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!

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