They secure themselves atop the wall, then reach down to hoist the others up. When the walls get to be too high, a belt can be made into an improved sling. There was one female in our group who has no upper body strength and no coordination. Let's call her Private Graceful. When we had to get her up onto the first high wall, another male and I reached grabbed one of her wrists and yanked, while two from the bottom pushed her up. In a flash, she was laying atop the wall on her belly. To be put down on the other side, she would have to turn around (unless she were to go face-first ;-) Unfortunately, she did not have the slightest clue how to do that. She started to flail around wildly. I was doing my best to stabilize her, when my friend Private Green suddenly turned bright red. He let out a yell that caught everyone's attention. Graceful had firmly planted her elbow on his, hum, sensitive area. And left it there. The poor guy experienced drawn-out pain while he tried to get out from under Graceful without throwing her off the wall. In spite of the painful interlude, we had a great deal of fun negotiating the walls - something I was uncertain of being able to do when we arrived that morning. By far, the most interesting and unnerving obstacle is the Skyscraper. Imagine five 10 feet by 10 foot wooden platforms, all stacked atop each other 5'-7' apart - forming the floors of a mini skyscraper. The task is to climb up - on the outside. On the way up, the hardest job is going first. There is no one above you to help pull you up... or to grab you if you slip. I was both the tallest and the strongest, so that job fell to me. The first floor was not so bad. The spacing between floors is moderate, and the fall isn't that far. Once I was up, we decided to pull up Private Graceful. She was panicked. On the one hand, she knew this course is a requirement to graduate. On the other hand, she had no concept of how to accomplish it, and quite a fear of heights. Once she got half way up, she panicked. There was no safe way to put her back down, so we did what we had to do... hoisted her up. I grabbed her hands and arms hard, pulling her up like a sack of potatoes, while the others found a grip on her flailing legs and pushed her hard. She was terrified, but we were not about to let her fall. One last pull, and her upper body rested on my platform. I scooted back, grabbed both wrists, and gave a hard tug, bringing the rest of her to relative safety. We did it, as a team, but it was all too much for the Drill Sergeant. Too much risk. A fall from this first level could result in a twisted ankle for someone who keeps their wits about them, but it could prove far worse for a panicked person. A fall from a higher level could have a far worse outcome. The DS removed Private Graceful from the course, leaving the four of us to press on.

We all made it up onto that first platform without too much difficulty, working together as a team. The next one was not that bad either. Then came the third of four. It was spaced the furthest apart, requiring quite a stretch - hanging over quite a long drop - for me to get my fingers in place to grab on. Then I had to jump, trusting in the strength of my fingertips and my buddies not to let me fall. By this point, we were certainly in broken bone territory, if not worse. The final platform was relatively short, and we easily made it to the top. There, we celebrated briefly, rocking the sturdy but flexible tower back and forth and chanting the name of our platoon: "Under-takers, Under-takers, Under-takers".

The way down was at least as challenging as the way up, in a different way. Fortunately, the first level down was not that far. Still, it's quite a feeling to hang your body over a ledge, with no one below you to help out (again, the tall and strong one went first...), trusting in your fingertips to hold you, and your balance to get your body securely on the next platform. After I was down, Private Forreal went next. She has two anatomatical features that made it difficult for her on the way down: She's quite short, and she has size E breasts. The first seems obvious enough, but none of us anticipated the second offering a challenge... until the difficulty struck. She was hanging over the top ledge from the waste down. I placed a hand behind her leg to begin to guide her down, and then she let her weight slowly slide over the edge. Then, she stopped... stuck in place, the victim of her anatomy. She didn't communicate her predicament, but rather tried to work herself loose - which she did with rather sudden success. She fell earthward as her chest cleared the edge, accelerating rapidly toward the ground. Reflexively, without time to think, I grabbed the roof with my left hand and her waist with my right, and yanked her in with all my strength. She was secure. No bones would break today.

