Saturday, May 23, 2009

Boots On Ground

Mood: Thinking of Home
Music: Tension; Avenged Sevenfold

I need a moment 'cause I've spread myself too thin
We all need a moment in our lives
Work’s hard, the day’s too long, and that’s just where it begins
Tension has us all the time

She needs a moment 'cause she spread herself too thin

We all need a moment in our lives
Work’s hard, the day’s too long, and that’s just where it begins
Tension has us all the time

The start of a very long day...the end of a very long trip.
(0430 the morning of our last day in Kuwait)

The process that takes Navy IA/GSA’s to Afghanistan wasn’t through with me yet. Nothing is ever as quick or easy as one would hope. After boarding the busses in Camp Virginia at 8 pm, and being deposited at the airfield, we were grouped up and told to go wait in a tent until midnight, at which point the folks running the terminal would tell us when we would board a plane to Bagram, Afghanistan. After all the hurrying up, we would sit and wait a few more hours. A handful of us decided to leave and wander around the airbase. The base was similar to Camp Virginia, in that every “building” was either a tent, trailer, or re-used shipping container. But, whereas Camp Virginia was wide open and full of transients, this place was tightly laid out with narrow walkways, the more crowded of which were delineated by a six inch deep layer of large gravel that ranged in sizes of up to three inches. It made a distinctive crunching and grinding sound when walked upon, and provided ample opportunity to twist an ankle when you stepped on one of the larger loose pieces. The walkways were filled with people that you brushed shoulders against while navigating around looking for the exchange, fast food, and local vendors. Most of the people I passed looked like they worked there, and walked with the stride of those familiar with their surroundings; as opposed to Camp Virginia, where you couldn’t walk to the port-a-john without encountering at least three confused looking, jet lagged individuals scratching their heads, asking for directions to the exchange, DFAC, McDonald’s, etc. There was also the pervasive smell and thrumming of diesel generators, which powered everything, and a light drizzle that dampened everything.

I, and the other Navy guys who left the tent, had managed to find the exchange, bought some cigars and non-alcoholic Beck’s beer and wandered over to a covered pavilion where we smoked and drank. As the rain crescendo’d from a drizzle to a lightning filled downpour, we discussed the finer points of wives, girlfriends, and one-night-stands, in addition to the multitude of reasons we all thought the Army sucked. When the rain slackened, we headed back to the tent and waited to be called for our flight.

At midnight, we were told our flight was delayed. We were still able to load all of our seabags onto a pallet. Uncovered, in the rain of course. Seabags are many things, but waterproof isn’t one of them. Since my bags were likely last off the truck and first on the pallet, they should be buried and dry at the bottom of the pile. Eventually our flight was called and we were lined up alphabetically. At about two in the morning, we walked out of the terminal in single file, and onto the dimly lit parking ramp towards the C-17 cargo plane that would take us to Bagram.

A C-17 is about 175 feet long and almost 60 feet tall. It also has a wingspan of 170 feet, weighs 250,000 pounds empty, and is powered by four turbofan jet engines that are each six and a half feet in diameter and almost twelve feet long. It is a huge hollow beast capable of carrying 300,000 pounds of fuel and cargo over 2,500 miles at 500 miles per hour. We entered the plane through the lowered rear cargo ramp door, and could either sit on the fold down cargo seats that lined both sides of the plane, or on airline style seats that were attached to cargo pallets in the front third of the cavernous airframe. I started in an airline style seat, moved to a cargo seat, back to an airline seat, then to a cargo seat for the second time, and finally gave up on getting comfortable and settled for one of the airline style seats. Once the fifty or so passengers were aboard and seated, the airfield personnel filled the rest of the plane up with pallets loaded with war supplies and our seabags.

A few of the folks on the plane were nervous and didn’t like to fly, and especially didn’t like flying in a military cargo plane headed for a warzone. There was also a rumor that the landing in Bagram would be some kind of crazy tactical type landing that would make everyone throw up. Regardless, we were finally leaving. There was a sense of nervous relief among everyone, we were glad to be through with training, but what would be next? Who on this plane wouldn’t be coming home alive? Would I ever see any of these people again? I put in my ear plugs, started chewing gum (for popping ears) and got out my paperback of Inside Straight by George RR Martin and waited for takeoff. There are no stewardesses, and there are no announcements from the cockpit to let you know what is going on. If the crew thinks you need to know something, one of them will come yell it in your ear. Other than that, they consider you cargo that needs to be flown someplace. It’s best to just to get in, sit down, be quiet, and buckle up.

During the flight, I drifted in and out of sleep. It had been a very long day. Starting with the convoy exercise at Udari, the commotion at Camp Virginia, and the late night gaggle at the Kuwait airfield leading up to getting on this flight, I suppose I had been up at least 24 hours. The landing at Bagram wasn’t as wild as some were predicting, but had the same feeling as going down the first hill of a tall rollercoaster; definitely a much steeper descent than a civilian flight, but not that rough.

After a week in San Diego, three weeks in South Carolina, a week in Kuwait, and all night flying, fifty Sailors, garbed in soldier’s uniforms, stirred nervously in the belly of a C-17. Glancing around at each other, they waited for the cargo to be offloaded. When they themselves were the only remaining cargo, they gathered their belongings, and walked towards the early morning sunlight that obscured the view of anything beyond the end of the loading ramp. Single file, one by one, each lost in his own thoughts, they went down the loading ramp, and took their first steps on the ground in Afghanistan.

Friday, April 24, 2009

"Here... We... Go..."

Music: Becoming the Bull; Atreyu

Back and forth the struggle consumes us all.
Trying to keep a level head, in the most unsettling of times.
Today, I’ll become the bull.

In preparing for the convoy exercise, we had to come up with call signs for each vehicle. One of the vehicle commanders suggested it be a one syllable word in keeping with streamlining radio traffic. I didn’t want to waste too much time on a small detail, so after momentarily closing my eyes, and thinking of where I was and what I would be doing for the next year, Brick immediately came to mind. Our six vehicles would be Brick 1 through 6. I was Brick 3.

After our short feedback session with the instructor, we got back in our vehicles, performed a radio check, set the vehicle order, and moved out. Like before, the instructor lead the way, then announced over the radio that we were to stay on the marked path, and immediately veered off into the desert, leaving us to continue on alone.

We continued on for a few minutes before the path went up a steep incline of about 100 feet. The terrain changed significantly from wide open dessert to jagged and hilly. There were deep wadi’s and large sandstone formations covering the landscape. Nothing was visible beyond the crest of the hill we were travelling up. Brick 1 crested the ridge and disappeared out of sight. Brick 2 followed and disappeared as well. When our vehicle crested the ridge, we found ourselves in a small canyon. It was 200-300 feet long, with steep, almost vertical walls that ranged between 20 and 30 feet high. It was relatively straight, but narrow. In some places it was wide enough for two vehicles to be side by side, but mostly throughout its length, there were just two or three feet of clearance between the walls of the canyon and the vehicles. After taking it all in, I thought, Here… we… go… And as if on cue, an explosion went off at the end of the canyon and Brick 1 was lost to my sight in a cloud of smoke. All hell broke lose after that.

Brick 1 radioed that they had dead, wounded and that their vehicle was destroyed. Brick 2 disappeared into the smoke in front, and as Brick 4 passed our vehicle on the left I looked up and saw four men armed with AK-47’s coming down the canyon wall from the left. Before I could slap the gunner on the thigh, to tell him what I was seeing, he yelled out that he had multiple targets at three o’clock. (right side). I quickly glanced out my window, but only could see the wall of the canyon a couple feet away. As I was turning away to look back to the left, I heard and saw a metal canister go dinka dinka dink across the hood of our vehicle, fall to the ground and explode into a cloud of smoke. The next few moments were filled with radio chatter; Brick 2 was now the lead vehicle. Brick 4 had moved behind Brick 2, to begin hooking up to Brick 1 to tow it. Brick 5 had eyes on all the bad guys scampering around the tops of the canyon walls. Brick 4 called in that they had been hit, and now had casualties. Brick 5 was directed to take control of Brick 6, and to try to get high ground to engage to the enemy. Brick 2 wanted to know if they should attempt to tow Brick 4 out. No…It was time to make a stand. The final instructions given over the radio were to cease all attempts at towing, cease caring for the wounded and to focus solely on clearing the canyon of bad guys. Brick 5 soon reported that they and Brick 6 were able to loop back around and gain the high ground, quickly followed by Brick 2 reporting that they had killed some bad guys and were no longer taking fire. The instructor then broke in on the radio and told us that the scenario was over, and that we should shut down the vehicles and form up, so he could give us some feedback. After I told the driver to shut the engine off, I glanced up at the windshield and noticed the multitude of X’s, O’s, lines, circles, checks, letters and numbers that I barely remembered scribbling with the grease pencil during the last few minutes. Out of 30 people and 6 vehicles there were four dead, six wounded, one vehicle destroyed, and three damaged. What a slaughter. The entire scenario lasted only three minutes, but seemed much longer. Now it was time to be told how many things we did wrong. Oh well, I guess it could have turned out a lot worse.

Surprisingly everyone in the group was in good spirits, and the instructor had only positive feedback for us. Apparently the last few groups to go through that canyon fared much worse. The instructor even told us of one group that, once the scenario started, sat paralyzed, in complete radio silence for over three minutes until they were all dead. He seemed genuinely impressed with our results, and since the other 29 folks in the group weren’t calling me names or throwing things at me, I’ll just book it and move on.

