Sunday, October 24, 2004

I'm Back

Well after five fun filled days in the field here's what I have to say. It rained, there was mud up to my ankles, it was hot and humid, since I don't have body armor I had to wear the monumentally heavy Vietnam era flack vest and we ate MRE's for most of the time. And you know what, I loved every minute of it. I love going to the field. It's like backpacking with a weapon. It's like playing Army but with real toys. What could be better. There's simulated mortar round exploding everywhere, civilians walking around dressed like Arabs trying to smuggle weapons in and out of check points, and Army food. The training was pretty good. Actually it was the most comfortable time I've ever had in the field. They called the training "The FOB" That stands for Forward Operating Base. They had a camp set up similar to what it's supposed to be like in Iraq only much smaller. There were about seven or eight circus type tents set up in various locations. These were command centers, 2 DFACS (dining facilities) and sleeping tents. The cool thing was they were all air conditioned. Can you believe it, what's the Army coming to. I never had air conditioning in the field before. In fact, not that I'm complaining, I was freezing every night. I figured we were sleeping out side like we had every other time I'd been to the field so I only took the outside cover part of my sleeping bag. The temperature in those tents had to be high 50's or low 60's. When you walk out of the back of one of these tents there was a flat bed trailer from a semi that barely held two air conditioning units, one per side of the tent. They had these huge tubes like those collapsible tunnels you'd play in when you were a kid. These were hung from the ceiling of the tents and ran the entire length. They had little holes that the cold air blew out of. We also slept on cots. If this is how they are in Iraq I'll be more than comfortable. I didn't count but I bet the tents held about 150 - 200 cots. Not much privacy but sure beats the heck out of sleeping in the mud. They had these trailers that had showers and sinks in them with hot water and everything. Best time I've ever had in the field. A lot of guys complained but I had a blast. I woke up every morning with a smile on my face and came in every night covered in sweat mud and dirt and still had a smile on my face. The only down side is that my orders for my promotion hadn't come in before we left so I only had one uniform with the correct rank on it. Five days of sweat and mud later that uniform could stand on it's own.

The training was pretty good. It was all focused on basic soldier skills needed for Iraq. The unit in charge of training us is just finishing up their time here and the unit that's taking over was there to observe. The cool thing is the unit taking over is made up of people that have just come back from Iraq. So we would go through a class and then they would say " here's how it really is" and give us the real scoop. A word about Army training. Nothing in the world can take place unless there's an Army regulation or Field Manual saying it can happen. I mean anything. There's even a field sanitation field manual. Loosely translated how to poop in the woods. Whether the information is still useful or applicable there's a regulation that tells you how to do just about everything. Unfortunately most of these focus on fighting the Russian doctrine, not the guerrilla warfare we're seeing in Iraq. However, it seems like the information is flowing to the training pretty quickly, especially with the guys just getting back and starting to do the training.

The most important thing I got out of the training was convoy safety. It seems like convoys are a particularly dangerous adventure in Iraq. Right in the middle of the training, as we're standing in ankle deep mud, having the fear of God driven into us about the dangers of convoy operations, the Major in charge comes up and stops the training to introduce our "very important guests". The San Francisco 49ers cheerleaders. Low and behold out of a black SUV jump four or five girls in warm up suits right in the middle of the muddy woods at Ft. Hood. They said they were happy to be there and what heros we were for our sacrifice. Then they wanted to give us a treat by signing autographs of a swim suit calendar they had put together. They were more than happy to sign as many autographs as we wanted on all the calendars we were willing to buy. WHAT? Willing to buy? For one thing, I didn't really care about the cheerleaders, I was more interested in not getting blown up on a convoy. For another thing, If we're such big heros and they're sooooo proud of us give the calendars away, don't make us pay for them. I chose that time to eat my beef and mushroom MRE. It seemed the Sergeant giving the class wasn't very amused either. He let the little party go on for fifteen minutes or so and then about 10 feet from the cheerleaders he set off a hand grenade simulator. These have all the bang without the bite. At 30 feet or so it'll make your ears ring and you can feel the concussion in your chest. Those cheerleaders screamed and jumped back into their SUV and decided that was enough of the Army and we went back to training.

All in all I had a good time in the field and I think I got some really useful training. When we got back they told us we had a van reserved if we wanted to go off post and go out to eat. After 5 days of MRE's going out to eat sounded pretty good. We cleaned our weapons and took showers and two minutes before the chow hall closed (which is a five minute walk) they decided we weren't allowed to go off post anymore. No reason, just not allowed to. If we didn't like it we were more than welcome to take it up with the Commander on Monday. Lots of good that did us for dinner that night. So now it's too late to eat at the chow hall and we can't go anywhere to eat. That's how stupid some things in the Army can be. Fortunately there's a Papa John's that delivers to our barracks. Some times you have to look at the Army and just shake your head.

Some people have asked what body armor is. If you go on Google and search for Interceptor Body Armor you can see what it is. It's a vest with removable plates in the front and back. With the various options it comes with it can protect your torso from throat to groin. Most all of your vital organs are protected. Or you can wear the old flack vest that, for the most part, will dissipate the blow of a punch in the stomach by an underdeveloped middle school kid with asthma and a retainer. No offense meant if you fall in that category.

Well, I'm back and I'm happy. The next step in training is the Gas Chamber. That should be fun.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad to hear you had a good training. It was good to hear the update...I look forward to reading your blog everyday and missed it while you were gone. The accommodations sure sound encouraging. Did you have a better weapon this time?

5:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad to see you are back we missed you. I'm glad to know there is a little more to the body armour than just a vest. Hope you get the one that goes from neck to groin. Gald to know they were a little more informative with the training and gave you a better idea of what to expect. TM

7:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Welcome Back. Im glad to hear that your experience in the field this time was better than your priors. I find myself shaking my head with my mouth hanging wide open (not real good for slobber control) when I hear about some of the ignorant things that go on in the Army. I've always heard of stupid stuff going on but it takes on a new meaning when I know it is you going through it. Im praying that the body armour thing gets worked out quickly for you. As I reflect back... although I have met some pretty tough asthmatic middle school kids who look for the opportunity to kick the butt of anyone who makes fun of their retainers, I would much rather see you in the new and improved stuff.

Anyway just wanted to say hi and welcome you back

8:30 PM  

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