The next level down was physically the most challenging for me, having the largest gap. Having the benefit of experience from the previous level, I just grabbed a gap in the floor boards with my fingers, lowered my body all the way down, and pulled my legs up and in to contact the floor below.

The rest of the descent was uneventful, but reaching ground floor was a great feeling. The Skyscraper certainly lived up to its reputation... challenging people and building confidence.

Once the course was done, there was one final birthday treat. All of the Drill Sergeants went home early, and the First Sergeant opened up the floor... to student impersonations of their Drill Sergeants! Some of us should have been appearing in the comedy club rather than training to be a soldier, so good were some of the acts that were put out. It was a riot. We had such a good time joking and laughing.

BCT is not the place to celebrate a birthday, but I had about the best birthday anyone has had in basic training.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Reflexive Fire

Today we went to the range to try out hand at reflexive fire, the same skill we practiced without rounds the day before. On previous ranges, the targets averaged 175m, almost two football fields away from us. Here the closest target was just 12.5m away - think soccer, penalty shot - and the furthest was only 25m. Very up-close and personal. Everyone in the Platoon has a combat support role (logistics, mechanic, administration, etc.). We all hope never to see an enemy that close. Practicing once at the range hardly prepares you for the real thing. In fact, the real thing is exactly what happened to Jessica Lynch and her convoy. They were a bunch of transportation specialists who happened to take a wrong turn. They were ill-prepared for the resistance they encountered. My unit practices that kind of scenario. Also, if we do move over land, it is generally with infantry support due to the nature of our mission. I hope that the soldiers I trained with today get more training before they end up in Iraq.

Saturday, September 17, 2005


The past two days, I could only fire once per day because so many people were struggling. Today, I did not get to fire at all! So many people are still having a hard time that they said anyone who qualified yesterday will use the score from yesterday, so that there is more time and ammo for the others to attempt their qualification. I really thought I could hit 30 targets, but now will never know. I guess just qualifying a day ahead of time is pretty good, especially considering I only ever shot a rifle once, 23 years ago, on my uncle's ranch. The trick to qualifying on the M-16, and shooting well, is simple - listen to what the DS is telling you, and do it. Some of the people who have the hardest times are the ones who's paw or grandpaw taught them to shoot, and fail to adapt their technique to the M-16.

The day was very long. Even though I could not shoot, I did have time to write two poems - perhaps providing me with a little balance. Even though I could not shoot I still had an interesting day. By the afternoon, many had qualified and the DS's were working on the hard cases. Perhaps 120 of us went to an adjacent field to learn and practice "reflexive fire" - taking the weapon off safe when a target appears, engaging that target, and then promptly returning the weapon to safe. The DS's were all needed at the firing line, and they put me in charge of the exercise.

Most of the people there really wanted to learn. We were practicing a skill that keeps you alive in a war zone. However, there were a few soldiers, maybe 10% that treat BCT like high school - a place to run their mouth and be disruptive. Generally, they are kids from the hood. The worst offender is a big black kid, named Davis, that reminds me strongly of a character in Jet Li's movie 'Romeo Must Die' - the fat character that's always running his mouth. Normally, when a trainee is left in charge, the kids from the block do whatever they want. Not with me. When Davis began talking to his friends loudly enough to constitute a disturbance, I stopped training, addressed him directly, and politely asked him to behave. He turned to me with an intimidating look and asked "Who the F*ck you talking to". Usually, others back down when he pounds his chest like that, I just pretended I was a DS, walked right up to him, face-to-face, spouting off something like "Many people here will be in Iraq in a few months. Now, if you want to get your fat ass shot up because you don't know what the hell you're doing, that's fine with me. But, most of the people here want to learn how to keep themselves alive." I used my best DS voice, too :-) He was shocked, and shut up - for a while. A bit later, he decided to test the waters again. I let him know, at the top of my lungs, but remaining professional rather than getting angry, that I'm conducting training, and he's disturbing it. DS Annoyed happened to walk by just then, and gave Davis a half-hour smoke session. The fat boy sure needed the workout ;-) For days afterwards, people commented on how well I handled the situation. I'm just glad I could get important training to people that need it.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Practice Quest