The final scenario was supposed to be more complex than the canyon, but due the keen eyes of first vehicle commander, we completely avoided triggering the initial phase of the scenario. I won’t go into details because of taloti, but needless to say we went through the final scenario unscathed. We soon found ourselves at the end of the convoy exercise, being told by the instructors how well we did, blah, blah, blah. Everyone was glad it was over, and even happier we did well, but the icing on the cake was that in a few short hours we would be back in Camp Virginia, taking hot showers eating in the ginormous DFAC, and receiving our final travel plans. We did a final brief debrief of the exercise and convoyed back to clean up our tent/classroom, and to turn the vehicles in.

As the class was cleaning up the classroom and loading up gear, the instructor and I drove back to the motor pool to turn in the vehicles, he commented, “Nothing bothers you much, does it? You didn’t seem to get too flustered during all this.”

I replied by telling him that being in the Civil Engineer Corps, I’m usually not the smartest guy in the room, but instead I just try to keep a level head, do what I think is right, and stay in the shadows. It gets me by.

On the bus back to Camp Virginia, there was chatter about the Iraq group and how they had been slaughtered on their convoy exercise. Everyone was upbeat and positive. A few of the folks sitting close by, offered me a, “Good job out there today.” I told them it was a team effort, and that everyone just did what they were supposed to do. They agreed, but added that since I was the convoy commander, that I get the credit for everyone doing well.

When we got off the busses in Camp Virginia, it was about noon. We were told that the travel brief would be at 5pm, and we were free until then. There was also a rumor going around that we would be leaving tonight. Most everyone headed straight for the showers. I don’t really enjoy being crowded into a shower trailer with 40 other men who haven’t bathed in four days, so I did something else. I have a habit of doing the exact opposite of what the crowd is doing. Sometimes it works to my advantage, other times… not so much.

I went into our tent and proceeded to pack up all my belongings. If the rumors were true, then I would be one step ahead, if not, then I would have to unpack my crap again for however long we were stuck in Kuwait. As I was stuffing the last of my things into three sea bags and two backpacks, people were starting to trickle back from the shower trailer. I took that as my cue, grabbed my shower gear, some clean cammies and took off for the showers. Since I had waited, there was the risk of there not being any hot water left. The trailer was un-crowded, but filled with trash left behind from the first wave of people. The hot water hadn’t run out, so I was able to get three days worth of grime off of me in relative comfort. After showering, I hit up the DFAC for a late lunch, went to the internet café, ran through the PX, and finally settled into a big black leather couch at the USO to vegetate for a little while. I came across a few of my classmates, and according to them, the rumors were firming up that we would be leaving tonight.

The travel brief pissed me off. We were all seated in the same large tent we had sat in a week ago when we showed up in Camp Virginia at 2 in the morning. This time everyone was wide awake, and in much better spirits. We were getting out of here. The brief started out with various senior members of the Navy staff in Kuwait taking questions from all of us. It turned into a bitch and whine session. Person after person got up and told the Captain and Master Chief every complaint and gripe they had stored up for the last month. Some folks were actually bringing up things that had happened in San Diego. This was dragging on and on and on. I just wanted to know when we were leaving. God! Won’t these people ever shut up! After nearly 90 minutes, people began to run out of things to complain about, and the operations officer was introduced. He said he had Good News and Bad News. The Good News was that we were leaving tonight. The Bad News was that we had to be on busses to the airfield at 8pm. You do the math… the brief started at 5pm, people complained about crap for an hour and a half and now this knucklehead was telling us that we were getting on busses less than two hours from now. Do you think the whiners would have brought up so much petty crap if the operations officer would have gone first? Instead, my last few hours outside of a warzone consisted of listening to the trifling gripes of niggling bellyachers.

Amazingly, once we knew when were leaving, no one had any further quibbles. The tent cleared out as if a bomb had gone off. Everyone hustled back to the tents to pack. I walked.

When I got back to the tent, there was a flurry of motion and activity. People were frantically cramming and jamming everything into sea bags and backpacks. I double checked the locks on my bags, and found the chief who had been designated to make sure that everyone staged their bags in the correct spot to be loaded into the cargo truck following the busses to the airfield. He was packing when I found him. He showed me where the bags were being staged, and when I dropped mine off, there was already one other person’s there. Since my bags would soon be buried by several hundred others, they should be the last on the truck at Camp Virginia, the first off the truck at the Kuwait airfield, the first on the cargo pallet in the plane, the last off the cargo pallet when the plane landed, the last on the truck in Bagram, and finally (and most importantly) they should be the first off the truck when I saw them again. In hindsight I can’t believe I actually spent brain cells thinking that through when I dropped my bags off.

I wandered over to the McDonalds trailer and got a cheeseburger, fries, chicken nuggets, and a Mountain Dew. I sat and watched some Army folks play basketball for a few minutes. I went to the internet trailer and sent home a cryptic email implying that I was leaving for Afghanistan shortly. I passed back through the USO, played Fallout3 on an Xbox for a few minutes, and then begrudgingly began to wander back towards where the busses were supposed to pick us up. The busses were there. The cargo truck was there. I pitched in for a few minutes to help finish loading the multitude of sea bags on to the truck, walked over to the bus, plopped down, and briefly thought, before closing my eyes, Training is over, time to go to work

Monday, March 23, 2009

The End of The Beginning

Mood: Settling In
Music: Seize the Day/Avenged Sevenfold

Seize the day, or die regretting the time you lost
It’s empty and cold without you here, too many people to ache over

Today is March 20, and I have been at my job for almost three weeks now. I have some catching up to do, but am at a point where I have to decide how to keep everyone up to date while being vague enough so that the Taliban assholes lurking on the internet (here fore after to be referred to as taloti) don’t glean anything of value from reading my blog. I’ll try to figure it out as I go.

I left off with me snoozing in my sleeping bag at the Udari range in Kuwait, thinking about the convoy exercise that would, for all intents and purposes, end our training. It was the last training we would get prior to moving on to our final destinations. The weeks spent in San Diego, Camp McCrady, and now Kuwait would all end after we went through the convoy exercise, and took a bus back to Camp Virginia. Everyone was eager to get it over with.

We started waking up, one by one around 0430 the next morning. The early risers got up, dressed, stowed their gear, and went outside into the pre-dawn, desert darkness to visit the port-a-john, eat an MRE, and clean up the best they could. The late sleepers then reluctantly began to stir, and by 0545 the lights were on and everyone was up, eating and getting themselves ready for the day. I ate a cold spaghetti MRE for breakfast, and then took three packets of instant coffee, dumped them into an empty water bottle, added a single packet of sugar, re-filled the bottle with cold water, and shook vigorously. It tasted a little bitter, but I needed a cup of coffee, and it would have to do. I offered some of the concoction to a buddy, who violently spit it out, and acted as if I had played some sort of practical joke on him by letting him drink it. Oh well, so much for sharing…

The first evolution of the day was additional reflexive firing training with our rifles and pistols. It was meant to build upon what we had learned at Camp McCrady. Unfortunately, the King of Kuwait had made some sort of decree about something important to the King and that somehow resulted in us being prohibited from firing live ammunition that day. The training we received was still OK, but at times it seemed comical. The thirty of us going to Afghanistan were lined up in a single row facing the targets we were supposed to be firing at, as the instructors slowly went through footwork and body movements. They built upon each other and slowly got more complex. It looked like we were learning how to country line dance, except we were wearing body armor, and slinging weapons around. The instructors did the best they could, but everyone was disappointed we weren’t firing any ammo.

After we finished line dancing in the desert, the folks who had been selected to be drivers and vehicle commanders for the convoy exercise were sent to the motor pool to draw the hummers we would be using. All of us then went back to the tent for some classes on convoy operations, and to review portions of the exercise scheduled for the next day. Before breaking for lunch, the instructor let us know that the remainder of the day’s training would be directed by what I wanted to do. Huh? As the convoy commander, I was supposed to come up with a list of topics that I wanted to go over to get the class ready for the convoy exercise. Time to start thinking As we were let go to eat MRE’s for lunch, I pulled the other five vehicle commanders aside to get their opinions as to what they thought was needed to get everyone ready. Right off the bat, I made it clear that my top priority was clear communication and proper radio procedures. During the convoy exercise at Camp McCrady, I had sat back and watched as everyone talked on top of each other, held their mic’s open for extended periods of time and basically cluttered the net so that no one could effectively talk to each other. Since it was my show to run, if no one learned anything other than how to calmly, clearly and succinctly communicate on a radio, I would be happy. After making sure all the vehicle commanders (who would also be the radio operator for each vehicle) were on board with communications, we then decided the gunners from each vehicle should get together and come up with a common set of hand and arm signals so that they could communicate with each other independent of the radios while they were standing up in the turrets. We also decided that the drivers needed some additional instruction on vehicle safety, and instead of just hopping into the vehicles and driving around, we would have every one stand in their respective positions next to the vehicles and walk through as many scenarios as possible before even stepping foot into the vehicles.

After lunch, as we were standing next to our vehicles, pretending to drive, and literally walking through different scenarios, the Iraq group passed by and gave us curious glances as they drove out into the desert to rehearse. I could hear unspoken questions from some in our group as to why we weren’t out driving around and why we were doing what appeared to be a kabuki dance in the sand next to our vehicles. After we had walked through as many different scenarios as possible, and spent some time going over safety issues, we mounted up in our vehicles and moved out. Our convoy of six vehicles followed the instructor out into the desert and after we had a chance to get used to driving in formation, and had established good communications, the instructor began calling out different scenarios over the radio. As a group we responded well, but it immediately became clear to me that things got real complicated real quick trying to keep track of six vehicles as the instructor was calling out which vehicle was disabled, who was dead in each vehicle, where the enemy contact was coming from, etc. I tried to keep track of it all in my head, but soon found that I was scribbling in my note book to make sure I knew who was where and who was doing what. After the third or fourth scenario, the instructor told us that we were doing well, and that he thought we were prepared for the exercise the next day. He asked if we wanted to run through any more scenarios, I said we could do one more on the way back to camp, but wanted to make sure that it was still daylight when we got back. It is easier to eat when the sun is up, then it is to fumble around with flashlights trying to eat MRE’s in the dark.

