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!