Today we were back on the same range. I got to shoot it for the 2nd time. For many others, it is the 4th or 5th attempt. Again, I "qualified" on my first attempt. Again, many others did not. I still didn't break 30 of 40, the number required to become a sharpshooter. However, I'm getting to know this range and think my chances are good for tomorrow.

I have memorized the order the targets appear in, and figured out just where to aim for each target, given its distance down range. When first fired, a round begins to climb. Then, after a few hundred meters, gravity pulls it back down toward the actual aiming point. Additionally, if the target is slightly up or down hill, aim must also be adjusted. Tomorrow's the day...We'll see!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Real Range

Finally, we got to shoot on the actual range we will qualify on. It's different, in that there are targets from 50m to 300m in 50m increments, with two targets at 50m (left and right of the center line). The near targets pop up for 3 seconds, while the furthest are up for 9 seconds. Even though we practiced the same thing on the simulator, the feel of the actual range is quite different. The sim gives you an idea of what to expect and is good for practicing technique, but is no substitute for the real deal.

The past few weeks, there have been countless butterflies all over the place. They're black, with blue and green neon highlights in their wings. They're also quite large. At one point, while waiting to fire, 3 of them landed on my M-16, which was lying on the sandbags of my firing position.

I thought it would make a great photograph. That photo would make a good statement about the role of warefare in society - there are many beautiful things in the world that fighting destroys. Armed conflict should always be the choice of last resort.

When my turn came to shoot, and the butterflies had left on their own accord, I did well enough - "qualifying" on my first try. That was my only opportunity to shoot today because most other soldiers did not fare as well. That others shot time and again, until the bosses came. Hopefully, tomorrow will go better for them.

Eat Led Succa!

Today we went out to a somewhat different range. The targets popped up at distances we hadn't practiced yet. I hit enough targets in the first go, so I didn't get to fire again. The ones who have trouble get to fire multiple times. The focus is on gettting everyone through, rather than on equal training time.

In Vietnam, the weapon of choice was the M16A1. It was full automatic. Pull the trigger once, and bullets keep coming out until you release the trigger, or the magazine runs out. Turns out, it's very hard to keep units supplied, if they fire like that (especially when they're on the move), and most bullets didn't hit their target. For that reason, the M16AZ was introduced. It can fire a single shot, or a 3 round burst. That strategy has proven very effective.

Given that, a lot of heads turned when one of the trainees pulled the trigger, and emptied the magazine into his target. Somehow, something inside the weapon broke just right to make it full automatic. Must have been fun!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Day After

I'm tired :-(

Monday, September 12, 2005

Can You Hear Me Now?

Everything you could possibly need at BCT, except for your toothbrush, razors, and soap, is issued to you by the Army. Anything else you may have brought gets put in your personal bag and locked away until the end of training. Well, not quite. One of our DS's goes out of his way to help us, and someone took advantage of that today. He allowed someone to remove something from their personal bag, and accidentally left the door to the room unlocked. That room is on the female floor. One of the females decided, rather than tell him, to sneak into the room and get her cell phone. Not only did she make calls, but at least 6 other females made calls as well. Unfortunately, like DS Annoyed likes to say, "If more than one person knows about it, it ain't a secret." The transgression was soon discovered. Normally, since we're in White Phase of BCT, punishment should be individual rather than collective. Indeed, the individual with the phone, as well as a few other females that admitted to using it, are being punished under Article 15 of the UCMJ (Universal Code of Military Justice). That can mean up to forfeiture of 1/2 month's pay for 2 months, and up to 14 days extra duty. However, the DS's decided that so many people eventually knew that the storage room was open, yet said nothing, that the entire Platoon will be punished by pulling duty for the whole Company. Since there are 4 Platoons in the Company, that means we all have double-duty. That means we'll each get a good, solid 3 hours of sleep. Ouch!

