Sunday, October 25, 2009

Rooms and Booms

For the third week in a row Bravo company headed to the field for training but unlike the previous two weeks, there was no rain. Instead of rain though there were ridiculous temperature fluctuations, sometimes as much a fifty degree change from morning to midday. Besides the shiver inducing mornings the week was filled with good training in Urban Operations (UO) and explosives. Monday started with a short run for PT before we drew weapons and headed out to the McKenna MOUT (Military Operations in Urban Terrain) site to jump right into training. We started with the basics of entering and clearing a room then moved onto flow drills where fire teams of four men would leapfrog from room to room and then finished with how to move up and down stairwells and between buildings when outside. That night we did a mission that included having to clear six multi-story buildings while being shot at by OPFOR and also dealing with civilians getting in the way, one of which being a woman going into labor.

Tuesday we headed to the live fire range to first shoot on a regular range and then we transitioned to the shoot house. The shoot house is a multi room structure with walls specially constructed to stop bullets so soldiers are able to fire live rounds anywhere in the building in any direction. Above the rooms are catwalks that give platoon trainers a bird's eye view of the teams clearing inside the building. Since we fire in such close quarters, numerous practice runs were done prior to going "live." The targets we were shooting at were suspended by balloons, so when rounds went into the target the balloon would pop and the target would fall to the ground simulating a dead insurgent. Once we were done we cleaned weapons and bedded down early in preparation for Wednesday's RTB run.

Wednesday began at 0400 as we crawled out of our sleeping bags into the chilly 34 degree morning. To make things more fun, we were in shorts and t-shirts since we would be doing our last 5 mile run of the course. We bussed out to Ranger Training Battalion (RTB) to do our 5 mile run on the same course we will run in January when we arrive at Ranger School. After the run was done we changed back into our combat uniforms, grabbed our gear, and headed over to the demolition range.

Lt. Sean Tolliver shows off the crater he made with his C4 charge. Photo by Author.

Once at the range we received classes on how to rig a C4 charge, a water impulse charge, and how to use det-chord to blow holes in doors and knock off hinges. We then finished the day with claymore mines. The video below shows three doors being blown away with a variety of different charges.

We returned from the demo range and had dinner before heading back to McKenna for night operations. The mission would be a raid on a multi-section, two floor building with the intent of killing or capturing a high value target (HVT), played in this case by CPT Martin.. In daylight the building is a maze with numerous hallways and dangerous corners. At night the building is just as much the enemy as the squad of OPFOR hiding inside it. We would run the same mission two times in a row with different levels of resistance and challenges. The PL for these two missions would be me. In 20 minutes the SLs and myself put a plan together to sneak into the building and capture the HVT. Our night vision would be our greatest advantage in the near pitch black building and I planned to breach a window to establish a foothold while trying to be sneaky. Our cover was blown right away and once we got into the building shots were ringing out all over. We moved slowly and methodically trying to be quiet until we had to shoot. We got our HVT and exfilled before resetting and doing it again. We did well and CPT Martin was impressed even though I made a few mistakes in planning the OP. We bedded down at 0100 and woke six hours later ready to finish our last day in the field.

Thursday was a day of simunition training and we all walked out covered in paint splotches and bruises where we had no body armor. We came home that afternoon and began prepping for our last major event of the week, a 12 mile roadmarch. The roadmarch began at 0500 Friday morning and we had three hours to complete the march. Lt. Sean Tolliver and myself crossed the finish line together at 2 hours and 49 minutes and dropped our rucks while we waited for the rest of 1st Platoon to finish. Once everyone was in we headed home to start the weekend as our CO gave us the rest of the day off to recover. This upcoming week we are back in the classroom to learn about counterinsurgency and defensive operations. There are only three weeks left in IOBC and Ranger School looms on the horizon for all of us. Until next week, ATW!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

"If It Aint Rainin', We Aint Trainin"

Lt. Ross White surveys the aftermath of an evening storm. Photo by author.
I don't know how long the phrase "If it aint raining, we aint training," has been around the Army but its quite a ridiculous statement. For some reason Army training is thought to be good only when its raining and training in nice weather is more like practice. Well if this line of reasoning is correct then the men of Bravo Company had the best training ever this past week and perpetually wet feet to go along with it. Precipitation aside, 1st PLT got to do some sweet missions this past week. The week began on Tuesday with normal PT prior to us heading out on trucks to the training area.
The main event of the week would be a squad live fire exercise in which an assaulting element would clear a bunker with a grenade. Before we could do this live though there was extensive train ups and rehearsals during the daytime. The clouds rolled in during the middle of the day as we practiced lane. As a SAW gunner, I would be part of the support element and would help lay down a base of fire to suppress the enemy which in this case would be plastic green popup targets. The rain began as we trained during the day but stopped for a little bit after dinner. CPT Martin gave us a class on how to cordon a building and conduct a search of a house prior to us going on a night mission. One of my roommates, Lt. Adam Fugent, would lead the mission as PL. Lt. Fugent put together an OPORD and terrain model quickly and briefed the PLT on how we would cordon the building and conduct the search.
Lt. Adam Fugent shakes off the rain as he preps for a mission. Photo by author.
The cloud cover gave a new dimension of difficulty since there would be little ambient light for our NVGs to use which would result in our night vision capabilities being reduced. We set out into the dark woods for 600 meters and then began our cordon. Everything was going well until a "sniper" started picking off guys from the wood line. With the search complete, Lt. Fugent dropped mortars in the tree line to suppress the sniper and we withdrew back to our PB. We laid down for the night just as the rain started to trickle down. By 0100 the rain went from a trickle to a constant rain that would last into mid-morning Wednesday. Wednesday was more rehearsals and an early night's sleep to prepare for the live fire on Thursday.
There was no rain during the live fire but it was a bit muddy as we headed out. Lt. Nick Runyon led 4th SQD on the lane and we engaged our targets effectively and quickly as they came up. Lt. Brandon Schmidt then tossed a grenade simulator in the bunker to kill the bad guys before we consolidated on the objective and fired off the rest of our ammo against an enemy counterattack coming from our west. When it was all over I had fired over 500 rounds through my SAW and 4th SQD was declared the best squad to run the lane that day. We cleaned weapons and ate dinner prior to our foot movement to our next training area. It was at this point things got bad. With no buildup or warning the skies opened up in a complete downpour and lightning crashed nearby. Soaked and weighed down with extra gear, we stepped off on the short walk to the next training area. The rain broke for a few minutes, enough time to set up poncho hooches to bed down under. After crawling under our hooches, the skies opened back up complete with more thunder and lightning. Three separate thunderstorms came through that night. During the third one, which came in around midnight, laughter could be heard up and down the PB. Soaked and tired, it was all that could be done.
Friday was rainless but cold as we went into our last day or training which was a live call for fire exercise. Out in an open field were old tank hulls waiting to have 81mm mortars dropped on it. I got my rounds on target on the second shot and then fired for effect, dropping 20 rounds on the area. It was awesome. We got on trucks and drove back to the company area more than ready for a dry weekend at home. Next week is urban ops week and a twelve mile road march so there will be some good stuff to talk about. Until then, ATW!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Working For the Weekend

Its a rainy Monday here at Fort Benning as we enjoy the final few hours of our three and a half day weekend which started last Friday. It was another wet week in the field for Bravo Company but a good week of training nonetheless. Monday began with a normal PT session before we loaded our trucks and headed out to our training area. The key tasks to be completed this past week were squad lanes or Situational Training Exercises (STX). In each lane a squad must fight through a small tactical scenario. These lanes are the building blocks for larger Platoon STX lanes. Monday was the introduction to the backbone of Army tactics: Reacting to Contact and Squad Attack. In reacting to contact, the squad receives enemy fire and takes cover while returning fire. The second phase is the attack portion where the SL moves his fire teams in such a way that he is able to get on the enemy's flank in order to kill him. After drilling this all day, I headed back to the land nav course to bed down prior to testing the next morning.

