Saturday, March 31, 2007

Battalion-Level training

Most of the company is out on battalion level training, called ARTEP. The mortar section is staying in the barracks for another couple of days to do mortar-specific training called a MORTEP. Then we will go fire live rounds on a range somewhere. A lot of this training is repeating stuff that we learned in 11-Charlie school, but there are some people in the mortar sections who went through 11-C school back in November or earlier, and have had a chance to forget it all.

Of course, now that we're preparing to go out to the field, and the company is out living in tents, it has started to rain. The Lord works in mysterious ways indeed! But Mississippi definitely needs the rain, so I do not begrudge them the weather. And my wife says the rain is needed at home as well, to clear the pollen from the air.

It is always surprising to me that I can allow myself to forget the most basic facts of military life. For example, I routinely manage to disremember that the Army plays to the lowest common denominator. In other words, leadership tends to treat everyone as if they were all as stupid as the least intelligent soldier. The nail that sticks up gets hammered down, and all that. I also manage to forget that some people can't tell the difference between genuine curiousity, simple lack of intelligence, and willful laziness. So if you have a question about something you genuinely didn't understand, some military leaders will assume that you're either being lazy for not doing it immediately, or that you're so stupid you don't understand anything about what you're doing. Either way, it really tends to get in the way of learning. LOL

Also it has been remarked upon a lot by people in this unit, and Rick Atkinson mentions that General David Petraeus (now in charge of US troops in Baghdad) also noted the high value of the combat patch. IE, the patch worn on the right shoulder, to indicate that you have served with that unit in combat. In the National Guard, that patch seems to accrue you a remarkable amount of respect and leeway. In some ways, this is entirely understandable, since someone with a combat patch has, to use the Civil War parlance, "seen the elephant."

Earlier this evening I ran into a 1st Lieutenant I had known back in 1997. He was an E-6 when I joined the Guard, and is now an ADC for the Division commander. In addition, he has 21 years in the guard and is already elegible for retirement. Funny old thing, life.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Coming Up: more mortar training!

From what I've been told, we have a week-long block of good mortar training coming up that will be challenging physically and mentally.

Last night I was on QRF detail, got to drive a Hum-vee around inside the "FOB" and did some of what I call "creative driving." I really like driving the Hum-Vee.

Also, apparently there has been a bit of an epidemic of the lower GI issue. Several other soldiers have suffered from it. I offer them my sincerest condolences. I weighed myself today and discovered that I've lost 7 pounds in probably less than a week due to not eating without reducing my training schedule.

Maybe I could patent the 11-C Shelbystan diet?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Good training!

Well, I've just finished a week or so of good training!

We did about 6 days of Mounted Convoy Patrol training, and that was pretty good stuff. Our STX had a few glitches, but was a good learning experience. The Virtual Convoy Combat Trainer (essentially a large First-Person Shooter game that simulates being in a vehicle) was also a very useful tool for training.

For MCP, the mortar section was remanded back to 3rd platoon, and trained with them. In the VCCT, we were the rear vehicle. We got two missions, one that was "familiarization," and had a LOT of opfor to shoot at, and another that was a "real" mission simulation wherein the environment was much less target-rich. On the familiarization mission, we had a situation where a large Greyhound-style bus came driving up behind us quickly (remember that this is in a computer game, not real life or even simulated training). Because the bus got so close so quickly and because we had been engaged so many times already by opfor in pickups with .50 machineguns, I was a little jumpy and shot the bus up. I probably hit it with about 15 rounds or so.

Then it blew up. The section has been ragging me ever since for killing a schoolbus full of muslim children on a field trip to the local museum.

That's why I say the VCCT was such a good training tool. It put us much into a much better simulation of a crowded, lifelike environment than we have been able to simulate thus far. The VCCT was far more challenging than the lane exercises, although the gunners helmet and kit tends to make you queasy due to the misalignment between the gun POV and the helmet POV. Still, it's a valuable tool and I'm glad that the military has invested in it for our training.