While we were cleaning up from dinner and after the sun begun to set, the Iraq group rolled back into camp. After everyone was settled for the evening, the vehicle commanders and I spent time reviewing some of the scenarios that we had run through earlier. I let them know that after the second or third scenario, I had to start writing things down to keep them straight. I made an offhand comment about how I wish I had a grease pencil so I could scribble on the windshield while talking on the radio and scanning out the window. We only spent about 30 minutes or so going over things, before I went outside for a walk.

I had my boots on tonight, and a jacket. The same group that was standing around chatting last night was there again, laughing, complaining and doing imitations of some of the quirks of the various people we had spent the last four weeks with. As with the night before, some in the Iraq group were still up discussing their convoy exercise. I felt like I could do more, but the things that I and the other vehicle commanders thought important; communication, immediate actions to respond to simulated attacks, vehicle safety, and formation driving, were all covered well enough that going over them anymore would not add any value. However, before going to sleep, I opened up my little green notebook, drew six circles and labeled them 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. I then made the same marks on six consecutive pages. That way, after each scenario ended I could turn the page and start over. Hopefully having a fresh page for each scenario would help me keep better track of the vehicles during the exercise.

The next morning was just like the last morning, except that everyone woke knowing that as soon as we were done with the exercise we would be busing back to Camp Virginia, getting hot showers after three days without, and finally, finally getting our travel plans for moving on to Afghanistan. (or Iraq) This was truly the end of the beginning of our deployments.

After eating an MRE, packing our gear, and cleaning out the tent, we were all anxious to get started. As the other vehicle commanders and I reviewed some last minute details, a commander, who had been listening to us talk yesterday, handed me a black grease pencil, and said, “Do you still want one of these?”

“Absolutely,” I replied, not really thinking to ask where he found one out here in the middle of nowhere.

We loaded into our hummers, conducted radio checks, fell in behind the instructor’s vehicle and drove into the desert to begin the exercise. I hastily scribbled the same pattern of circles and numbers that I had drawn in my notebook the night before on the windshield with my new grease pencil. The instructor called over the radio to let us know that the “game was on” and then sped away, out of sight over the nearest berm. We were to continue on the road (there really wasn’t a road, just tire tracks in the sand to follow) we were on and respond to whatever they threw at us.

The first and second scenarios were some of the basic situations we had rehearsed several times and we responded well. I made marks on the windshield to keep track of which vehicle was damaged, who was towing whom and the number of dead and wounded in each vehicle. After the first scenario, I tried to wipe my marks off the windshield to reset for the next situation, but eventually resorted to spitting on my drawing and rubbing it clean with my forearm before redrawing a new set of vehicle symbols. We were working well as a team and our emphasis on proper radio procedures seemed to be paying off because the radio traffic was crisp, succinct, and to the point. The instructor called a halt and we all dismounted and formed up around him. We reviewed what we had already done and he provided us some feedback on minor things we could have done better, but all in all he said we were doing well, better in fact than some of the Army personnel that had previously gone through the exercise. He let us know that we were about half way done with the exercise, and that the next couple of scenarios were complex and designed to be “no win” situations where the intent was to completely wipe the convoy out. Great. I get to lead us all to our doom.

This seems like a good place to break. I swear, in the next post I’ll finally get to Afghanistan.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Purgatory Continues...

After a seemingly mind numbingly endless four days at Camp Virginia, we
each packed a few things in our backpacks and headed out to the Udari
Range. The Udari Range is even more desolate than Camp Virginia. There
are about a dozen strong back tents, a small arms range, a couple of
port-a-potties, and the wide open desert used for convoy training. The
strong back tents are used as class rooms during the day, then when
instruction is over; the chairs are stacked up in a corner so we can put
down our sleeping bags and spend the night on the floor. There are no
showers or sinks, nor any running water at all. Personal hygiene is
accomplished by baby wipes and bottled water, or not at all, since we
would only be there for three days and two nights. We would be issued
MRE's to eat for the duration. Our class was divided into two groups,
those going to Afghanistan were in one, and those going to Iraq were in
the other. We would stay split up for the entire three days in Udari.

The first day was spent in the class room learning how to detect, avoid
and respond to IED's and suicide bombers (both the walking and driving
types). After classes were over, we ate MRE's, and laid out our sleeping
bags on the classroom floor. I had brought a paperback with me to help kill
time. I was reading Inside Straight by George RR Martin. It's a
bit cheesy and predictable, but interesting enough to pass the time.
After sunset, and reading for a few hours, I got bored and went for a
walk. When I exited my sleeping bag and went outside, I stepped into
cold sand and realized I had forgotten to put my boots on. I almost
turned around and went back inside, but the sensation of my bare feet
sinking into the sand let my mind conjure up images of other times and
other places; Ocean City, Myrtle Beach, Solomons Island, Diego Garcia,
family and friends, so I kept walking. Over by the port-a-johns there
was a group of about ten trainees standing in a circle laughing and
talking. It had the feel of folks sitting around a campfire, drinking
beer, and telling half true stories; except there wasn't any beer and there wasn't any campfire. I avoided them, and walked out and over the top of the twelve
foot sand berm that surrounded the site. Once I started down the other
side, I was clear of the ambient light of the compound, and in complete
darkness. I walked half way down the berm, plopped into the sand, and
leaned back so that I was lying flat out lengthwise staring at a
cloudless desert night sky. There was very little light pollution, and
once my eyes adjusted I could see a thousand pinpoints of light
overhead. I scanned them and found both dippers, Orion, the North Star,
and what I thought was Mars. If I had paid more attention in astronomy,
I would have easily found dozens more. As I sat digging my bare feet
into the sand, staring off into space, I thought of home, past mistakes,
possible futures, and pondered how an insignificant speck of life like
myself fit into the enormous infinite universe spread out above me. My
reverie ended when I noticed I was shivering. It was about forty
degrees, and I was lying barefoot in the desert, flat on my back,
wearing nothing but a tee shirt and cammie trousers. When I stood up, I
couldn't feel my ass. It had grown numb from the cold sand.

I scurried back up and over the berm and was greeted by curious glances
from the guys still standing in a circle laughing, gossiping and
complaining about life. I guess I may have looked a little odd
scampering over the top of a berm barefoot in the dark wearing nothing
but a tee-shirt, since most of them were wearing fleece jackets and
boots. I joined them, pretending not to be the least bit cold. They
were a mixed bunch, a few from both the Iraq and Afghanistan groups.
The Iraq guys were ridiculing the poor sap who had been chosen to be the
convoy commander for their group, but when I walked up the topic changed
to scorpions, snakes, poisonous spiders, rats, mice, and packs of feral
dogs, as one of the guys glanced at my feet, and reminded us all of the
safety brief we had gotten earlier on the hazards in the desert. As the
memory of the class slowly came back to me, and as my ass began to thaw,
I had an almost uncontrollable urge to start patting and slapping the
back of my legs and torso to brush away the tens of spiders and
scorpions that I thought now must be crawling all over me. Instead, I
jammed my hands into my pockets and tried not think about creepy crawly
things running up and down my back. One of the guys offered me a
cigarette, and since I was cold and silently obsessing about my
impending death from a multitude of spider bites and scorpion stings, I
accepted. After a pull or two from the cigarette, I brought the topic
of conversation back around to the other convoy commander and why they
were all mocking him earlier. Apparently, he and some of the others
from the Iraq group had been discussing and planning their convoy
mission for the last several hours, and were really, really getting into
it. Some in the Iraq group got annoyed and just went to sleep, while
others (the ones I was talking to) had come outside to vent their
annoyance to their friends in the Afghanistan group, who replied that at least
they had the cool convoy commander. I mumbled something unintelligible
through a clenched, almost chattering jaw in response, looked away,
noticed that the cigarette in my fingers had burnt most of the way down,
unsmoked, and nonchalantly dropped it in the sand. I was getting cold
again, so I bid them goodnight and walked off towards the tent.

As I rounded the corner and got out of sight, I quickly pulled my tee
shirt over my head, shook it vigorously, and then, in the cold,
hurriedly used it as a whip and a brush on the backs of my legs, neck,
and torso to get the hundreds of imagined creatures off of me. When I
was satisfied that I was bug free, I put my shirt back on, went into the
tent and crawled into my sleeping bag. I thought about earlier in the
day, when I had pulled one of the instructors aside and asked if there
was something I could do to get the group ready for convoy training. He
had replied that, no, it could wait until tomorrow, after we had
finished a couple classes on convoy operations. Was I missing
something, or was the other group just a bunch of over analytical dorks?
I was pretty sure it was the latter, but as I lay curled up, shivering
in my sleeping bag, drifting off to sleep, I mentally reviewed all of
the lessons learned from the convoy exercise at Camp McCrady, just in

Friday, March 6, 2009

Purgatory; Part One

pur-ga-tor-y: -noun; any condition or place of temporary punishment, suffering, expiation, or the like.