Tuesday morning began at 0300 with land nav and once complete we moved back to the training area and made a patrol base on the side of a hill. A patrol base is a 360 degree camp that soldiers occupy in order to plan missions, clean weapons, eat, and, when possible, sleep. From the patrol base (PB) we patrolled out and set up an ambush to destroy any enemy fleeing the attack from another one of our squads on an adjacent objective. This brought us to an introduction on clearing rooms and then another lane in which we left the patrol base and raided a house in the middle of the woods. That evening, amidst rain and fatigue, 1st PLT manned the PB for what we knew was going to be a long, sleepless night.

We were done setting in security at about 2300 and began to implement our rest plan: half the platoon up pulling security while the other half slept. I was up to sleep first but within a half hour of closing my eyes flares were being shot over our position, illuminating the dark sky like a mega light bulb. The flare would blind our NVGs and ruin our natural night vision for a few moments. After the flares gunfire erupted to the rear of the PB and the whole platoon got online with their weapons to defend the PB. This went on all night up until 0700 and most of the PLT got about 2 hours of sleep. That day we had another lane in which the squad would patrol into a farm area and speak with a "local" before being drawn into an ambush. After this we headed out for another land nav course, this time using GPS and doing it completely at night. My partner once again would be LT Nick Runyon and we set out into the muddy roads of the course just after 2000hrs that Wednesday night. We returned three hours later with all seven points and were the first ones to finish in our PLT.

Thursday was our last day of squad lanes after being able to sleep in late for the first time that week. We then moved on to learning how to attack and destroy a bunker prior to preparing for the 10 mile roadmarch Friday morning. After dinner, some copperhead snakes decided to pay a visit to 3rd PLT patrol base resulting in the snakes untimely demise. As we bedded down we looked across at 3rd PLT's area and saw they had created a large bonfire. The next morning we found out the fire was to cook the snakes.

Friday began early at 0300 and we stepped off on the long walk home around 0500. It was incredibly humid and as 1st PLT walked into the company area back on main post it looked as if we had been swimming in our gear rather than marching home. The 10 mile march took us into the weekend as our CO let us go at 1000 that day. The three day weekend was a welcome break and was what everyone had been working so hard for this past week. As the weekend draws to a close we are preparing for another week in the field and the rain that will of course be joining us. There's a bunch of live fires this week and also the beginning of platoon STX lanes. Should be another good week of training. Until then, ATW!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Thayer Week

Thayer Statue at West Point.
Back at the USMA there are weeks known as "Thayer Weeks." These weeks are academic nightmares where everyday there is a major test, project, or paper due. They are stressful, tiring, and require a vast quantity of Red Bull to get through. I though Thayer Weeks were done but I was wrong. This past week was the Infantry School's version of a Thayer Week. The week started with a test at 0600. It was the first part of our two part test on combatives. For the first test we paired up and had to execute a few of the myriad of moves we had learned over the past five weeks. But execution is not enough, you need to talk through each move step by step as if you were teaching it to someone who has never done this before. Some moves only had five points to talk about but some others had up to fifteen. Not exactly a test that is easy to study for. We all passed and moved onto Building Snore for the first block of classes we would have over this week. No field, no weapons, no gear just Powerpoint. Lots of Powerpoint.
Monday's classes were on radios and included the different types the Army uses, how to use them, and how to set them up. The afternoon was a class on the FBCB-2 (don't know what that stands for). Its a cool computer that can be put in a HMMWV (humvee) and can act like a GPS, an instant messenger, and do a host of other cool stuff. Tuesday was part two of the combatives test. Starting at 0545 we began the Clinch Drill test. This test consists of being repeatedly punched in the face as you attempt to "close the distance" and control the puncher's arms by applying a clinch. You get to do this four times before you pass. At the end of the drill we were Level One Certified in combatives. Tuesday was classes on more radios and then engineering operations. Wednesday was regular PT and more Powerpoint, this time on Chemical Operations (to include Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical weapons threats) and was followed with a class on supply. Thursday was stretching to prepare for the PT test on Friday and classes on the Law of War and Close Air Support.
Friday held our final two tests of the week. The morning was the Ranger Physical Fitness Test (RPFT). Unlike the normal APFT we take, the RPFT has a five mile run instead of a 2 mile run and you have to do chinups after the run. The test needs to be past before you can enter Ranger School. So at 0445 we started doing pushups, situps, and the run. After passing the RPFT, it was time for the big test of the week, the CATD Exam. The exam is eighty questions long with a two hour time limit and covered all of the classes of week four (machine guns and fires) and all the classes of this week. Once the test was over it was time for POETS (Piss Off Early, Tomorrow's Saturday) and we began the weekend.
Not an exciting week but this coming week should be. We have a full week in the field doing squad tactics, another land nav test, and a 10 mile road march into the three day weekend. Good times. Until then, ATW!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Theory, Steel Rain, And Being a Weasel

2LT Runyon engages targets with the M240-B. Photo by Author.

About 150,000 rounds of 5.56mm and 7.62mm went down range this week as Bravo Company completed machine gun week. I don't think I've ever seen so much ammunition fired and it was a blast for all of us. Machine guns(MGs), for a lack of a better description, are cool. The week began with classroom instruction on MG Theory. We learned the different ranges of MGs as well as their capabilities, how to employ them, and how they fit in the mission planning process. Anyone who subscribes to the idea of the "dumb, knuckle dragging Infantryman" is clueless. There is allot of thinking and math involved when it comes to putting these weapons into place and even more thinking and math when it comes to calling for fire (CFF). We had CFF classes after MG Theory and learned the different types of artillery and mortars that are only a radio call away. We then learned how to calculate OT Factor and adjust fire as we observe rounds hitting our objective.