A Dog's Life in Iraq

While waiting for the Virtual Range, we did more "concurrent training". During a break in the action, a sergeant came up to us and answered questions about Iraq. One question led to an interesting story. There are many stray dogs in Iraq. Most suffer from under-nutrition, wandering the streets in search of food and water. On one patrol, a high-speed, all-business Ranger, weapon at the ready, turned a blind corner, and suddenly - his features softened, his eyes widened, and he said "Ahw, a puppy!" The camp mascot was adopted. The puppy was well-cared for and loved and quickly grew. It began going out on patrols in the Hummer with the soldiers that adopted it. One day, though, the patrol didn't go as planned. The soldiers had to pick up a Lt. Colonel from a remote village and return him to the base. Upon seeing the friendly pooch, the Colonel demanded "What the hell is this mutt doing in a military vehicle?" and threw the poor canine out on the street. The convoy was forced to return without it. After returning the dog-unfriendly Colonel to his unit, the soldiers quickly mounted a new patrol - a search and rescue mission. They would not abandon their four-legged friend. Upon reaching the village, they quicky realized that the dog was not where they had left it, and no one in their group knew the Iraqi word for "dog". Instead, they resorted to "woof, woof!" and pantamime. The Iraqi villagers thought it was hillarious, but it was also effective. In short order, they found their companion.

One might think that's more than enough bad luck at the hands of military brass for one little dog, but the pup had another problem to face. The Air Force said the local stray dogs were getting onto the runway at Bagdhad International, creating a hazard for aircraft. The USAF Commander ordered his security team to shoot all the strays. After a time, they showed up to put the mascot to sleep. An MP ordered "step away from the dog, I'm going to shoot it", pointing a loaded shotgun. One of the soldiers picked up his friend and said "the hell you are!" The USAF man advanced with his weapon, and the soldier grabbed the shotgun, smashing the butt-stock in it's wielder's cheek. The man left, scared dog still in the arms of its rescuer, to sommon the MP's. However, the soldier's CO stood behind him, and no charges were ever filed. Soldiers have come and gone, but the dog still calls that base its home.

Virtual Range, Real Skills

We returned to ETS, the Victory Range again. This time, it was programmed to show us the range we will qualify on, with targets at 50 meter intervals, from 50m out to 300m. Firing on the simulator was very instructive because we got instant feedback about mistakes and improper techniques. I shot 32 of 40 targets, enough to qualify as a sharpshooter if I do that on the real range. I can't wait for the real deal - it should be fun!

Saturday, September 10, 2005


I already managed to zero my weapon yesterday, so I spent much of the day coaching battle buddies who were having trouble. I went 3 for 3 in helping people through the process, which felt good. I also got to shoot again, and put 16 of 18 rounds within a 4cm circle from 50 meters. The last two fell just outside. I enjoyed the schooting, but the best part of the day was helping others succeed.

Friday, September 09, 2005

The Range is Clear!