Nearly twenty hours after leaving South Carolina we landed in Kuwait around 1 AM local time. Since I had volunteered to help off-load our 20,000 pounds of luggage from the plane, I, and thirty others waited while the remaining ninety passengers disembarked, boarded buses and disappeared. A fellow named Matt came aboard next, and told us that we would be helping him get our bags off the plane. We were led to a bus, given a safety brief on how to safely unload luggage from a plane, then allowed to crawl into the baggage hold and start passing off, one by one, the 600 or so sea bags we brought along. When we had unloaded about 575 of them, Matt frantically told us we had to stop what we were doing and get back on the bus. A Kuwaiti fuel truck had just pulled up and decided that since there were thirty people inside the cargo hold of the plane, almost done unloading baggage after spending 20 hours flying and crossing 7 time zones, now, at this very moment, would be a good time to refuel the plane. We were led back to the bus and told to wait while the plane was refueled. After about five minutes on the bus, people started moaning and groaning about having to go the bathroom, and being hot, sweaty and thirsty from the exertion of unloading 95% of 20 tons. I looked around the bus. There weren’t any captains or commanders, and the other couple of lieutenant commanders were either reading a book or playing with I-pods, so I reckoned I should do something. I got up and left the bus looking for Matt. He found me as soon as I stepped off and demanded I get back on the bus. I told him that half the bus had to go to the bathroom and that the other half wanted some bottled water. He answered by telling me that he has been doing this for 12 hours a day, 7 days a week for the last two years and we had no options but to wait on the bus. Wrong answer. After a few more minutes of discussion he agreed to get us an escort, and the folks who needed to go to the bathroom were led off in single file across the flight line. He then brought us a case of bottled water to pass around. After an hour, the fuel truck left, we finished off-loading our bags, got back on the bus, and left the airport. We drove for a half hour before arriving at Camp Virginia.

After getting off the bus, all 120 of us were herded into a tent and given a series of briefs on all the things we were no longer allowed to do. They seemed to revolve around drugs, booze, gambling, and taking pictures of dead people. We were then given tent assignments and some basic directions as to where things were on the base, before being dismissed to find our tents and to offload a truck containing the 20,000 pounds of seabags. It was 4 AM when everyone was in their tents and settled with their bags.

Jet lag sucks. My watch said it was 4 AM, but most of us decided to stay up until the DFAC (dining facility) opened at 5:30, for what felt like a late dinner. We were in Kuwait for a couple reasons. The first is that its a travel hub for everyone heading to, and coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan. Everyone has to stop here, check in, before continuing on to other places. We were also here to get our final bit of training. We would be heading to the Udari Range for three days of more intense convoy training and additional training with our weapons. At this point I should probably describe Camp Virginia a little bit.

Camp Virginia is in the Kuwaiti desert, near the infamous highway of death that runs north to Iraq. There is nothing (I mean absolutely nothing) there, nothing but sand and Camp Virginia. Picture an empty desert, then picture about 10,000 concrete jersey walls of various heights lined up end to end until the last one touches the first one again, to form a large, oddly shaped enclosure- in the desert.. Then there are more concrete barriers inside the oddly shaped enclosure which delineate where to drive, where to walk, and I don’t know what else. There is no asphalt, only some token gravel in places where really heavy things need to travel. Hundreds of canvas tents, each capable of holding 40 or more transients, are arranged in neat columns and rows, in the sand. There are no permanent structures in Camp Virginia. I think the U.S. has some sort of agreement with the King of Kuwait that we can use the land, but aren’t allowed to build anything permanent. This has resulted in a sprawling landscape of tents, trailers and temporary facilities scattered haphazardly inside the oddly shaped enclosure of concrete barriers- in the desert.

Don’t get me wrong. There is a Starbuck’s, McDonalds, Taco Bell, Movie Theater, PX, a modern gym, basketball court, internet café, phone center, library, chapel and an enormous DFAC. There is even a USO where you can surf the internet and play XBOX 360, PS3, and Wii games for free. All are just either in tents or trailers, and when you go from one to the other, you trudge through six inches of sand, and are blasted by the same sand as it is carried along on 50 mph winds. I wore goggles just about my entire time at Camp Virginia. The sand is everywhere, and gets blown into everything else; including your eyes (even with goggles), ears, nose and mouth. At the end of each day, I would use Q-tips to scoop the sand out of my ears, and then use some more to dig it out of each of my nostrils. Everything you eat is accompanied by the grittiness of sand. I must say though, that the food at Camp Virginia is outstanding. The DFAC is a huge conglomeration of connected trailers, which can easily seat a few hundred folks. There is a main line that serves two or three entrees and half a dozen sides, a quick line that serves pizza, fried chicken, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, chicken sandwiches, and Philly cheese steaks, and even another area set up as either a pasta bar, taco bar, or baked potato bar depending on what day it was. And don’t forget about the wide assortment of breakfast cereals (available all day), fresh fruit, soup, and enormous salad bar. Oh yeah, they also had a dessert case full of freshly baked pies, cakes, and cookies, a guy serving Baskin Robbins ice cream in the corner, and a self serve, soft serve ice cream machine with chocolate, vanilla, and chocolate and vanilla mixed together. None of us was going hungry. I even had prime rib for lunch one day.

We would be spending four days in Camp Virginia prior to going to the Udari range for 3 days, then returning to Camp Virginia to find out our travel arrangements to Iraq, Afghanistan, or Djibouti. The first four days, we had no responsibilities, except for an occasional 30 minute brief late in the afternoon. Other than that we sat around getting our internal clocks adjusted, overeating at the DFAC, sleeping in our tents, or wandering around in sandstorms going from the USO to Starbucks to the PX and back again. The thousand or so sailors, soldiers, airmen and marines spending a few days in Camp Virginia were biding their time, waiting to leave, waiting to go someplace else. The staff did pass out some information about what we would be doing at Udari. They gave us a roster of who would be doing what for convoy training. I looked for my name and saw that they had me listed as the Convoy Commander. Are you freaking kidding me?? Was this some sort of joke? Couldn’t I be a driver, or at the least an anonymous Passenger Number Two? Convoy Commander was the absolute last thing I wanted to do. However, later that day, one of the other lieutenant commanders in my group approached me and asked if I was comfortable being convoy commander, that it would be OK if I didn’t want to do it, or if it was too much for me to handle, he would do it for me. For the second time that day I thought Are you freaking kidding me?? He probably had the best intentions, but I don’t take condescension and/or patronization all that well, so regardless of whether or not I actually wanted to be the convoy commander, there was no way I was going to be anything but the convoy commander.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Something to Hold You Over

This link goes to a site that one of the chief's set up online to deposit his photo's of our training in South Carolina. Some of the pictures have a small white arrow on the corner of the photo. That means they are actually short videos. Just click the picture to start the video.

I am getting settled in at Camp Eggers, but am still using a public terminal with a time limit to type this up. I should have my laptop hooked up in the next day or two, and then I'll get caught up with the rambling musings.

Stay Tuned...

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A First Class Nap

The final two days at Camp McCrady included a memorial service honoring CDR Salkeld, the convoy exercise, rifle turn in and getting briefed by the Navy staff on our travel plans.

The memorial service was very nicely done on such short notice. We found out that CDR Salkeld had already submitted his retirement paperwork, and was on is way out the door when he found out about the IA opportunity. He pulled his retirement papers so he could go on this tour. He didn't need to be here. He wanted to be here. CDR Salkeld literally "wrote the book" on Marine Corps Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) warfare.

The convoy exercise was uneventful. I was assigned as "Passenger Number 2" in the Convoy Commander's vehicle. Since I was absent when crew assignments were made, I didn't know how they assigned who as what for the convoy. The convoy commander was a first class petty officer, and the vehicle I was in had a lieutenant commander as a driver, a lieutenant as a passenger, a chief as a gunner, and myself (a lieutenant commander) as the second passenger. As each scenario unfolded, the first class was verbally peppered by the LCDR driver and the LT passenger with, "tell vehicle one to do this", "tell vehicle 5 to do that", and every variation of "do this" and "do that" that you can imagine. The first class took it in stride, but you could tell that the combination of trying to manage the other 5 vehicles, the verbal barrage of his passengers, and reacting to the scenarios began to show on his face. I quietly sat back and played my role as Passenger Number 2, both resentful of the fact I wasn't driving, and relieved that I wasn't the convoy commander. I later told the first class that he did a good job as the convoy commander, and let him know that he showed great restraint in not telling the LCDR and LT to shut their pie holes.

The final day was a flurry of packing, last minute bus rides to the PX, and what seemed like hourly musters. It began though, with rifle turn in. A lot of folks had stayed up pretty late the night before cleaning their rifles. I was still slightly annoyed that I put about 300 rounds through my rifle with a cracked bolt face and missing locking lug, so I procrastinated cleaning the thing until the absolute last second. The drill sergeants told us that weapons turn in could be a stressful event because the weapons custodians were very finicky about the cleanliness of the rifles and would refuse to accept them until they were spotless. They let us know that most folks got turned away two or three times to re-clean their rifle before it was finally good enough to be turned in. Still, the night before, as my squad mates stayed up late cleaning their rifles, I went to sleep early with a filthy rifle tucked away in my locker.