Tuesday was more classes on MGs and then a CFF simulation. The CFF simulator is a huge screen almost as large as a movie theater screen with an image of an objective area projected on it. The image matches up to the map on our desk and is calibrated to a pair of binoculars we each had. On the screen were tanks that needed to be destroyed and we went through the sequence of calling for fire over a radio and watched the screen to see where our rounds landed. We then called in the proper adjustments until we were close enough to call over "Fire For Effect" which would bring a whole lot of "Steel Rain" down on the tanks making them explode and burn on the screen. Later that afternoon we went to downtown Columbus to go to the Infantry Warfighters Conference and look at all the new toys different companies are trying to sell the Army. Along the way, Nick Runyon and I ran into our West Point TAC and mentor Major Josh Bookout. We asked about how our Cadet company, the Frogs, were doing and how they were fairing without us. We then got all the other Frogs here at Fort Benning together for a family reunion dinner with MAJ Bookout.

Wednesday we zeroed our MGs and I sighted in the optic and laser on my SAW which I will carry for the remainder of the course. Once sighted we qualified on our guns prior to letting the rest of the platoon shoot to become familiarized with the weapons. We then waited for night to fall to do a night fire with the MGs. The sights and sounds of 12 MGs opening up with tracer rounds lighting up the night is an awesome sight. In the video below you will see streaks of light fly across the screen. Those are red tracer rounds that show the flight of the round as it heads down range.

LTs engage targets during night fire. Video by Author

Thursday was our Support By Fire (SBF) exercise where we would move from a security halt and set up our SBF. The SBF is controlled and led by the Weapons Squad Leader (WSL) or "Weasel." The WSL runs up and down the line controlling the rates of fire and ensuring the guns shift to targets accordingly as the fight develops. The first iteration I was on my SAW and was having a ball knocking down targets with 6-9 round bursts. Even more enjoyable was being the WSL on the second iteration, my first time since being here I would act in a leadership experience. I designated targets for the M240-Bs and SAWs on the line and then told them when to open up. Running back and forth between the gun positions I adjusted rates of fire and called out targets as well as running ammunition between different guns when one would go down or need a barrel change. We did well on both iterations before coming home for the night.

Friday was an 8 mile road march with 40lbs rucks in the morning and then weapons cleaning for the rest of the day. We got released a little early and headed home after an awesome week of training. Next week is all classroom as we learn about joint operations, combined arms tactics, and receive our Ranger Brief. Until then, ATW!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

"Shared Hardship and Earning That Blue Cord"

The Army calls it "Shared Hardship." Those on the ground going through it just call it "Sucking" or just "The Suck." No matter what it's called the principle of going through a miserable experience in order to build team work and faith in each other is an Army mainstay going back to Valley Forge. Now I'm not going to be as dramatic to say our time in the field this week was even near the same universe as our forefathers' experience in the cold and snow at Valley Forge but I can assuredly say that 1st PLT is far better for what we did this past week.

To start with, it rained every day this week. As Forrest Gump said, "We'd seen all types of rain." Monday started marksmanship week and began with zeroing both our iron sights and our M68s. I paired up with my roommate and good friend, 2LT Nick Runyon for the zeroing part of the day and we finished in about an hour before moving on to qualification on the range next door. It sprinkled a little bit but nothing too bad. We started the day at 0800 and had finished zero and qualification by 1400. At BOLC II at Ft. Sill it had taken four days to do as much. We got to go home that night and prep for the next few days.

Tuesday was CQM on a large open field with no cover. The sun was out in the morning sun burning us when we were not wearing our helmets. We were glad when the clouds rolled in to cover up good ole BOB (Big Orange Ball) but were soon in for a treat as lightning passed through the sky followed by crashes of thunder and complete down pour. In true Army fashion we broke out our rain proof ponchos and covered our rucksacks and rifles to keep them from getting wet rather than covering ourselves. There we stood in a thunderstorm getting soaked, laughing the whole way through it. One LT brought up the point that anywhere else people were trying to get inside or breaking out umbrellas but not us. We were hooping and hollering as the rain pooled in our boots and puddled around where we would sleep that night. We would not be dry for the rest of the week. That night, with the rain on and off, we zeroed our lasers so that we can fire our weapons at night using our NVGs. We then did CQM in the dark which was a cool experience. Luckily, the rain stopped around 2200 and we slept under a starry sky.

The next morning we did two hours of combatives in the wet field prior to starting our six mile roadmarch. If there was ever a point when raid would have been nice it would be on the road march. But instead we got the full sun with high humidity to go along with our 70 lbs rucksacks. The route was muddy and under water from the rain the day before, slowing us down as we trudged our way up and over the hills along our route. We arrived two hours later at our next training area a few pounds lighter and soaked in sweat. We smiled at each other through sore backs, chafed hips, and blistered feet and talked about how much the march sucked. We ended the day with more marksmanship training and set up hooches (little tents made out of our ponchos) before bedding down for the night. Sure enough at about 0300 the next morning, thunder and lightning returned bringing more rain and a wet morning.

Thursday was fire team live fire day and it rained on and off as we moved in teams of four, alternating covering fires and movement forward towards different pop up targets on the range. The range was a good time and we were happy to be getting paid to have that much fun. The range ended early and we headed home to showers, dry clothes, and night in doors. The following day, part of the Platoon to include myself, headed out to do land nav while the rest did more shooting. The land nav course was thick with mud and puddles that slowed movement, especially around the many creeks that ran through the wood line. The week had been rough but had brought us closer together through our "shared hardship." I'm sure there will be more to come as the course progresses. At the end of the day we all got together and talked about the upcoming weekend and thought about what one of the CPTs had said when the rain was coming down the hardest: "You're earning those Blue Cords today, men."

The Blue Cord is worn around the right shoulder on dress uniforms by branch qualified Infantrymen, both Officers and Enlisted. It is hard to miss and is the quickest way to identify who is an Infantryman. At the end of the course upon graduation, all the Officers in this course who make it to that point will be awarded the Blue Cord and be authorized to wear it for as long as we stay in the Infantry.

Major James Uptgraft and myself at my commissioning at USMA. The Blue Cord around MAJ Uptgraft's shoulder is the mark of a branch qualified Infantryman. Photo from Author's collection.

The weekend has been dry and full of laundry and cleaning mud off our gear. This week brings Machine Gun Week, complete with classes on MG Theory, an eight mile road march, and a whole lot of shooting. Also, the Marines may have great commercials but the Army has its share of good ones as well. Check out this spot for Army Officership:

Until next week, ATW!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

No Go's, Gut Checks, And Why We Fight

Contrary to intuition, four day work weeks can be quite rough. Since starting my officer training this summer I have not had a more physically taxing week than this past one and from here on out it is only going to get more intense. Tuesday started the work week and as our British exchange NCO in charge of our company stated, "Nothing good happens on the first day back at work." Well, that was driven home from the minute we fell in for PT formation. On the docket that day: 5 mile run in under forty minutes. Now for good runners this may not seem too bad but for me (I have never been fast) to finish under forty minutes would be a challenge. This run must be completed under the time hack in order to go to Ranger School in January. Well, I was moving pretty good the first 3 1/2 miles until a big hill which kicked my butt. With one mile left I had ten minutes left. Not too daunting, right? Well my legs started to tighten up and there was still another major hill to run up and at the top of the hill is the finish line. Gut check one of the week: finish the run. I pushed myself hard up the hill and blazed (sarcasm) across the finish line at 39:47. There's room for improvement.
Later that day we went to the practice land nav course. We had five hours to find seven out of nine points and I plotted my points quickly and headed out. Unlike Fort Sill, there are trees, dense vineage and other vegetation so tromping through the woods is tough. To stay on the right course through all of that is even more of a challenge. I came back in with six points found and a little unhappy until I found out that nobody had found more than three in my platoon. The reason for this is that the map didn't not match up with the GPS coordinates meaning each point was 200 meters off from where we plotted. Basically a waste of effort but I felt confident I would do well on the actual test the following morning since I had found the most points. In hindsight I should have realized I had made a mistake plotting because I should not have found those six points. The mistake would be driven home the following morning.