Yesterday we had Land Navigation, which is the one thing that the infantry does that I consider myself to be GOOD at. So I had a great time with that. Our group missed the class record for the final exam by 12 minutes, and I know we could have made that up if I had not made a particular error on one of our objectives. It's always good to be reminded that you should double-check your work. TWELVE minutes. /sigh

Today, we had a 4 mile foot march and then stress fire. Basically, we were driven to a range, then four miles on down the road. Dropped off, divided up into firing orders, or "chalks" and sent to walk back up the road to the range. When we arrived at the range, we were safely gotten onto the range, then an "IED" exploded nearby and we ran to our firing points and loaded our magazines. As soon as everyone was ready, the targets started coming up and we shot until we were out of ammo. I and my cohort (two people per firing point, instead of just one) managed 57 hits, which wasn't bad at all. Oh, and yes, I'm back to using my M-4 instead of the SAW now. Thank God for that, because I don't think I would have enjoyed marching 4 miles with a 16lb SAW slung over my shoulder!

Still, between 6 days on the dusty road, land nav. yesterday, and a 4 mile foot march today, I'm feeling a bit worn out. Oh, I forgot to mention that I had a slight lower GI issue for the last few days. Basically, from Sunday until Tuesday evening, I had a bit of a stomach flu and didn't eat anything. Drank lots of water, yes, but ate nothing. Today, I'm feeling quite a bit better, thank you for asking.

It won't be much longer and we'll go home for our leave prior to deploying overseas. I know everyone is looking forward to that. God bless you all and if you have any specific questions, post them in the comments and I'll try to answer them insofar as they don't risk Operational Security.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Soon to train on convoy ops!

Well, we've had a good week in the barracks now, and it's been moderately pleasant. I've had combatives training, and discovered that I'm not much good at hand-to-hand fighting, and should probably take a sword with me to Afghanistan. Maybe I can buy one of Hamby's machete's or something...

I've had to register my weblog with the battalion S-2 for OPSEC reasons, which makes great sense. Registering only involves letting them know you HAVE a weblog and sending them a link to it. Then, I would imagine, they monitor you for OPSEC violations to see if they need to hit you with a hammer. I don't think that'll be an issue for me.

I talked to Hoffhaus this morning and he mentioned that he reads this weblog, so here's a "shout out" to him (or whatever the appropriate expression is these days). I think back in my day we just said "what up?" or something equally dumb...

Tomorrow we move out to the field again for a week of mounted convoy exercises. Now, get this: Irony, thy avatar is the U.S. Army. Back in early February I was transferred from my platoon, after qualifying with the SAW, and went to Mortar school. Then, eventually, I had to qualify with my M-4 carbine. I'm 11-M, 11-B, and 11-C qualified, 2nd class mortar gunner, and M-4 qualified Sharpshooter. But because I'm the only enlisted man in the entire section who's qualified with a "crew-served weapon" (my SAW), I'm back to using a SAW, so that we have a heavier weapon than an M-4 for our vehicle.

Short version- I went from 11-B SAW gunner to 11-C M-4 wielder. Had to take extra time to qualify with the M-4. Now I'm back to SAW gunner (still 11-C), because I'm the only one with the weapon qualfication. Semper Gumby, right?

And, btw, we all really hope that the OC's for this round of training are less difficult than the OC's who taught the IED course at the FOB last time. They did a lot more C'ing than they did O'ing. IMO, OC's should be asking the unit leadership what they were TRYING to do, and then evaluate the unit performance vs. what they were trying to do. Then, if the ideal wouldn't have accomplished what they were shooting for, discuss needed changes with unit leadership.

During all this time in the barracks, by the way, we still had to do PT. One day, we played soccer. 3 on 4 soccer, and by the way, I'm not very good at soccer. But it was good PT. I got a good cardio workout. Then, a couple days later, we played basketball. If possible, I'm even worse at basketball than I am at soccer. In fact, I'm so bad at basketball that the team that has to play me should get another extra player just to make up for having me. It's only fair if the teams are 6(including me) vs 4!