The next morning, after breakfast, people began lining up to turn in their weapons. I walked right by the growing line of fifty or so folks outside the armory waiting for them to open, and went straight to the cleaning tent. The cleaning tent was completely empty. There was table space for about forty people to clean weapons at once, but right now there was only me. I methodically broke the weapon down and went about a very selective, cursory cleaning of the major areas of the rifle that I, as an armorer, would expect them to check. I was working for about 5 minutes before the first reject from turn-in showed up. There was a steady stream of them thereafter, mumbling curses under their breath and with bitter resignation after spending all night cleaning their rifles, now started the process all over again. Ten minutes after the first reject showed up, I put my rifle back together and headed over to the armory to turn it in. By now a drill sergeant had positioned himself outside the armory and was going up and down the line doing a sort of pre-inspection. There were about fifteen people in front of me, but the drill sergeant was going through, kicking most of them out of line and sending them to the cleaning tent, to save some time. The drill sergeant got to me and gave my weapon a once over. I waited until he started his inspection, then distracted him with, "you know they never replaced my bolt." "look at it, its still cracked." I tried to be slightly annoying, with animated hand gestures while going on and on about my cracked bolt. It seemed to work because he spent about twenty seconds looking at my bolt, handed me back the rifle and let me stay in line to turn it in. When I got to the weapon custodian, I already had my rifle broke down shotgun style with the cracked bolt in my hand. She was sitting at a table and I thrust the bolt at her and said in an annoying tone,"this is broke...its been broke for a week...I kept coming over here to get it fixed and you were never here...I hope you don't let anyone else use this..." As she was looking at the bolt face intently, I nonchalantly sat the weapon on the table, turned and walked out. I slowly walked away, and waited for her to call me back, but after three seconds went by, I had a mental image of the Road Runner in my mind and thought, beep! beep! and kept right on walking while Wyle E. Coyote was left holding my broken rifle. It took another three hours for folks to finish cleaning their weapons, during which time I finished packing my bags, and took an hour long nap.

I woke to the sound of banging metal wall locker doors and people filling their seabags with all the gear we had been issued. I got up, went to lunch and waited for the 1400 shuttle to the PX. On the bus ride there I made a final phone call to Carolyn, then ceremonially deposited the phone and charger in an envelope to be mailed back home. After dropping the phone off at the UPS store, I went through the PX and bought a can of Pringles, a big bag of Good 'n Plenty candy, a bag of sunflower seeds and some beef jerky for the flight later. I then went to the food court and ate two chicken soft taco's from Taco Bell and a double cheese burger from Burger King.

We had a final round of meetings, briefs, and musters before being loaded onto buses for the drive to the airport. At the airport, the buses stopped in front of a large hangar, whose door was mostly closed. A strip of white light four feet wide came from the slightly open door and lit the area around the buses. One of the Navy staff then told us that we needed to go through the door in single file, and that there were some folks inside who wanted to say good bye to us. I was about 20 or so from the front of the line and as the first few entered the hangar I heard an eruption of cheering and applause rivaling the end of a rock concert. As I passed through the opening I was immediately hugged by one of the couple hundred of folks that were waiting for us behind the door. The cheering and clapping continued in earnest until the last one of us was through the door. It took a few seconds to grasp what was going on, but apparently the local VFW, American Legion, Purple Heart Association, Blue Star Families, several churches and television stations had come out to wish us a safe journey. Each group had a table set up inside the hangar and gifts for us. Some made bagged lunches, some gave out teddy bears, candy, etc. We mingled, chatted, hugged and thanked the folks for about thirty minutes before we had to leave. I ended up with a plastic shopping bag full of food, trinkets, stuffed animals, and about six bottles of water, in addition to the food I bought at the PX.

When it was time to go, the navy staff lined us up by rank to walk single file out to the plane. It was odd because for the last three weeks, there was no mention of rank. We were all trainees, now they were putting us back in line so that the more senior folks would get on the plane first. I apparently didn't notice the fact that the handful of captains and dozen or so commanders were already gone, because when they lined us up, the lieutenant commanders were at the head of the line. The community of Colombia, South Carolina had one more surprise in store for us. When we walked out of the hangar there were about forty folks in two lines of twenty, each holding a seven foot staff with a large American flag whipping and snapping in a strong breeze. Some of the folks were obviously struggling to keep a grip on their individual staff as the wind tried to send it flying. It was a little emotional walking down the two rows of snapping flags while the people holding them reached out for a last handshake or hug as you passed by. I took my time and thanked them all. I was through the gauntlet, and looked up to see the 767 that would be flying us to Kuwait.

After walking up the stairs and being greeted by the stewardess, I turned to find a seat. When I passed through first class, the captains and commanders were already pretty much settled. I guess they snuck them out of the hangar early. I also noticed that there were at least five of the seats unoccupied. When I got to the coach cabin I took the first available seat and waited patiently with my carry-on bag and grocery bag still in my lap.

There were about 120 of us and the 767 would seat well over 300, so crowding was not a concern, and loading went quickly. Once everyone was aboard and getting settled one of the commanders from first class popped his head back in to coach and said, "Are there any lieutenant comman..." That was all I heard before I brushed past him and plopped down in an open seat in first class. "...ders that want to move up to first class?"

The first class seats were nice, very nice. There was sooo much leg room that you had to unbuckle your seat belt to reach the seat back pocket in front of you. I made myself comfortable, and listened to the stewardess tell us we would get fed within an hour after taking off, and then breakfast about an hour before landing. It was scheduled to be an eight hour flight. I decided to take a nap until the first meal was served, and as the plane was taking off, I used a remote control with several preset buttons to put the over sized leather seat into the full horizontal position and drifted off to sleep.

I woke up to the serving cart bumping my chair. Good, just in time for dinner. However, when I looked at the cart and the people around me, I found that the stewardesses were cleaning up the breakfast meal! What the ?! I did the math and realized that I had been asleep for over seven hours. I was starving and convinced the stewardess to at least let me have a bowl of cereal and some orange juice this close to landing. As I scarfed it down, the captain sitting next to me finally said, "I didn't think you were ever gonna wake up." I told him it felt like I was only out for a few minutes, I guess I needed the sleep.

We landed at Hahn, Germany to refuel. It was a shut down Air Force Base, and as we were shuttled to the terminal, you could see that most of the buildings had been re-utilized, except for row after row of empty, abandoned three story barracks buildings. Most of them still had unit insignia's painted on the side, and an occasional busted out window or missing door. We stayed in the terminal for about an hour before being bused back out to the plane. After take-off and after I had watched Body of Lies on the personal, on-demand service included on the personal video monitor attached to my seat, I got up to go to the bathroom and noticed the the cockpit door was standing wide open. I glanced in, and to my surprise, the pilot waved and said come on in. In I went, and felt vertigo when I looked out the windshield into a cloudless sky. The lack of clouds provided a clear view of the snow topped mountains we were flying over. There were no sings of civilization to put the mountain range in perspective, just the jagged snow covered landscape. The pilot got up and invited me to sit down in his seat. I sat down and the co-pilot pulled out a camera to take a picture of me "flying" the plane with the Alps in the background. He then asked for my email adress so he could send me the picture. I walked back to my seat, scratching my head, thinking, did that just happen? A few minutes went by, and I realized that I had forgotten to go to the bathroom.

I spent the rest of the flight watching a downloaded episode of Battlestar Galactica on my lap top until the battery died, and then snoozing off and on. We landed in Kuwait at about 0200 in the morning local time.

"Maybe Carolyn Does Have A Point"

Intermittent and frustratingly slow internet access combined with being in the dark while training at the Udari Range and traveling from Kuwait to Bagram have left me and this blog somewhat electronically constipated. Meaning, I am a bit backed up in keeping you guys up to date on my goings on.

At Camp McCrady, in addition to rifle and pistol training we also spent some time driving Humvee's, doing a bit of land navigation, had some convoy training and even spent one final day shuttling between ranges to shoot a few machine guns and to do some "reflexive" firing of our rifles. Most of these evolutions were refreshers for me, but I paid attention and took the time to re-familiarize myself with the concepts and equipment.

Driving a humvee is much like driving a car, it just weighs more and is a bit wider. It also has a turret cut out of the roof where you can mount a 50 caliber machine gun, and hundred pound doors, but really, not much different than a car. The first day of driving, the drill sergeants asked for 5 volunteers. I raised my hand and was chosen. The training was pretty basic- load up the vehicles, keep a safe distance, and follow the vehicle in front of you through the sandy, tight, rutted roads that ran through the Carolina pine forest. The student driving the hummer in front of me was putt-putting along like he was at Disneyworld on the Tomorrowland Speedway, so I'ld let a gap open up between us on the straight aways, then accelerate hard through the turns in the woods. It wasn't quite like a Subaru, but I still got it to drift and counter-steered through some of the corners. We did this for about 5 miles through the woods, and I felt satisfied that I could handle the vehicle. For a while I was oblivious to the fact that there were four other people in the vehicle with me. I was just out four-wheeling through the woods on a Saturday afternoon, and besides, none of them were talking all that much, so it was easy to forget they were even there. Their silence ended when we stopped, and got out. I was met by a chorus of, "Spicer, I am never driving with you again. EVER!" Jeez, they sounded just like Carolyn after one of our trips to the mall. Its not my fault they had never driven in a humvee before. They really needed to lighten up. I didn't hit any trees, regardless of how close I got to them.

