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

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