Today was a day many of us have been looking forward to - we finally get to fire the M-16's we have been carrying around for weeks. Just to make sure we get full enjoyment out of the day, the Army in its wisdom decided to wake us up at 0430, or 4:30am. Also in its infinite wisdom, the Army forgot you need lights to see your targets, so after eating chow and being bussed to the range, we spent a good 45 minutes waiting for the sun to come up. In spite of that snafu, it proved to be a fun day. We had about 170 people (all of A Company), but only 32 firing lanes. So, we were divided into firing orders. It takes time, in the interest of safety, to bring each firing order on and off the range. So, at any given time, most people were involved in "concurrent training" - dry fire exercises designed to train certain aspects of marksmanship without firing rounds. They are useful - up to a point. However, you can quickly get more than enough of them. As a result, much of the day became "hurry up and wait". Still, the time spent on the range was fun and instructive. Before you can hit a target reliably, you have to "zero" your weapon - set the sights so that they are right for the way you hold it, allowing for your anatomy. Before you can zero, though, you need to be able to place two groups of three shots reasonably close together. Today, we were trying to group. To accomplish that, we fired at a paper target 50 meters away, with a 1/6th scale replica of a real target. That simulated firing at a real target 300 meters away. Today not only did I group, but I zeroed as well. Sweets are generally off-limits during BCT, but zeroing earned me a Moon Pie. They don't really taste very good, but I sure enjoyed eating it.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Ultra Nintendo

Today marks the beginning of BRM- Basic Rifle Marksmanship. Rather than give you an M-16 and a bunch of rounds right off, the Army has gone high-tech. They have a super-modern rifle range simulator called an ETS. It's set up inside a building with 15 shooting lanes. Each lane holds a working replica of an M-16, except that all kinds of sensors have been added. Each position comes complete with sandbags. The far wall is a giant projection screen - every gamer's dream. It depicts all of the shooting lanes, using images from our actual ranges, enhanced with some computer graphics. When you pull the trigger, it records where you hit - but it also records a whole lot more. It keeps track of how much the rifle moves just before you fire - a measure of how stable your firing position is. It also measures how stable you hold the rifle after you fire - something called follow-through. When firing, it is important not to jerk the trigger, but rather slowly increase pressure until the weapon discharges. The computer tracks trigger pressure as well. It even records canting - turning the rifle left or right about the barrel. The virtual range was fun and instructive. Tomorrow we get the real deal. Hopefully that will be just as fun. Sure would be great to get an ETS for Christmas! I wonder if it will run a flight simulator.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Let's go Camping!

The last two days we were on the Red Phase Field Training Exercise, ie. camping, Army Style. The first day we learned how to use Army field radios (an easy task for a pilot). They do the same thing as a tiny handheld aviation radio, but are about the size of a bread box. They do have one extra function - to jump between frequencies (making it difficult to locate the sender or intercept the transmission), but I'm sure that alone does not justify the size. We also learned basic squad movement tactics, and practiced them. Come nightfall, we entered our ponchos-turned-tents and got some rest. We didn't even get to roast marshmallows. :( The next morning, we got up an hour before daybreak and took up a defensive perimeter. Enemies never attack US positions at night (at least ones with any sense) because our night vision gear is so good that we own the night. Just before daybreak, when the first light begins to fall, is the best time for the enemy to attack. For that reason, we take a strong defensive stance during that period. This exercise was just a taste of what awaits us in the field. We have a 3 day one in Whtie Phase and wrap up our training with 7 days in the field at the end of Blue Phase - an exercise called Victory Forge. Hopefully they won't forget the marshmallows!

Monday, September 05, 2005

Things I Miss

It's been about three weeks now since I left for Fort Jackson. In that time, my life has completely changed. I'm in an environment to turn civilians into soldiers in just 9 weeks. To facilitate that, every aspect of life is strictly controlled. Of course, that leads to missing things. I miss my friends and family, and most especially Rose. Other than that, though, topping the list are some things you might not expect. Right up there is a sofa - we have no where to sit day in, day out, except the floor (though I must admit, right at this moment, I'm lounging on my bed writing this. A calculated risk, as most of the DS's are home for Labor Day). On a similar note, I miss a table and chair. Unlike many here, I don't miss junk food or sweets - though a good Jamba would taste great right about now. I also don't miss computers, at least not yet - except that I would LOVE to be able to chat and send e-mail. One of the other guys here is a pilot, and we often speak of how it would feel to get behind the controls of an airplane. Just a little over a month to go!