Land Navigation involved three hours of class room instruction, followed by a practical exercise using compass, protractor and map in the woods. After the classroom portion, as the entire class of 80+ people were putting our armor and helmets on, there was a lieutenant who stood out like a sore thumb by wearing his soft cover, vice helmet. I walked up behind him and started singing the old Sesame Street song, One of these things is not like the others... in a light-hearted attempt to have him put his helmet on. He replied that we were just walking to the bus and taking them off as soon as we boarded. I told him that we needed to set the example for the rest of the class, or people would be randomly shedding gear whenever they wanted. He bowed up and started mumbling about how his IA billet wouldn't require him to wear the gear, blah, blah, blah. Since we are all in "training" our ranks are supposed to be left at the door, so its not like I could have ordered him to put it on, but his attitude rankled me a bit, and our little back and forth continued as the class was walking out the door and towards the buses. The drill sergeants and the navy chiefs in the class were finally noticing and getting a good laugh out of the whole thing. As our discussion continued out the door, I think I just got weary of his whining and the little marine locked up in the back of head woke up and snarled at him to, "...just quit your f---ing bitching and put the f---ing bucket on your f---ing melon!" Oops, where did that come from? It apparently ended the conversation though, as he went red face and quiet, then turned away and got on the bus without saying another word, still without a helmet, though.

During the bus ride there was whispering and some back-of-the-bus, middle-school chatter about what I had said, but by time we got to our destination it seemed to be forgotten. The land nav course required your group to find a series of four numbered stakes in the woods. There were about thirty out there and each group had different ones, so there was no way to just follow another group through the woods. The basics of land nav involve laying a grid over a map so that it is divided up into squares, which get you within 1000 meters accuracy, these squares are then divided into smaller squares, which get to 100 meters, and those are divided down into smaller squares, to get within 10 meters. The smaller the sqaure, the longer the number used to describe the location is, and the more accurately the location will be described. For example, a four-digit number would provide 1000 m accuracy, 6 digits gets you to 100 m, and 8 digits gets you to 10 m. 10 digits can get you to 1 m accuracy, but for people walking in the woods, using the 8 digit number is the norm. My group consisted of the chaplain, another civil engineer corps officer and a supply corps officer. After we were given our map, protractor, compass, and list of points to find, we waited until we had mapped our route before moving out. I noticed that the entire course was within a single grid square, and that none of the points was more than 300-400 meters away from any other point. As we were walking to the start point, I overheard the lieutenant that I had been previoulsy discussing head wear with telling his group that their first point was 1100 meters away. I was about to chime in and tell them that that was impossible, but... what fun would that be? It felt a bit petty, but it did make me smile. The drill sergeants gave us an hour to run the course. We were all wearing helmets and armor, so we would be trouncing through the forest with the added weight. We were supposed to find as many points as we could until we heard the bus horn blaring. That would signal us to return. Our group had a good time with the walk, and found all of our points. We were stopping and chatting with some of the other groups when we heard the bus horn. When we got back to the bus, about half of the groups were already there. The rest began to trickle in- all of them except one- the group with my favorite lieutenant. The entire class was sitting in the bus waiting, chatting and getting restless. The drill sergeant was starting to get antsy, when the last group finally crested the small hill at the edge of the forest fifty meters in front of the bus 45 minutes after the initial horn signal to return. Everyone on the bus (except me) greeted the last group with jeering and cheering and the type of vicious, but good-natured ridiculing that I have only found in the military. As I sat silently on the bus, picking the dirt out of my thumbnails with a buck knife, I glanced up to see that everyone in the last group was in fact wearing their helmets as they trudged the final few yards to the bus in the mid-day South Carolina sun. As the sweaty and obviously frustrated final group boarded the bus to a din of ridicule, I focused my attention on the point of my knife, as it worked up and down, and back and forth along the surface of my fingernails attempting to push back the cuticles. Outwardly, I was the picture of indifference, but inside, it was the best laugh I had had in a good long while.

As the end of training was coming into sight, we spent a day being shuttled between several ranges. We were able to shoot the M249 5.56mm, M240 7.62mm, and the M2 .50 caliber machine guns. We didn't get many rounds each, but they wanted to make sure we had the ability to pick up a belt of ammo, load the weapon, and put rounds down range if we unexpectedly found ourselves in the unlikely position of needing to. We also learned the basics of M16 reflexive firing, and ran through a pistol night shoot. The day was a kind of "last hurrah" of weapons firing. There would be no more after today.

The final training evolution at Camp McCrady is a convoy exercise. We would mount up humvees, drive through the woods, and be faced with about a half dozen scenarios ranging from IED's to sniper fire to angry mobs blocking our way. I was back in the barracks witnessing the boxing up of CDR Joe Salkeld's personal effects when the crew assignments for the convoy exercise were made. Later, I asked one of the chiefs what my convoy assignment would be, and he told me that I was originally slated to be a driver, but a handful of students stood up and demanded that I be anything except a driver, and refused to be in any hummer that I was driving. Chief asked what the hell that was about and what did I do to piss them all off. Outwardly, I gave him the seabee salute. (both hands inside my front pockets accompanied by a shoulder shrug, and a "I don't know") Inwardly though, I thought, "Maybe Carolyn does have a point".

Rifle Madness

Firstly, I am in Kuwait, sitting in Starbucks sipping an iced cafe americano, and doing fine. I'll do a couple more posts about Camp McCrady to close it out, working up to the present. I always seem to be a week behind. I'll try to get caught up to real time while sitting in Kuwait.

I had previously wrote about the pistol training we recieved, so I think it fair that you get a quick synopsis of our rifle training. It begins with some classroom instruction, and then moves to a simulator, kind of like a big video game. There they correct your stance and mechanics, review safety procedures, and go through a dry run of what happens on the range- all in a controlled environment. Next, we're off to the range.

Range days are early days. The goal is to put the first rounds downrange at first light, so if you do a little backwards planning, you start to see why getting up at 0400 is the norm on range days. After a very quick breakfast. (shove it down now, taste it later) The class, wearing all of our battle armor, is loaded onto busses for the 30 minute drive from Camp McCrady to the ranges at Fort Jackson. Sleep is the norm.

About ten minutes into my nap, I woke up and looked around the bus. It was dark. There was a pool of red light coming from the small fixture above the rear exit, and a smaller pool of white light surrounding the driver emanating from the dash. On each seat, there were two classmates jammed together sleeping, leaning on each other for support . In the dark, with helemeted heads slunked down inside of body armor, we looked like a bus crammed full of soundly sleeping turtles- turtles with M16's. The drill sergeant driving the bus, who must have done this a thousand times before today, timed her pressure on and off of the gas pedal with the gentle rises and falls of the dead straight two lane road we were travelling, so there was no sense of inertia, no leaning left and right nor head bobbing casued by speeding up, slowing down or turning. It was complete and utter stillness. The only sounds came from the rolling friction of large bus tires on pavement, the intermittent acceleration of the diesel engine timed to the rise and fall of the road, and if you listened very closely you could hear the song Cyanide by Metallica coming from the radio on the dash. The bass and drums seemed to help push the bus down the road. As I glanced out the window, and into the predawn South Carolna morning, I noticed that the narrow two lane road was lined on both sides by a dense pine forest. The greyness of the sky faintly outlined black shapes of trees, creating an infinite jagged, grey black horizon on both sides of the bus. There was also a thick, knee-high mist that clung to the forest floor and road alike. As the bus sped down the road, the mist would reluctantly part, then reform behind the bus in defiance of our passing. I nodded back off to sleep to the faint smell of pine.

The first day on the range our task was to "group and zero" (G&Z) our weapons. G&Z is a two step process. You can guess what the two steps are. To properly group, you fire three rounds, see how close they are to each other. The bulls-eye is irrelavant at this point, the goal is to get 5 of 6 consectutive shots close enough together to demonstrate that you have a consistent aim point before moving onto zero'ing the sights. Based upon my experience in the simulator, and my marine background, I didn't think I would have too much trouble. I loaded my first three rounds, sighted in, and pulled the trigger twice. After the second shot I was out of ammo. What the..? I loaded three rounds, didn't I? I went down range to check my target and had two holes next to each other and one far off to the side. This made no sense. Did I actually shoot three rounds? Did someone else shoot my target? Oh well, it was still pretty early in the morning. I loaded my next three rounds, and same thing. Two trigger pulls, empty magazine. I walked to my target with the drill sergeant, telling her I only pulled the trigger twice, and she replied with a respectful, yet condescending, "I am sure you did, sir." We looked at my target and the resluts were the same, two shots nearly on top of each other, and one nowhere near the others. She pointed out that I had four of six close enough together, but needed five to move onto the zero'ing phase. I was still a little confused, and as her and I walked back to the firing line she told me to go ahead and fire six rounds this time instead of three. I loaded the six rounds, sighted in and waited for the command to fire. I fired the first round, and when I pulled the trigger the second time I heard and felt a familiar, but unexpected blurp of fully automatic weapons fire. A-ha! I guess my trigger and/or hammer were wore out. I took the weapon out of my shoulder to remove the magazine and noticed that the expended casing of the fifth round was not fully extracted from the chamber before the live sixth round was rammed underneath causing the bolt of the rifle to be jammed about three fourths of the way forward. The drill sergeant was already at my side looking slightly perturbed at me for firing a four round burst on full auto. She was glaring at me, until I dropped the magazine from the rifle and pointed to the jam. I asked her for permission to try to clear the jam and she said yes. I vigoroulsy yanked on the charging handle to pull the bolt back, but it didn't budge. I banged on the forward assist a few times, then yanked the chrarging handle again- still stuck. I got up to a kneeling position and while holding the weapon at a 45 degree angle downrange, proceeded to repeatedly bash the buttstock of the rifle on the sandbag in front of me. On about the fifth, full wind-up, overhead smash, and as the people nearest me started to look concerned, the bolt finally released and both rounds dropped out. The drill sergeant then kneeled beside me to look at the weapon. I broke it down shotgun style and performed a function check on the trigger and hammer. I found that if I pulled the trigger slowly to the rear and held it back that the hammer wouldn't reset, causing it to repeatedly fire on one trigger pull. I also found that, if instead of applying slow steady pressure (the correct way to shoot) I jerked the trigger to the rear and let it go quicky the hammer would reset. I showed this to her, and she agreed to let me continue with grouping. It took a little getting used to yanking on, and quickly releasing the trigger because it is the exact opposite of what you are supposed to do. But, hey, you go to war with the weapon you got, not the one you wish you had, right? Nine shots later I had a good enough group to move on to zero'ing. Once you get a good, consistent group, the drill sergeant takes the weapon and adjusts your sights so that your consitent group ends up in the bull's eye. Now you repeat shooting sets of three shots until you get 5 of 6 in the bull's eye. It took about 18 shots for me to zero the damn weapon by yanking on the trigger, and I really didn't trust the sight corrections the drill sergeant made. To center my shots I had to compensate for the trigger yanking by aiming low and left. I don't know how I got 5 of 6 in the center, but was relieved when I fianlly did. After walking off the range I ate an MRE and waited for the weapons truck to show up with the armorer to have my rifle repaired. He showed up and I told him I probably needed my trigger and hammer replaced. Personally, I hate it when people tell me how to do my job, by saying, "Back when I was a fill in the blank, this is how we did fill in the blank." So I didn't tell him anything more than was necessary when I gave him my weapon. Back when I was an armorer, I would have replaced both the hammer and trigger, because they tend to wear out at the same rate, and if you only replace one, it won't be long before the other fails. I only said that in my head. The army amorer inspected my weapon, found that the hammer wouldn't reset, replaced it, then performed a function check. The hammer still wouldn't reset, so as he mumbled profanity under his breath, took the new hammer back out, took out and replaced the trigger, then put it all back together again. This time it passed a function check.

