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.