Tap Out or Pass Out

Every so often, so the theory goes, you run out of bullets for your M-16 and your bayonette is in the shop. When that happens, you must engage the enemy in hand-to-hand combat. The Army selected modified Jujitsu to teach its soldiers. Where it may take a civilian years to become skilled in Martial Arts, the Army figures a good, full day of mass instruction should suffice for its high-speed warriors. So, we spent the day learning how to pin eachother and how to break pins. The DS's tried to make it seem like a big deal in the days leading up to today by sporting a knowing grin and telling us "you either tap out or pass out". In reality, when we got paired up, most battle buddies asked eachother "we ain't gonna hurt eachother, right?" At the end of the day we learned a little something useful about pinning opponents, but if Bin Laden ever jumps me, I'm still going to punch him in the nose.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Not Exactly Coleman

Tomorrow is our frist FTX, or Field Training Exercise. Basically, it's camping, Army style. We don't know exactly what to expect yet, but we do know it won't be like a weekend trip to Cuyamaca. We also know we won't have tents. We'll have ponchos instead. Amazingly, a two-soldier team can combine their ponchos to make a very servicable tent. At least, that's the theory. It looked pretty good when we practiced setting them up today, but then again, it wasn't raining. We'll see what tomorrow brings.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Gas, Gas, Gas!

Usually when our platoon talks about a gas attack, we are referring to Private Garcia and his perpencity to break wind. Today, things are very different. Today we enter The Chamber. We have received training in the use of our Promask (Protective Mask), and today put that skill to the test. Even if we execute perfectly, though we still must breathe in CS (tear gas)...before exiting the chamber, a DS ensures you open your eyes and breathe in the stuff.

We entered The Chamber in groups of 20. While waiting our turn, we traded both useful information and wild rumors about what to expect. One Private was convinced that you have to throw away the underwear you wear into The Chamber. Someone else claimed that if you wash your clothes and then put them in the dryer, that CS will be released and turn the laundry room into a gas chamber. The latter rumor turned out to be true!

Upon entering The Chamber, mask donned, I observed it to be about 30' on a side, dimly lit, and foggy. The fog was coming out of a coffee can - the source of CS gas. Immediately I felt....nothing. Within a few seconds, a hot, prickly sensation spread out over my neck, arms, and legs. It felt like having extra, extra, extra strength BenGay all over my body. Some people hated it, but it really wasn't too bad. After a while, a DS came by, had me life my mask, and recite my name, rank, and social security number. Then I put my mask back on, clear out the CS, and breathe normally again. Some people did not understand how to clear their mask, and had a horrible time while the DS talked/assisted them through it. For me it was easy - likely due to my diving experience. Up to this point, The Chamber was no problem. To exit, though, we had to open our eyes wide and shout "Undertakers!" (our platoon name) at the top of our lungs. I did so, and still had some breath left to hold. Unfortunately, DS Annoyed noticed and shouted at the top of his lungs "Breathe!". Eventually I had to, and it was.....horrible! If felt very much like breathing water into your lungs....except that there is nothing to cough out. After a LONG while (actually just 15 seconds), the finally let us out.

Running out of The Chamber, I felt fresh air begin to relieve the stinging on my skin. My lungs, though, didn't improve a bit. I still felt like a fish out of water. My eyes continued to burn, but that was nothing compared to the feeling of suffocation. After about 10 attempted breaths, my lungs slowly returned to normal. Then, I had time to focus on the fact that my eyes did sting quite a bit after all. It hurts to open them, exposing them to light, but letting in the air is the only way to get rid of the CS. Finally, after my eyes began to recover, I recalled what they said about CS being the best nasal decongestant known to man....and experienced it full-force. All in all, my visit to The Chamber went well. Some people panicked and tried to run out (they were stopped by a DS), while others simply could not follow directions.....and had to go through again. I'm glad - after the fact - to have made the experience, but do not care to repeat it anytime soon.