The next day we went to a LOMAH range. LOMAH stands for location of misses and hits. Each firing position has a small computer that is connected to a single microphone near the muzzle of the rifle and eight small microphones near your targets at 50, 150, and 250 meter distances. When you pull the trigger the microphone picks up your shot and the eight microphones down range triangulate the sound of your shot passing through or near your target. The computer then shows, on a little screen, where you hit, or missed. I got into position to fire my first five rounds at the 50 meter targets. First shot-a miss, second shot- a miss, third- miss, all five shots were misses. I looked at the range coach and he couldn't even tell me where my shots were missing. I was a little frustrated. Most of my hits on the 150 and 250 meter targets were registering. When we cycled back through the 50 meter target again, the results were the same as the first run. All misses. The third time through the 50 meter target I aimed directly below the target, and was rewarded with five puffs of dirt exploding out of the berm. I later found out that the microphones on my position for the 50 meter target were broken. It would have been nice to know that before I started shooting.

Later that night, while cleaning my rifle, I noticed that one of the locking lugs on the bolt face of my rifle had sheared off at some point. Jeez, when did that happen? The locking lugs on the bolt face rotate and lock the bolt into the chamber a nano-second prior to the round firing. After the round is fired, the compressed gas generated from the fired round gets fed back through a metal tube running along the barrel which casues the bolt to unlock, move to the rear and feed the next round. This all happens very quickly. At a minimum, a missing locking lug could cause a lack of gas pressure and interupt the cycle of fire resulting in a jam. The worst case scenario would be that the bolt was covered with hairline cracks, resulting in the metal bolt shattering into a thousand tiny steel fragments that would explode out of the side of the rifle the next time the rifle was fired. I had only seen an M16 blow up in this fashion once before. Luckily for the shooter he was right handed, and the fragments exploded out of the right side of the rifle, away from him. If it ever happens to a left handed shooter, the hot exploding, shards of metal would be blasted into the shooters face. Not a pretty picture.

The next morning, prior to getting on the bus, I showed a drill sergeant my cracked bolt, and we walked to the armory to have it replaced. Since it was still 0500 in the morning the armorer hadn't shown up for work yet. The drill sergeant suggested we wait for the armorer to show up at the range. Rifle qualification for the army involves shooting from three positions (prone supported, prone unsupported, and keeling) at timed pop-up targets at distances varying from 50 to 300 meters. You get 40 random targets and forty bullets. Each hit counts as a point, perfect score is 40, expert is 34, and you need 23 to quailfy. We would be firing the course four times as a trial run of qualifying the next day. The armorer didn't show up prior to my turn on the firing line. I decided to go ahead and shoot with the cracked bolt. What were the odds that my bolt would explode? And if it did, the pieces were likely to fly out to the right, which was clear, so the peices wouldn't hit innocent bystanders. It was hot and as soon as I got into a prone position my glasses slid down the sweat on my nose, and my helmet rode forward to obscure my vision. The drill sergeants had warned us about this and I forgot to tighten up my helmet straps. I shot poorly to say the least. I had at least five jams, but was able to clear them each time. But as I furiously cleared them, I would have to eject one of my forty remaining rounds, and targets were still popping up and down, compounding my misery. My scores were 17, 21, 23, and 19 out of 40. If it would have been qual day I would have squeaked by with a 23, a small victory.

The amorer never showed up at the range on prequal day, and didn't show up for work early enough to replace my bolt prior to going to the range the next day to qualify. When we got to the range I asked to be one of the final shooters, to give the armorer a chance to get there and replace my bolt. I did many things wrong the previous day, but focused on making three adjustments; slower, deliberate breathing, pulling my elbows in tight after every shot, and keeping my cheek glued to the stock as I scanned the range for the next pop up target. As I was sitting and waiting to head to the line, one of the navy chiefs in our class approached me and asked how I shot yesterday. He had also shot a 239 on the pistol course. I told him I squeaked by with a 23, he told me he got a 35, and proceeded to propose a wager on our outcomes today. He offered to spot me twelve points and 20 bucks on the outcome. I countered with taking ten points, and the bet would be for a buck a point in the difference in our scores. We shook hands and he walked off. The armorer still had not shown up when it was my turn to fire. As I approached the line, I pulled the straps of my helmet so tight that I could no longer move my jaw to chew the gum in my mouth, and yanked on the restraining cord of my glasses hard enough that I felt the frames begin to bend around the front of my face. I calmly approached the line and went through the first iteration of the course. First score- 22, with one jam. The second time through, I was fortunate enough to find the quiet place in my head, the place where nothing matters, and nothing can bother me. I had one jam, but don't remember making the physical movements to clear it. After I fired my final shot of the round and was waiting for them announce the scores over the loud speakers. The drill instructor who was with me two days ago when I was bashing my rilfe on the sandbags, said, "that was really nice the way you cleared that last jam." Since I didn't even remeber doing it, I just smiled back and said thanks. The loudspeaker announced my score- 29. I'll take it, all things considered, and more importantly, the most I would owe chief, with my ten point spread was one measly dollar. That is if, and only if, he shot a perfect 40. I felt relieved and don't really remember my final two scores. I think they were in the low twenties. But it didn't matter. I was happy with the 29. Later, I met up with chief, and he was visibly upset. He had a bad day on the range, and even though he had shot a 35 the day before, the best he could do today was a 28. With the ten points spotted meant he owed me eleven dollars. I told him that I wouldn't take his money, that I just wanted some extra motivation, and just assumed that I would be paying him anyway. I have a general rule, that I will not take anything from an enlisted person. The only exceptions to this rule are beers and shots of liquor. It would be impolite to refuse, and I'll always leave the bartender a decent tip with instructions to buy them another round after I leave.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Going Dark

We are preparing to leave for Kuwait. Shouldn't give out details, but suffice it to say, it is soon. I'll be back online...later.

Take Care, stay safe, and I'll see you on the other side.


Your Husband, Father, Son, Brother, Uncle, Nephew, and Friend


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

"He Didn't Need To Be Here."

I have intentionally not mentioned other people's names in my posts. There are privacy issues, security concerns, and the simple fact that I am writing about my experiences, and I don't think it is appropriate for me to be splashing names all over the Internet. With that in mind, I still would like to tell you about Joe. He is my "bunk mate." He has got the top bunk, and I am on the bottom. Soon after we all got settled here at McCrady, we talked, and I asked him where he was going; Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. He told me that he was headed to Patuxent River Naval Air Station. I followed up with asking where he was going after that, and he told me that that was it. He was doing an IA at Pax River. "Then what the heck are you doing here?" I asked. He replied that he didn't know, only that his orders sent him here for basic combat training. With a comical, grandiose gesture I said, "On behalf of the government of the United States, and the Department of Defense, let me be the first one to apologize to you for wasting the next two and half weeks of you life." He didn't need to be here.

People complain, and people here complain a lot. I have tried to not complain, and for the most part have been successful. But I still find myself griping about trifle things every now and then. There are others here who do nothing but bitch and moan all day long about everything. Not Joe, though. If anyone has a right to complain, it would be him. But he never does. He didn't need to be here

This morning we had formation after breakfast and the plan was to road march about two miles with all of our weapons and battle armor to the urban training area, where we would spend the entire day outdoors going through training on check point operations, unexploded ordnance, room clearing techniques, and getting familiarized with armored vehicles. During the march, Joe fell a little behind and some of the drill sergeants asked him if he wanted to get in the van following us. Joe said no, and caught up. He didn't need to be here.

Once we got to the training site, I was standing around talking with classmates, waiting for the drill sergeants to start the days activities, when I heard a commotion behind me. I turned around and noticed someone laying on the ground with two or three people bent over them waving and screaming for help. I ran over to see what was wrong and found Joe on the ground gasping for breath, foaming at the mouth and his eyes rolling around in the back of his head. Luckily, one the people nearest him when he went down was a corpsman. Those helping him were already in the process of stripping off his body armor, so I started taking off his knee pads, untying his boots and elevating his legs. By this time the two navy nurses and all of the corpsmen in our class were there, so I retreated. He didn't need to be here.