Had more to post, but the Inet cafe is full. gotta run!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Good Training!

Well, we've had several days now of training at FOB Herat. I've gotten to drive a Hum-Vee for the first time since 1997, I've had the opportunity to be gunner in a Hum-Vee, and learned all kinds of neat stuff about searching detainees, spotting IEDs, negotiating with Afghans, and analyzing artillery craters to determine where the round came from.

I've also zeroed my M-4 carbine, Iron Sights and Optic sight, qualified on day fire and NBC fire, and have washed my laundry.

I've completed reading C.S. Lewis's "The ScrewTape Letters" which is a good, simple book that takes the perspective of a demon advising another demon who is tempting a human. Lewis had many good insights into why we sin, and how Satan and his minions muddle our thoughts and keep us away from God.

I've almost finished reading John Eldridge (I think) "Wild at Heart," which has as it's thesis the idea that a man should be willing to be confrontational, or he is not living in God's Image. I'm almost done with "Thief of Time" by Terry Pratchett, which is quite entertaining. I think I'll be exploring his other books about Discworld. And, I'm almost done with Lewis's semi-autobiographical "Surprised by Joy" which posits that Joy is best described as "the one thing that, once you've had it, you will ALWAYS want to have it again." Some readers may not understand, but I certainly do. He describes joy as a curiously satisfying longing, not for a Thing, but for an experience. I guess the best way I can put it, is that it's almost like Homesickness, only it's much more enjoyable.

Sleeping in the HQ tent while out at the FOB, by the way, is obviously different than sleeping in a platoon tent. The officers are more polite, oddly enough (maybe because they're often younger?) than the line soldiers. However, the platoon sergeants can be much more profane, one in particular (*laugh* you know who I mean). It's an interesting dichotomy that I would probably think about a lot more if I weren't busy with all sorts of questions of theology. But, the officers in Bravo are not only competent (unlike several I've served under back in the day when Bravo was Delta company), they surprise me with their insight, and their hard work. The more I train with Bravo company, the happier I am to be back with this unit.

I still have to do drivers training with the new up-armored Hum-Vee, Land Nav (both on foot and mounted, both of which should be knock-me-down easy), and Combatives, at least. So there's a lot of hard training still out there in my future. God willing, it'll be good for me and I'll learn something from it!

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Missing a tooth, now. Down to 30

I had a tooth extracted on Monday. It was done under general anaesthesia, so I felt nothing immediately. It is slow in healing however, and I still cannot chew mess hall food very well. I'm off quarters as of today, and might be headed back out into the field this evening. I don't feel quite back to myself, but hopefully that'll work itself out as time goes on.

Friday and Saturday of last week we did reflexive fire, and that was pretty good stuff. Sunday five of us were tortured with the Warrior Training Program (WTP), formerly known as Common Task Testing (CTT). Not much that we were tested on is applicable to our deployment to Afghanistan, and it took us from 0630 through 1800 Sunday. No time off for laundry or cleaning, or PX time, or even religious services.

I've been reading through the book of Matthew on my own time, however. Using my Holman translation. I've found a couple of interesting passages, including Matthew 3:9-10, where John the Baptist tells the Pharisees that God can raise up new children for Abraham from the very stones., and Matthew 18, where Jesus is talking about children. Clearly, the concepts of guardian angels and an "age of maturity" stem from this chapter. I'll have to talk with my pastor about a couple of questions I have with regard to some of what is written there.

My right ankle is getting better. It should be, I've basically been lying in bed for the last day and a half. Hopefully it will be fully recovered by the time I'm back out in the field doing full-speed training. Although, I do still have quite a few things that I need to take care of administratively before we deploy. I'll have to work all that out with Sgt. Knight. Mortar school really threw a huge monkey wrench into our plans.

God bless, and stay safe!

Saturday, March 3, 2007


One soldier I've written about prefers not to be named in the blog in the future. I'll be careful to honor his request. Another soldier prefers to be mentioned anonymously, if at all. Sgt. Knight, on the other hand, has no problem with being mentioned.

