Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"Spicer, What the hell are you?"

Here is the second post I promised. I am going to apologize upfront because week one at NIACT will take two posts to cover. Feel free to post comments to let me know what you think of what I am writing-- too much, too little, etc. I'll strive to improve.

To breifly recap where we are in the story. I had just showed up for muster at Donnelly Hall on Naval Base San Diego to await transportaion to South Carolina for training en route to Afghanistan. I am looking forward to getting on the plane and getting some sleep...

Most of the 175+ folks who started the week are still around. A few had been determined to be unfit, unprepared, or ill suited to continue on with the process; but that number was small, less than ten, and for the most part the parking lot at Donnelly Hall was filled with now familiar faces, remebered from a week worth of hours standing in line after line getting paperwork checked. The difference now was that a lot of the people were with their loved ones saying good-bye. I was bored, tired, and had nothing else better to do, so I sat and people watched for a while. Seasoned sailors, junior troops, wives, husbands, teenagers, toddlers, girlfriends, boyfriends and everything in between were all saying their final good byes, and then there were the folks like me, the ones who had already said good bye to friends and family somewhere else. I called home one more time to let my family know that I was waiting for a bus to the airport, and that I would call them when I got to South Carolina. We finally loaded the busses and drove to the Naval Air Station. Our flight was late. Suprise. We went wheels up at about noon, at which point I easily fell asleep.

The flight was a short three hours, about half the time of my flight from BWI to San Diego. I guess the FAA lets the miltary fly their passenger planes at whatever speed they want. We deplaned, walked to the terminal, met our transportation and were bussed to Camp McCrady at about 7pm EST.

When we arrived at Camp McCrady we were fed a meal of sweet and sour pork on styrofoam trays in a classroom. We then lined up to be issued linens. When I was handed mine, the brown stain on the pillow case made me consider asking for a new one, but then I thought it was only likely a 50/50 proposition that a new one would be any better, so I just hoped that the other side of the pillow was stain free. We were all segregated by rank and gender. Everyone was assigned to an open squadbay barracks. All of the male officers CDR and below were put together. The only folks who get individual rooms are Captians and Master Chiefs. The squad bays are typical with grey metal bunks with white and blue striped matresses lined up in two rows of ten in a large open room lit by two rows of flourent lights and 12x12 inch white VCT flooring. I was able to snag the last available bottom bunk, quickly made it, unpacked a few things out of my seabag, and then called home to let Carolyn and the kids know that I was settled. I asked the first random person that walked by me if there was any place nearby to watch tv. He told me that one of the nearby barracks buildings was converted into some sort of All Hands Club, named The Impact Zone.

The Impact Zone looked like every other barracks building that lined the single street that runs though Camp McCrady, except it had a neon tube light hanging and flickering outside. One thing about McCrady that you should probably know is that the only people here are Navy folks like me, and Army people that have been recalled to active duty after having already been discharged. So you can be sure that they are some surly soldiers to say the least. They did their time, got out, and are now here on Camp McCrady getting reprocessed back into the Army. You gotta feel for those guys. Anyway, back to the story. The Impact Zone was a loud, dark, smoke filled converted squad bay with a bar in the back corner. Light was mainly provided by fixtures hanging over four pool tables. A jukebox was blaring everything from Slipknot to 50 cent to Allan Jackson. The place was full of boisterous recalled soldiers and GWOT sailors of every rank who were almost as loud as the jukebox. Almost. Everyone inside seemed to be celebrating thier final night of normalcy. The place was a veritable stew of fraternization, but no one got too out of hand. I ended up playing pool, and getting to know some of the people I would be spending the next three weeks with until the place closed at 0200, and then after, I played foosball with some recalled Army warrant officers and Senior NCO's in a barracks rec room until four in the morning. After two back to back all-nighters, and a cross country flight, I was a wee bit tired and had no problem falling asleep in a drafty old Army barracks full of sniffling, sneezing, snoring, and coughing strangers.

The next day was Superbowl Sunday and thanks to my brother-in-law Frank I was able to lay in my rack and watch the game on my laptop live in HD. He had given me a TV reciever adapter as a departing gift and it worked perfectly. I was able to pick up the over-the-air HD broadcast of the Superbowl. The next day, Monday, at 0500, we would begin the training cycle.

Monday we were welcomed by the Navy staff, turned in our medical records, and filled out some paperwork. They asked who needed gas mask inserts or ballistic eyewear inserts. I let them know that I had gotten them in San Diego, but was told that I had the wrong ones and they would order me some more. Sound familiar? The Army staff then bussed us around from warehouse to warehouse, lined us up and issued us a bag of full of gear each time; body armor, helmet, knee pads, elbow pads, extreme cold weather gear, ballistic eye protection, back packs, camelbacks, sleeping bags, even a gerber multi-tool-everything except weapons. We got back to our barracks around 7pm. The remaider of the night was spent marking, reinventorying and organizing all of our new stuff.

Tuesady we were issued weapons. M16 Rifles and M9 Pistols. We also spent the entire day rotating between rifle and pistol classroom instruction. A long time ago I was an enlisted marine, and an armorer. I don't own any weapons (except a shotgun that has been unfired and in a case for 15 years) and I am not a gun nut, but my job for four plus years in the marines was to fix the rifles, pistols, machine guns, and mortars that a battalion full of infantry grunts would regularly break in every way imaginable. Not to brag, but I was a damn good armorer, and I could diagnose, breakdown and repair anything they threw at me quicker than they could tell me what they thought was wrong with it. It was very satisfying to be handed a busted weapon and with the marine watching, break it down, find and replace the broken parts, hand it back to him good as new, and then have him put rounds down range. I have probably broken down the M16 rifle and M9 pistol close to 10,000 times, and while it has been almost twenty years since, my fingers are still quite nimble. During the M16 class, I let the instructor use my weapon for demonstration purposes and just walked through the class helping others keep up with the instructor as he went through the basics of breaking down the weapon. Later, during the M9 class one of the sailors sitting near me jammed the recoil rod and spring in incorrectly so that he couldn't finish reassembling it. He called the instructor over and showed him what he had done. The instructor fooled around with it for a minute or two, then told the sailor that he couldn't fix it, and that it would have to go back to the armory to get fixed. I asked politely if I could take a look at it and after a little cajoling he finally handed me the pieces. All the old memories came back to me as soon as the broken pistol hit my hand. I pulled out my gerber tool, flipped open the pliers, then pushed, twisted and then pulled the jammed rod out of the upper receiever, rolled the rod in my palm to see if it was bent, inspected the spring to see if it was damaged, then as quick as you can say click click clack clack click I reassembled the pistol, performed a full function check, took it completely back apart, handed him all the pieces, and said, "Try to put it back together right this time." I guess that was unexpected because they all silently gaped at me like I was an alien until a Supply Corps officer looked at me and said, "Spicer, what the hell are you?"

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