Sunday, February 22, 2009

"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".

1 comment:

  1. You mentioned CDR Salkeld.... Im his daughter, if you have a moment to email me, I would greatly appreciate it