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!