The drill sergeants eventually came over to investigate. They radioed in the situation, called the base fire department, and followed up with a 911 call. Minutes passed and the situation deteriorated. The nurses and corpsmen began rescue breathing and chest compressions. Where was the god damn ambulance. After what seemed like an eternity, the ambulance arrived and whisked Joe away. He didn't need to be here

Joe was pronounced dead shortly thereafter.

I was pulled from training a while later and told to report back to our barracks. Since I was his bunk mate, they wanted me there when they inventoried and packed up his personal effects.

They have finished with his things in the barracks, and I am now looking out the window watching them repeat the process with his truck. There is a single thought that keeps running through my mind, and you probably already know what it is.

"I Guess We Can Call That One a Five"

Howdy Folks. This time around I thought I'd give y'all a recap of the pistol firing I've gotten to do here. We have spent the majority of our time here at various rifle, pistol, or machine ranges, and I have yet to provide any details. We did our final firing over the weekend, so I'll do a post now to brag a little about my pistol prowess, and one later detailing my frustration with the rifle.

Soon after we were issued rifles and pistols, and given some basic instruction, firing began in earnest. I've previously qualified on the pistol for the Navy, so I wasn't too concerned about the lack of practice. The plan was to take us out to the pistol range, run us all through the qualification course three times each without a break. If you qualified, you were sent to the pistol "stress" fire course. Those who didn't, would stay on the range until they did. No kidding. The drill sergeants made it clear we would be there until sunset if that what it took. The first time through, I knew I would qualify, and also knew that I had two more chances. I wanted to do well, but I didn't care; not in a negative way, but in a relaxed, unhurried, almost blase' manner. I had a clear mind, and focused on nothing except a mental void. The course involves firing from a 3, 7, and 15 meter line, shooting a total of 48 rounds. Each round has a max value 5 points, so a perfect score would be 240. In my disassociated mental state, I didn't care that I was perfect from the three meter line, and when I left the 7 meter line still shooting perfect I reminded myself that I still had two more qualification rounds after this and reformed my void of mental indifference. I didn't even remember pulling the trigger on the 15 meter line, I just remember looking down at my empty pistol, and waiting for the range safety officer to give us permission to go down range to change out our targets. When I checked my target I saw that I was almost perfect. I had gotten every shot in the five ring, except one. It was a half inch outside of the center, for a final score of 239. Oh well, I still had two more chances.

The funny thing is, the next round, when I was focused, and interested in the outcome, I shot worse and scored 237. By time I finished firing on 7 meter line on the third round, It was obvious that I would not get a perfect 240. As I was walking to the 15 meter line for the final time, I took an interest in a coffee cup that one of the range safety officers had left leaning up against the base of my target. While walking, I flippantly told him,"You know, since I can't get a 240, your coffee cup is about to be destroyed, right?" He told me he would throw me off the range if I shot at anything except my target. I just shrugged. I fired my first magazine, and before loading my final magazine containing my last eight rounds, for the final time that morning, the safety, who looked a lot like Ed Harris, smugly said, "You don't have the balls to shoot that cup." I responded with silence. Anger, frustration, embarrassment, and nervousness all fought to get in, but at that moment I felt nothing. When the command to fire came, I dropped to one knee and put seven straight shots into the belly of the silhouette target. Then, without skipping a beat and maintaining the cadence of the previous seven shots, I lowered the pistol down and to the right. I don't remember pulling the trigger as the cup passed in front of the sights, but from almost fifty feet away, my final bullet hit the six inch tall cup dead center. As the cup and its contents exploded against the berm behind the targets, I heard a "HOLY S*** !" from the safety behind me. He added, "I guess we can call that one a five. " My final round was a 235.

After that we were put through what the Army calls a stress fire. There are five stations: prone, kneeling, crouching, standing supported, and standing unsupported. You wear all of your body armor, helmet, etc and have to run between stations while a drill sergeant is yelling in your ear the whole time. There is also a three minute time limit. Maximum score is 18, and you need 12 to pass. Most folks focused on, and a lot of them were scoring 18, but used all of their allotted three minutes, and even walked between some of the stations. I was feeling good after killing a cup of coffee, so as I approached the stress fire start, I told the drill sergeant to not hold back with the yelling and getting in my face. When they said go, I took off running and ran between each station, and pulled the trigger as fast as I could each time. I finished in 58 seconds, but only scored a 17. Almost perfect, again. But also like the last time, I had a blast. As far as I know I was the only one (out of 80+) to finish anywhere near the minute mark. I was quite the spectacle. I later overheard several conversations where people talking about the coffee cup, and how I was shooting up the stress fire course without even appearing to aim, like some crazy cowboy. It was a fun day.

If anyone knows me, then they know that I am not one to brag or toot my own horn all that much, but what happens happens, and I'll write about it. Good or Bad. Speaking of bad, let me tell you about my time at the rifle range. That's a story for another day, though. Til then, take care.

My 239 target. Notice the one hole, left of the number 4 on the right side. As Maxwell Smart would say, "Missed it by that much"

Monday, February 16, 2009

One Shot, Ten Words

Enjoy a South Carolina sunrise. I'll write more later. Peace. (click photo to enlarge)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"I've got nothing else to say Drill Sergeant"

We left off with the 9mm pistol class, but before I go any further I should say a few things about the Army Drill Sergeants that are training us. They are on par with some of the most professional and dedicated senior enlisted service members that I have ever worked with; including senior enlisted Air Force contracting officers, Marine Corps Staff NCO's and Navy Chiefs. They have patiently and professionally prepared a group of salty sailors, most of who have never handled a weapon before and spent many years at sea, for a deployment with ground forces in combat zones around the world. Many of the drill sergeants are recent combat veterans and take their instructor role here very seriously. They willingly impart their lessons learned under fire to better prepare us. Whether it is graphically describing treating combat injuries, reacting to roadside bombs, or simple things like how to better adjust the 70 pounds of gear we have to wear or what small items should always be in your pockets, they take a personal interest in giving us the tools we may need to survive and come home.

That being said, there was one period of instruction that, in my opinion, was very lacking, and is the basis for the title of this post. Tuesday morning we were issued weapons, and the first brief we got was a presentation on the proper handling and clearing of the M16 rifle. The instructor simply read the slides with no emphasis or personal anecdotes of the results of mishandling weapons and ammunition. I have seen marines accidentally shoot each other with pistols, and have personally almost had may face blown off by a round some idiot major forgot to unload from a M870 12 gauge shotgun; so yeah, the whole "accidental" (negligent) discharge of a firearm thing is a pretty touchy subject with me. I get worked up over it, and the word that was put out to our class Tuesday morning was woefully inadequate. After all the rifle and pistol marksmanship instruction during the day Tuesday, they gave us all a magazine and five blank rounds of ammunition. From that moment on, we have been required to carry a loaded rifle around wherever we go on Camp. We have to unload and clear them whenever we go in and out of buildings, but if we are outside, they are to be loaded because that is how it will be when we get to our final destinations. Except then it will be live ammunition. Once they dismissed us, I looked at my squad mates and guaranteed them that there would be two negligent discharges by lunch tomorrow. Oh how wrong I was.

There were two within two hours.

When I went to breakfast Wednesday morning, there were more. One guy shot off two rounds, bang bang right in the clearing barrel as I was walking past. There were at least a half dozen more that I heard about on Wednesday. I was losing my fracking mind. I reprimanded, corrected and instructed as many folks as I could, but without going completely old school, Marine Corps NCO ballistic on their dumb asses there wasn't much more I could do but be grateful for the fact that they were only popping off blanks. Wednesday and Thursday were also very busy training days with lots of movements between evolutions. We covered: combat first aid, with a strong focus on tourniquets, and medevac procedures, personnel recovery, surviving as a prisoner, code of conduct, communications equipment and procedures, and were run through a Humvee rollover trainer. For those of you who have been in a rollover crash, then you know how disorientating it is. We were run through the trainer twice. The first time through, after they flipped the vehicle, I undid my seat belt, rolled over and was on all fours on the ceiling looking for the door handle in the dark. I couldn't find it, and had to turn around and crawl out of another door. The second time they flipped us, I used my left hand to hold myself upside down, reached across my body with my right hand to undo the seat belt while still holding myself upside down with my left hand, then reached back across my body (still upside down) and grabbed the door handle, opened it and then somersaulted right out the door and sprang to my feet in one fluid motion. That's one lesson I am grateful I learned in a trainer, and not on the side of the road in Afghanistan.

When we were done with training for the day, one of the drill sergeants asked our platoon for feedback on the training we had had so far in the week. I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to express my concerns about the plethora of negligent discharges that had been going on for the last day and a half. I told him that I didn't think there was enough emphasis on weapons safety and instruction on unloading and clearing our weapons. He replied that they only had so much time to spend with us, and that we, as leaders need to police ourselves. He basically called me out. I never got to finish telling him that there was time allotted, but I didn't think the instructor did a good enough job, and that block of instruction could be improved with more emphasis on safety, because, as if on cue, BANG, not fifty feet behind us some poor unfortunate sailor just popped off a round trying to clear his weapon before going into his barracks. At that point I stopped mid-sentence and just said, "I've got nothing else to say Drill Sergeant" and walked away.

Thirty minutes later our company was mustered in a classroom with the entire cadre of Drill Sergeants. The ones who had survived combat gave us an appropriate, but NC-17 rated period of instruction on safe weapons handling. I slept much better that night.