Up early at 0300 after a few hours asleep under the stars, we began the actual test before the sun came up. The dense foliage blocked out moon illumination so much it was hard to see your hand in front of your face let alone the trees, ditches, and creek beds. I literally stumbled through the woods to my first point and along the way fell into a creek soaking my boots and the rest of me. Four hours of walking through the woods soaking wet is not appealing. After that, I couldn't find a point to save my life. By 0700, with two hours left I still had one point. I tried to re-plot my points when the sun decided to come out and ran the trails trying to get another six points in two hours. Despite my best effort I found only one more (by accident no less) and was a No Go and have to re-test this coming week. I asked SFC Watson to check my points and when he plotted them my mistake became clear: I used my protractor (which I had just gotten and never used before) wrong. My plots were 200-300 meters from where they should have been. This explains my success the day before and the debacle that had just occurred. So in a day and a half I had run or walked through rough terrain over 18 miles and had nothing to show for it. On top of this, we were doing combatives when we got back from the land nav course. Gut check two: Shake off the feeling of failure and get ready to fight. Tired and dejected I was able to win all three fights I had that afternoon and ended the day on a high note.

Thursday, sore and tire we went to the obstacle course. The obstacle course is fun, like a jungle gym for big boys, and I did well. Many of the of the obstacles such as the Tough One and the Confidence Climb deal with heights up to thirty four feet and involve rope climbing, vaulting, and weaving through beams. After finishing and adding some new bumps and bruises to myself it was time for the third gut check: One mile run in full ACU's and boots back to the company. We all finished strong

The rest of the week was weapons classes in prep for range week which starts this Monday. More time sleeping under the stars, a road march, and plenty of shooting are in store next week.

I try to keep this blog about things at work and throw in some personal stuff as well for kicks and I try not to editorialize but I feel I would be remiss if I did not talk about 9/11 as the eighth anniversary was yesterday. It is not my place as a military officer to editorialize on the actions and decisions of Commanders in Chief or those above me so I will keep those thoughts, both good and bad, to myself. However, some comments have been made on the radio down here and by some of my peers that Americans have forgotten so quickly the sacrifices of that day. I do not agree. It is impossible to not remember the heroic actions and losses of that day. It is important though for the general population to not dwell on it. Those affected directly will always live with the pain of that day but for the rest it is more important to look around them and be thankful for the men and women around them who wear a uniform to work and do a dangerous job for less than stellar wages. The cops, firemen, EMS personnel, and military that serve today should be the focus for Americans on Patriot's Day. The simple act of thanking a police officer on your corner for what he or she does will do more for the memory of those who passed away on 9/11 than to fly the Flag on your front porch.

Police Officer Moira Smith, one of 23 NYPD officers who died saving others on 9/11
The war in Afghanistan is picking up in a big way (I will be there this time next year) and those who fight there are keeping the memory of those who died on 9/11 alive as well. It is a hard fight but a fight which must be won if there is to be any sort of closure on the events of that Tuesday morning. For those who died that day, for those who lost loved ones, and for all those who will come after and choose to serve in uniform, this is why we fight.
"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself." - John Stuart Mill

Monday, September 7, 2009

"Fight, Destroy, F'in Annihilate the Enemy."

Woohoo, three day weekend! Hope everyone has had an enjoyable Labor Day. Down here at Fort Benning we have taken advantage of the three day to be lazy prior to this weeks training (laziness for me including posting today instead of yesterday). Nothing really exciting to write about from last week as it was mostly classroom work and morning PT. The key point of the week was the continuous bonding that has occurred within 1st PLT since day one. Its a great group of guys; no whiners, all team players, funny, chop busters, and, most importantly, driven to do well and help each other do well over the course of IOBC.
Monday started with an hour and a half of combatives led by our PSG, SFC Watson. After reviewing different fighting techniques we broke for breakfast and headed to our first day of classes over in Building 4 (affectionately referred to as "Building Snore"). The first two days of the week were classes on the Troop Leading Procedures (TLPs) and OPORD writing led by our PLT mentor, Captain (CPT) Martin. CPT Martin is a junior Captain, meaning he has not commanded a company, and has been teaching IOBC students for more than a year. Wounded in Afghanistan when he was a PL, he wears an eye patch with a "Ranger" tab stitched on when he has to use the computer or read off the screen. His ability to talk about how he got wounded, how he dealt with it as well as other stories from him time as a PL has been a great source of knowledge and development. He was able to keep the dry material interesting and had some funny and/or motivating videos to show before each block of instruction as well as explain the job of the Infantry perfectly: "Fight, Destroy, F'in Annihilate the Enemy."

Tuesday was another round of TLP classes after a morning run. Wednesday we got our arms and abs smoked by SFC Watson for PT and then headed back to the classroom to receive the OPORD we would use to create our own with. Once we had been briefed on the order by CPT Martin we were cut loose to begin work on our OPORDs. This included reading (and re-reading and then re-reading again) various parts of the base order, heading to the library to blow up maps and get satellite imagery of the objective, and drawing out our plans on transparent sheets that would be placed over the maps. After a long night we had combatives again on Thursday followed by students briefing their OPORDs for the class. Each OPORD gave plenty of things to think about and most of us who didn't brief that first day changed our orders that night. Friday was a four mile ruck followed by more briefs before we got cut loose for the weekend.
My OPORD and Graphics. Photo by Author.
The weekend, like I said before was relaxing. We had Direct TV installed so we can watch all the football our hearts desire and we played cards and talked about our OPORDs. This week promises some exciting material as it's time to get lost in the woods during Land Nav again. Until then, ATW!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

“The Best Army Installation in the World”

Our new home. Photo by the Author.

Sorry that there was no post last week, we are having issues with our internet connectivity here at the house. Being that all of 10 people read this, I doubt my fan base will really dwindle because I missed a week. Anyway, the past two weeks were not eventful in terms of work but very eventful in terms of taking care of personal matters. Hopefully our internet issue will be resolved so I can stay on top of this blog and not have to run to the coffee shop to get it posted.