Fit to Win

This afternoon, we face the most dreaded part of basic training - the gas chamber. But first, we got to have a little fun. We ran a team-based obstacle course, with each of the four platoons of Alpha Company competing against eachother. Each platoon was divided into four squads, with each squad starting a few minutes apart. The course is divided into four parts. The first squad had to complete the first part before the next squad could start. Within each squad, there's a strong emphasis on teamwork - several of the obstacles require spotters, and no one from the squad can move on until the last member completed the current obstacle. The atmosphere was competitive but fun. It actually felt more like a company picnic than Basic Combat Training.

The first obstacle was a chest-high wall to climb over. Along the path, we had to balance on narrow beams (with squad members spotting eachother in case we fall off), swing the monkey bars, crawl on our backs under barbed wire (the last part went up hill, and our team members pulled us out from under the wire and back on our feet), crawl through pipes, jump into and out of trenches, and run the obstacle made popular by football camp where a number of tires are setup in two rows, and you have to step into each one as quickly as you can. The final obstacle was a 15' high wall made of netted rope. We had to climb up one side, down the other, assemble the entire squad on a retaining wall on the far side, jump down the wall onto sawdust-covered ground, do 10 pushups, and high crawl 30' to the finish line. The platoon was finished when the last member of the last squad crossed the finish line. We didn't win, but we gave the winners a run for their money - and we had a great time!

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Die Michelin Man!

We have been carrying our weapons around for a while now. We learned to march with them, take them apart, clean them, and put them back together. We all want to finally shoot them. not the day. Remember those old WWI movies where enemy soldiers come storming into the trench and everyone gets locked in a bayonet fight because automatic rifles weren't invented back then? Well, today we practiced the fine art of bayonet fighting. After several dry run practice sessions, they took us to a training area where hundreds of "Michelin Men" stand in rows and columns, ready for comat. A Michelin Man consists of a pole about 5' tall, to which is ffastened a tire, turned to simulate a chest. There is a circular piece of thick rubber, where the hubcap would be. The "head" is formed by a little seciton of cut tire bolled on top of the main tire. Finally, a 4' long, 4" diameter hard wood pole is fastened to the bottom of the main tire, on a hinge, to simulate the opponent's weapon. We first had to parry the enemy "rifle" out of the way, then attack with one of a number of different strokes. Unfortunately, they fight back. The spring on the enemy rifle is pretty strong. The first one I hit out of the way snapped right back at me and whacked my finger. It hurt pretty good for an hour, and left a bruise under my fingernail.

Driving away from the training area, I realized that someone in the Army is either completely dense, or has a great sense of humor. Viewing the scores of Michelin Men from the side, I realized that I was looking at row after row, column after column phallic symbols! Very unmistakingly so. When I pointed it out to my battle buddies, we had a great made our day.


Back in something like 3rd grade, our normal PE routine got a little addition - we got to don protective gear, take big padded sticks, and whack eachother. That must have been before the wild growth of lawsuits in this country. I can't imagine that happening today. The Army has no such issue with legal actions, and uses the concept as part of BCT. They call it Pugil. First, we completed male vs. male and female vs. female. The DS matched us up according to size. I'm pretty big - but only the 2nd biggest in the platoon. The title of Biggest Undertaker belongs to to a 6'7" kid from the block who is half my age (gulp!). We had pretty good competition, but in the end he got me (he also went on to the company finals in our weight class). After each platoon had it's own session, the best three males and best three females (one from each weight class: light, middle, and heavy weight) went on to compete against the best from the other platoons. For the semi-finals, we competed against our acrh-rivals - 3rd platoon, while 1st and 2nd platoon had their own semi-final battle. The 3rd is always loudly proclaiming how great they are, but we won 5 of 6 fights! The winner of each sex + weight class from the semi-finals went on to the Company finals. There the competition was harder, but we came away champions! Pugil is one of a few events that bring with it a guidon - a streamer - to add to the Platoon banner.

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