In case you were wondering, my knees and ankles are mostly better now. My right ankle is still stiff and painful after a day on the range. I can't tell if it's arthritis or tendonitis, or just old age. But the serious pains I was suffering earlier seem largely to have been due to my being out of shape. The more I work the knees and ankles, the less they hurt (except for that right ankle).

The Mortar section has been moved back to the HQ platoon. Now, having been in 3 out of 4 platoons, I once again feel familiar with the unit. Which is very good. Camaraderie is a large part of what makes this deployment endurable.

My cell phone charger is not lost, by the way. A Specialist who was staying in the same tent as me, and who had provided the power strip everything was plugged into, gathered up everything and brought it all back to the barracks at one fell swoop. Including, thank God, my phone charger. So, now I have two extra's on the way.

Oh, and having been in 3 out of 4 platoons, I can say with full confidence - this company has many, many good NCO's. This is definitely where I want to be if I have to go to war. Even the officers aren't half-bad!

By the way, there was a Major who gave us a briefing about terrorists back in early February. He pointedly mentioned that anyone could be a terrorist, almost anybody with access to the FOB. Later that day, I caught a soldier named Chapman wandering around looking suspicious, so I asked him if he was a terrorist. Chapman became very defensive, so I'm keeping an eye on him. I saw him the other day carrying a suspicious bag around the barracks area, and tonight I spotted him talking on a cell phone! I think he's noticed that I'm observing him, so I'll have to be more discreet in the future.

Also, if you happen to know why so many army posts have terrain that looks the same, I'd love to know. Forts Jackson, Stewart, Gordon, Benning, and Camp Shelby all have piney woods and scrub brush, with sandy soil. Is it just because that's where the infantry goes? Or are most army posts like that? Or what? Maybe the land was just really cheap or something, I dunno.

Finally, Specialist White invented a new word today. It's very descriptive and I guess Humpty-Dumpty (from "Alice in Wonderland") would have called it a portmanteau.


As in, "The DNA evidence from the gum will be incintegrated by the explosion!"

I believe we go back out to the FOB soon, so I probably will not be able to update this again for a week or more. I'm sure there will be lots of things to relate by then, so keep checking back.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Cold, wet, and dirty.

Sunday we started Squad Lane training. For three days it was warm and sunny, with highs in the low 70's, or high 60's, and the sky was blue and clear. The air was dry, and it was fantastic.

Wednesday, I had a filling put in and discovered that Novacaine knocks me for a loop these days. The company moved on to Platoon Lane training, and the weather started to go bad. Today...

Today, it rained. It rained a little at first. Then when we went out on the lane, it poured down. We got so wet the water drained down our pants legs into our boots and our feet went "squish squish." Then, the platoon I'm attached to decided to skip lunch for some reason. And when we prepared to do our live fire in the afternoon, the range was closed. So, they sent us downrange to police up the brass (technically 2nd platoon's job, but since they had just finished their training, they were having an AAR and it fell to us, even though we had already done the ammo detail as well). While we were downrange, the bottom fell out and it rained so hard you couldn't see 50 feet. But we still had to pick up brass, so we were out in this monsoon for about 20 minutes, crawling around on our hands and knees, picking up brass and dumping it into wooden boxes.

In between times on the range, we had been in tactical positions in the woodline. Meaning, we were lying on the cold, wet ground, getting dirt and soot (they've control-burned most of the undergrowth around the ranges) all over our uniforms, weapons and gear.

When we got back to the rear, I discovered that, like a fool, I'd left my cell phone charger out in the tent city, which means it's pretty much gone. I'll have to buy another (or two more) if I want to talk to my wife again. Which, of course, I do want.

It's funny. At the end of training on Tuesday, my uniform was so soaked with sweat that I had to change it when I came to the rear for my dental appointment on Wednesday. Today, my uniform was just plain soaked when I came in from the field.

I came to read my email and got several encouraging emails from friends. God really knows how, and when, to give you a boost.