Anyway, two weeks ago began out processing back at Fort Sill so we turned in equipment, cleaned our rifles until they were pristine and then signed different papers in order to leave. In true Fort Sill fashion, I had to sign the same leave form three times since the first two were “misplaced.” Once everything was put away we had to pack all our personal clothing and gear and put it in our cars so that by Thursday we were able to clean our rooms to near sterility. The following Friday morning we had to wake up at 0300 for formation and then waited for the barracks to be checked off. Once they were, we were released from the clutches of Fort Sill and free to move to our next duty station. Most people started the following Wednesday while others had later OBC start dates. IOBC however required us to sign in by midnight Sunday. As a result, there was no time to dilly dally for myself and the rest of the infantry officers who did BOLC II at Sill. We got in our cars and moved out convoy style to Fort Benning taking appropriate rest breaks and finally arriving at our new home around one in the morning. The sign on the main gate that we pulled in through read, “Welcome to Fort Benning, the Best Army Installation in the World.”

Once at Fort Benning, it was time to take care of necessities such as getting a bed and other furniture as well as learning the layout of the post and where everything we need is. Our house is in a prime location between two gas stations that also serve as convenience stores and the movie theater is one block away. Down the block from us is Airborne School and you can see the red 250 ft. towers from the windows on the back side of our house. The building we go to class in is no more than a three minute drive and the PT field is about five minutes away. The differences between the two posts are numerous (green trees, hills, more than one type of restaurant, etc) but the biggest one (and most important) is the sense of purpose that seems to fill the air around Benning. As cheesy as that sounds the fact that there is a distinctive and well defined goal (the training of Infantry Officers) at the school coupled with the training conducted around us by students at Airborne School, the soldiers in 3rd Ranger BN down the road from us, and others makes Benning a place you want to be at. The novelty may wear off but there is not a single Lieutenant in IOBC that is not fired up to be there and done with BOLC II.

Airborne School's 250 ft. Towers. Photo by the Author.

Week one of IOBC was inprocessing so of course there were welcome briefs, papers to be signed, and equipment to be picked up. We were broken down into platoons and my two roommates and other friends from West Point are in the same platoon as me which is a major plus. We were talked to by our CO, BN CDR, and BDE CDR and were informed that Infantrymen are the true Alpha Males and date the best looking women while doing the most important things in the Army. All three touched on the importance of Ranger School, which starts January 3rd, 2010 for our class, and were told everyone was going and were warned about the 46% fail rate at Ranger School and what we can do now to prepare. I will get more into Ranger School we get closer to the class start date but it is basically a 62 day course broken into three portions where students walk long distances with heavy rucks on no sleep and empty bellies.

The rest of the week consisted of an APFT and chin-ups, classes, and the Combat Water Survival Test (CWST). The CWST has two parts. The first part you are blindfolded and then walk off a three meter diving board (about ten feet) with just your rifle. Once you hit the water you remove the blindfold and swim to the side. The second part you are in full combat gear and fall backwards into the pool. Once in the water you ditch all your equipment and then have to swim 15 meters in just ACUs. Once that was done it was time to change and head home. We were let go early on Friday after getting a refresher class in combatives. Next week begins our first week of classes and PT each morning for 90 minutes.

This weekend was more of getting things for the house, cleaning, and squaring away personal equipment. Next week we get a three day so it should more eventful. Plenty of good things to write about over the next fifteen weeks as IOBC continues. Until then, ATW!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

96 Hours and 10 Miles Later

Week six was the final week of training here at BOLC II. Each day brought different missions, odd sleep schedules, and of course left us out in the beautiful Fort Sill weather which was around an even 100 degrees this past week. The 96 hours of combat operations came to a close with a 10 mile roadmarch back to the barracks and smiles of relief all around as all graduation requirements had been met and we were now prepared to move onto our respective OBCs. Words cannot express the level of excitement all the students have to move on and begin training in their branches.

Monday began bright and early with weapons draw and inspections to ensure all our gear was ready and squared away for the upcoming missions. Each mission we went on would have a new chain of command in order to ensure all students got to be in two leadership positions prior to graduation. We left the barracks on trucks and headed to FOB Kelly once again. After arriving at the FOB, we stowed gear and assembled in the class room for our first mission brief. The mission was to move to a village that had a traffic circle,close off some of the roads and operate a hasty Traffic Control Point (TCP). TCPs are used to check IDs and allow soldiers to search vehicles for weapons, intelligence, or people in and around areas of interest. For this mission I would be the M240-b gunner in charge of covering a closed down road. The mission was quick and we left the area in 30 minutes. But nothing is ever that easy. As we drove away we were ambushed with an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) and small arms fire from OPFOR. We dismounted and returned fire, assaulting the enemy ambush position. I was all ready to lay down some serious scunyon with the 240 but when i pulled the trigger and dull "click" and no recoil told me that the gun was jammed. As i tried to fix the gun my fellow platoon mates took out the bad guys. I then got to lay in the sun with the big gun for another hour as we awaited the Quick Response Force (QRF) to come out and recover our "blown up" vehicle.
We returned from our mission and got ready for a long night. Half the platoon would be on guard, manning the towers and gates in an effort to protect the FOB from attack. The other half, which I was a part of, would serve as QRF that night. QRF reminds me of my time as an EMT as we sat in a room talking, sleeping, and playing cards as we waited for the radio call to suit up, get on trucks, and go save a platoon that was in trouble. Sadly we only got one call that night and there was no contact at any point.
Tuesday brought a welcome nap in the middle of the day before our next mission which would be a cordon and knock of Liberty City in an effort to build rapport with the local Sheik and gather intelligence on enemy activity. I was once again assigned to provide support with an MG, this time the SAW. On arrival I moved up with my team to the roof of one of the buildings so I would have a good view of the sector I was supposed to be covering.
The mission seemed to be going well until a woman saying we had killed her son the day before flipped out and incited a fire fight. Gun fire erupted throughout the town as OPFOR and the good guys engaged each other in close combat. I got a few bursts off from the SAW but "missed" the bad guy running in the alley. Had they been real rounds I'm sure they would not have missed but we have no way of feedback with blanks. Mission was not exactly successful.
View from my SAW Position. Photo by the author.
The next day we would have two missions. The first was a raid on Liberty City. Unlike the day before when we tried to be tactful, the city was now declared hostile so we would show up guns blazing. We rolled up in force on trucks and began to throw grenade simulators (which emit a large "boom" when they go off) and smoke to disorient the bad guys on the objective. I was leading one of the elements tasked to suppress the buildings in order to let another squad move in and clear that building. The mission was quick, violent, and led to the capture of the mayor of the town and whole lot of dead OPFOR. It was the best mission we had.
OPORD brief prior to mission. Photo by author.
That night we had a recon mission. I can't speak to this mission as my squad was tasked to be on QRF and I did not take part in the actual recon piece. Thursday had us running a mission and then playing OPFOR for two other platoons. The mission in the morning, to escort a VIP to an important meeting, was an absolute disaster. We got lost numerous times, including a very funny off road trip that took us to a dead end. Needless to say the VIP never made his meeting and we failed big time. And then we got ambushed.
After the "Mission: Impossible" we returned to Liberty City to prepare to play OPFOR as another platoon was going to do a raid on the town like we did the day before. Its always fun playing the bad guy. We got dressed up in "mandresses" and assorted other Middle Eastern chic and prepared to fight. We first got artillery dropped on us and then were quickly beaten into submission by the good guys but not before I was able to take my fair share of people out of the fight. After that it was back to FOB Kelly to pack up and prep for the 10 mile road march that evening.
The author as OPFOR. Photo by 2LT Sarah Anderson.
We stepped off with 35 lbs rucks (mine was 44lbs) at about 2100 and began the long walk home. We moved the first five miles at a good pace before we stopped to take a breather. Once we started again though, blisters and cramps started to make their presence known throughout my legs and feet. The last five miles, for lack of a better term, sucked. We made it back to the barracks around 0020 (12:20 AM) and stretched out. The next day was weapons cleaning and hobbling around on sore legs and crusty feet. We were off early and then it was time for Steak Friday and a movie. Saturday was the farewell tour of OKC to include a baseball game and a visit to the few bars we had not been to yet. The rest of this coming week is out processing, packing, cleaning, and then the 14 hour drive to Fort Benning, my next home. The next post will hopefully be written from the comfort of my own room down at our house in Benning. Until then, ATW!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

"Like a Mouse On Crack"

Another week down and only two more remain before BOLC II comes to a close. This upcoming week is our capstone week as we run 24 hour operations all week and then we out process and get on our ways going to our branch specific courses. Nick Runyon called Friday from our house on Fort Benning to let me know that the place was ours. I can't wait to get down there because barracks living is not a bowl of fun and I've seen enough of Oklahoma to last me for a long time.

Anyway, week five saw B Company heading back out to FOB Kelly for the week. PT this week was light as we did an AGR on Monday and then two "motivational runs" (when we run slow and sing songs) on Tuesday and Friday. Monday's major task was to learn about and fire a variety of weapons the US Army has in it's inventory. The weapons we fired were the M2 .50 Caliber Machine Gun (MG), which has been around since World War II, the MK 19 grenade launcher, which is an MG that fire 40mm grenades rather than bullets, the M240-B MG, which fires a 7.62 round, the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) and the M203 Grenade Launcher, which is a single shot launcher connected to the bottom of an M4 Rifle. While this sounds cool, we didn't have alot of rounds to play with so time on each weapon was short.

Tuesday we did buddy team live fire. For this exercise, a pair of soldiers moves down a 100m lane, bounding to different pieces of cover while their buddy engages targets in order to cover the other guy's movement. Before using live rounds, each team had to run the lane with no ammo and then with blank ammo so we had to run the lane a total of three times in full kit. Luckily there was a strong wind that day so it wasn't unbearable. When the time came to go live I was partnered with LT Joe Paolini, a West Point football player, and we took off down the lane low crawling and rolling in the dirt from position to position. We only had 30 rounds split in two magazines for the lane but along the way when I was crawling one of the mags fell out of my pouch. When the time came to reload I reached down to my pouch and saw that the mag wasn't there. After letting out a string of words that cannot be printed on this page I started to bound back to the start point to look for my missing magazine. I was already halfway down the lane when I had to reload so there was a good amount of distance to cover. I ran as hard as I could in all my gear, dropping and crawling where necessary until I got my mag back and then turned around and worked my way forward again. Running back and forth like that I looked like running a maze like a mouse on crack. I finally made my way forward and completed the lane.

Wednesday was squad live fire and like the day before we would have to do the lane a total of three times. I volunteered to take point and be the guy all the way out front which would mean I would get to engage the first target along the route we would be approaching our overall objective on. The first two iterations went well so we were cleared as a squad to use live rounds. When the time came lock and load I chambered my live round and then heard everyone behind me do the same. It was then that it clicked that there are 11 other people walking directly behind me with loaded weapons. I definitely had a moment of reflection of whether or not being all the way up front was worth it, decided it was in fact worth it and then started walking with the rest of the squad behind me. Half way through the walk a single target popped up and I engaged the target with two rounds making it fall back down. From there we moved a little bit farther forward and crawled into our support by fire and assault positions and began the actual actions on the objective, pretty much mirroring the actions of the buddy team live fire but on a much larger scale.

The rest of the week was classes and rest time. A couple of friends and myself went to OKC again this weekend and it was a good time. It was probably the last time I'll be in OKC since next weekend will be packing for the move to Georgia. Should have some good stories after this week. Until then, ATW!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

"Whatcha Gonna Do PL?"

Hello again from Fort Sill. 4 weeks down and only three left, 10 days of which are actual training days. Never thought the words would escape my lips (or for those reading this, my fingertips) but I can't wait to get to Fort Benning. Just found out Friday that my friend Nick Runyon has found an apartment for us to move into which is exciting. What's not exciting is how much a bed costs as well as other housewares. Best part is that our place will be on post and across the street from the IOBC school house which allows us the luxury of not having to wake up at 0 dark thirty to get through gate traffic. Well onto training highlights.

This week I was given the job of platoon leader of 1st Platoon. While I wished to be a PL later in the course during the tactically intensive field portion, the job was still a welcome challenge. The first step was to plan PT for the PLT for the upcoming week. Luckily we only had three days of PT since Thursday and Friday were combatives days and because of that no PT would be scheduled in the morning. For Monday I planned an 8 exercise circuit where you did each exercise for a minute before moving to the next station. Tuesday was a 3 mile AGR and Wednesday was a 4 mile road march.

Monday would be mostly classroom instruction for the PLT. The first half of the day was medical classes but since I was a medic when I was enlisted I helped do a layout for the company commander in the motor pool. The afternoon was Convoy Operations classes to prepare for the next two days of convoy ops. Tuesday morning after the run I was given a map and about 30 minutes to plan the route and create a convoy OPORD to our training area. I was able to turn out a pretty decent plan and order thanks to USMA classes and we were off on trucks. Along the route though, the civilian driver told me that the turn I told him to make was wrong and we needed to go further on the road to reach it. Well lesson learned. I should have trusted my map, my plan, and my gut and told him to make the turn. Instead we wound up on a route completely different then what I briefed which was very bad even though we still got where we needed to go. After that it was time to let other LTs take over as PL for the rest of the day as we ran two separate missions.

Wednesday began with the road march which turned out to be about 4.5 miles. We finished in 1 hr 3 min meaning that I set about a 14:19 min/mile pace which is decently fast for road marching with a 40lbs ruck. After that it was time to write up a new convoy OPORD and head out. After some truck problems we left and this time I made sure to tell the driver when to turn and we got to our training area no problem. Once we unloaded we set up a security perimeter to include employing heavy machine guns before being told to move up a hill 100 meters to a better location. I put my platoon into squad columns and moved out and then reset security. It was the first time I was able to act as a PL in a tactical situation since my Junior year at USMA and I loved every minute of it. Sadly once we set in I had to let some else be PL for the rest of the missions that day.

Squad Column. Ref FM 3-21.8

Thursday and Friday was our classes on Modern Army Combatives. Since hand to hand fighting may be a necessity in close quarters combat (CQC) the Army has dictated all soldiers be familiarized with 20 hours of combatives instruction that includes different movements to get in dominant positions to inflict maximum damage as well as chokes and techniques to break bones. After learning the moves we then practiced, fighting each other for 3 minute rounds trying to make our opponent "tap out." The second day we fought against third platoon. I did pretty good over all, getting my opponent to "tap out" three out of five times. We all walked away completely smoked, bruised, and sore but having learned valuable skills given the current environment the Army operates in today.
After we ended Friday it was time for Steak Friday where I ate entirely too much. Today has been a day filled with Motrin and random errands as we prepare to go back to FOB Kelly for another week in the field beginning Monday. Next week is heavy weapons familiarization and two live fire events to include a squad live fire. Until then, ATW!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

"I'm Not Lost, I'm at Fort Sill"

LTs after ARM. FOB Kelly is in the background. Photo by author.
After a particularly rough Sunday evening it was time to say goodbye to the barracks on Fort Sill for a week and head out to FOB (Forward Operating Base) Kelly located in the training areas surrounding the main post. With bags packed, we headed out on trucks to the FOB and stowed our gear in the bays we would be living with. In trying to make training as realistic and relevant as possible, Fort Sill constructed FOB Kelly to look and work like a FOB in Iraq complete with high walls, traffic control points, guard towers and even a gym and fully functioning bathrooms with showers. Once our gear was put away we walked out to the range located across the street in our full "battle rattle" to include IBA and helmets. Once at the range we began ARM (Advanced Rifle Marksmanship) which consisted of reflexive fire. Reflexive fire is used in close combat situations from 25 meters and closer. This type of shooting is used when clearing rooms, which would be taught later in the week. The standard to pass was 16/20 rounds inside a target the size of a bowling pin. Each time we shot we fired controlled pairs meaning we put two rounds into the target every time we engaged. Each pair was fired from different positions and situations such as from a knee, turning left or right, walking to the target and having to spin around and acquire a target behind you. I put 18/20 rounds in the target before heading back to the platoons staging area for the walk back to the FOB.
Lts hang in the bays at FOB Kelly. Photo by author.
Tuesday began instruction on land navigation. We started with the basics of plotting points on a map, using a compass and how to terrain associate prior to doing a practice run where we navigated in teams of two to four different points. The true test though was Wednesday where we have to navigate both during day and night on a more challenging course.
Wednesday began early at 0200 (2 AM) where we got on trucks and headed out to the land nav course. The course we were going to be on was a Star Course meaning that instead of getting all our points in the beginning we were only given two: Our current location and our first point to navigate to. We had 5 hours to navigate to all the points we had on our specific lane. Each lane differed in points, some having 4 and some having as many as 8. Once you arrive at a point the next grid location you needed to move to would be located on the sign marking the point you just found. You then had to plot your next point right there and move out. I began at 0430 with no moonlight to help me out. After stumbling through the woods for about a kilometer up and over a large hill I checked the map and figured I should be right where I needed to be but could not find the sign marking my point. Figuring I had more distance to go, I continued walking not trusting my gut instinct that said the point was right where I was. As I went up another hill I started to get a sinking feeling that I was in fact lost in the middle of the night. Instead of freaking out and running all over I calmed myself down by thinking of a scene in Band of Brothers when, after dropping into France during the D-Day invasion, a private asks an officer if they were lost. The officer replies, not really knowing where they were either, "We're not lost Private,we're in Normandy." Substituting Fort Sill for Normandy I gave myself a chuckle and sat down on the side of the hill and whipped out my map again. Sunlight was finally breaking through the black sky and I had enough light to better make out the terrain features surrounding me and was able to compare them to the map I had. Realizing that I did in fact go to far I backtracked my steps and found my point which was no more than 10 feet away from the place I was standing where I thought the point should have been. After whispering a "D'oh!" to myself I plotted my next point and moved out at a near run. It was now 0630 and I had only found one point out of a possible eight and only had three more hours to find them. The rest of the course was a breeze and I finished after finding all seven of my points with about 90 minutes to spare.
Thursday was an introduction to Urban Operations (UO) and included training on how to enter and clear a room. We did more UO on Friday, but this time used SIMUNITIONS, which are paint rounds that show if you got shot while clearing a room. I got tasked to play the Opposing Force (OPFOR) meaning I would face off against all four squads in the platoon. I got shot up pretty well with paint but it was the most fun I had training so far at Fort Sill. We headed back in and returned back to the barracks where we cleaned weapons. At the end of the work day I was informed I would be in a leadership position again, this time not at as squad leader but rather as the PL for 1st Platoon. Of course steak Friday was on tap that evening and I was glad to be able to bring two of my best friends from the USMA with me since they just arrived at Fort Sill and will be starting BOLC II next week.
Saturday, we headed out to OK City for some minor league baseball and bar hopping. The game was awesome and we got tickets in the all you can eat section of the ballpark. After a few beverages, six hotdogs, and nine innings we were ready to hit up the town. We returned this morning where I got my final orders for Fort Bragg. I have been assigned to the 2nd BDE of the 82nd Airborne. The 325 AIR (Airborne Infantry Regiment) has fought since World War I and is known as the Falcons. Pretty exciting. This coming week includes medical training, convoy training, and two days of hand to hand combat training. Should have some interesting stuff to write about next week. Until then, ATW!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

"It Was So Hot Outside You Could Fry an Egg"

Those lyrics from the Dave Matthews Band's song "Stay" pretty much summed up week two at the not so tropical oasis know as Fort Sill. It was also the week where I was placed into my first graded leadership position, acting as the Squad Leader (SL) for 4th Squad. Temperatures ran around 110 degrees at the height of the day, although we were granted a reprieve Thursday when the thermometer clocked in at 99 thanks to thick clouds and a brewing thunder storm. Monday started off calm enough with a crossfit WOD for PT that included 1mile sprints and healthy helping of push ups, sit ups, and the burpee. After the workout, I talked with the squad about coming up with a cool name for ourselves. Since we were arranged alphabetically 4th Squad was always the last to do things, receive things, and first to be picked for crappy details such as loading trucks and setting up sites we settled on "Bastards" as our squad moniker. The rest of the day consisted of CATC shooting instruction in preparation for the ranges we had over the course of the week. Tuesday began with an AGR (Ability Group Run) where the platoon was broken down into three groups by 2 mile time and then taken on a four mile run at a fast pace to improve our running. I was is in the middle group, which wasn't awful but it wasn't a picnic either. We hit the range later that day and zeroed our M68s before heading back in.

Wednesday however was no walk in the park. In fact in my seven years in the military I have never had a worse day of training. The day started with circuits of pull ups, push ups, sit ups, and dips before we headed out to the range. It was 1st Platoon's day to run the range and the Officer in Charge (OIC) was none other than myself. Luckily I had the opportunity to set up and run similar ranges back at the USMA so I was no where near being lost in the proverbial sauce. The range consisted of 25 meter, 100 meter, and 200 meter shooting in order to dial in our M68s to be even more exact. We shot 10 round interations, walking down and back from our targets to see where our rounds were hitting. Sounds ok but this was also the hottest day of the year so far, reaching 110, and we were in full gear to include helmets and 20lbs Interceptor Body Armor (IBA). To make things even better, the range was nothing more than a flat expanse of scorched grass with no trees or anything else that could be used for shade. Water in our canteens and Camelbaks became to hot to drink and our weapons were heated up so much that many of us to include myself burned our noses and cheeks while trying to aim. The day defined the term "gut check" and gave us all a new baseline level of suck to compare all other training to.

Wednesday's range location. Photo by 2LT Ashley Rowland

Thursday was a recover day and range qualification. The standard to qualify with the M4 Rifle is 23/40 targets from various shooting positions such as laying down or kneeling. The targets pop up at various distances ranging from 50 meters to 300 meters with two targets popping up at the same time as the qualification goes on. I shot a wicked 24 on my first try but knew what corrections were needed to better on my next set. We are issued 3 magazines for qualification, one 20 round mag and two 10 round magazines. The first shooting position requires the 20 round magazine. So on my second try I was shooting much better and hit the first 10 targets that popped up. On the 11th target, "click." I was given three 10 round magazines meaning I only had 30 rounds for 40 targets! After doing a quick reload I continued engaging targets ending up with a final score of 25. I was glad that my score was statistically better than my first round having hit 25/30 targets but upset nonetheless that I was shorted 10 rounds.

Friday began with a 4 mile road march with a 35lbs ruck, although I was carrying a radio in mine plus some extra weight to help prepare for IOBC. The rest of the day was a class on moving under fire and then weapons cleaning and turn in followed by all of my friends and I heading out to the Old Plantation Inn for steak Friday. Today started with two episodes of Band Of Brothers before heading out to do a WOD with some other Infantry Officers. We are about to head out to OK City for some minor league baseball. Next week holds more shooting and land navigation so there will be plenty to talk about come next Saturday's post. Until then, All The Way!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

"I have no idea..."

The phrase that would sum up the first two days of BOLC was "I have no idea." In the midst of moving in, signing papers, getting dental x-rays, and solidifying the student chain of command it was hard to really know what was going on and what was coming next. We did have a training schedule but it took awhile to find (amazing since it was posted right next to my door). By Thursday though, the platoon had found its rhythm and was on track.
In terms of training, Tuesday was a brutal day of sitting in a big room getting briefing after briefing. The presentations by the BN Commander and BDE Commander and their CSMs were interesting and motivational but many of the other classes (ethics, sexual harassment, and law of war) were rough to sit through as the room grew increasingly hotter and we (the USMA LTs) had had these classes numerous times at West Point, but I guess a refresher doesn't hurt.

Other LTs and myself during a break between Tuesday's briefs. Photo by 2LT Ashley Rowland

Wednesday was more briefings as well as a Commo class.
Thursday was an early morning, beginning at 0430 with an APFT. The APFT is the Army Physical Fitness Test and consists of three events: 2 min of push ups, 2 min of sit ups, and a two mile run. The test is scored on a scale of 300, although those who "super-max" can be scored on an extended scale that goes up to 500. I scored a 276 overall, with the run once again being my weakest event. Oh well, plenty of time to get my time down prior to heading to IOBC. The rest of the day was nice and relaxed with a quick visit to the dental clinic and cleaning our rooms.
Friday began our intoduction into BRM with two classes covering the operation of the M4 Rifle (taking it apart and what each part does) and different shooting positions. While these were all things I knew prior, the refresher was good since the last time I shot was way back in October of '08 during the CATC Shooting Course. We also learned about our M68 CCO (Close Combat Optic) and how to sight it properly. The day ended with the standard safety brief.
Dinner that night was an event in of itself. Instead of heading to the chow hall, Mike Tax, his roommate Angelo, and myself set out for The Old Plantation Inn. This place defined being in the middle of nowhere. After driving 20 scenic minutes, to include having to go through a wildlife refuge complete with free roaming long horns and bison and going over a wooden one lane bridge, we found this place. It's not Peter Luger's, but the rib eye and sweet potato fries may be some of the best I have ever had and the prices were dirt cheap. Needless to say, this place will be visited every Friday and we decided our last trip there before we leave, we would all try to eat the 40 oz. sirloin.
As for today, not much going on. Worked out using a Crossfit WOD and then gave my car a much needed bath. After over 1500 miles the car was replete with a plethora of dead bug species on my windshield and other parts of my car. Its now time to head to wal-mart for some more water and gatorade and get some lunch in the bustling metropolis of Lawton. Next week is range week, which should be intresting since the mean temperature this week was 103 degrees.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Hello From Fort Sill

Hello all from Fort Sill, OK. The trip down was an expirience to say the least. I started out June 26th from my home in Bayside, NY and made a few stops along the way. First was a stop in Philadelphia for my friend John Kearby's wedding. The wedding was a great time and i was able to see my best friends and fellow Frogs from the USMA. After that was a quick stop in Maryland before heading down to Fort Bragg to link up with my friend Adam, who also is going to BOLC II at Fort Sill.From there we made stops in Georgia and Arkansas prior to arrivng in Oklahoma City. All told, I traveled through 13 states.
Adam, myself, and another classmate, Mike Tax, spebt the 4th of July in OK City. It wasnt the best weather as we encountered severe thunderstorms on and off through the night. Downtown OK City isn't exactly a great place to hang out as it is filled with tourist trap bars and clubs (ie: Coyote Ugly). But the company was good and we found some places to go for food and to celebrate America's birthday.
We checked in yesterday to Bravo Company and met our student leadership.Following that, we got our rooms, moved in, unpacked and began wandering around making new friends. BOLC II Students range from West Pointers to ROTC grads to OCS grads which include former NCOs and college grads who did not go through either the USMA or ROTC. This morning started at 0630 and consisted of moving tables and setting up for inprocessing.I just finished my inprocessing which consisted of a bunch of paperwork, shots, and blood draw. Now its time to sit around until lunch and who knows what after that.
So that's it so far. Still no roomates here but two should be arriving soon (I live in a 3man room). More will be posted at the end of the week and I will be posting at a minimumonce every week, probably on a Friday night or Saturday.

WHAT IS BOLC II? The Basic Officer Leadership Course II is a school put together due to the recognition that the GWOT has no true "front lines"and that every Soldier needs to be a rifleman first. As a result, this course is now a must for all new 2nd Lieutenants. Because of this, the class is diversifed with both male and female LTs and all branches are represented from the Infantry to the Finance Corps. The course is about 7 weeks long and focuses on basic soldier tasks such as land navigation, marksmanship,and convoy operations as well as officer tasks such as Operations Orders production and Troop Leading Procedures.