Monday, June 23, 2008

Misadventures on Fort Lewis.

Wow, real long drill this time.

The entire battalion hauled themselves up to Fort Lewis, the nearest major Army base, for some heavy duty training. Being already in Washington, I got the go ahead from the platoon sergeant to report directly to Ft. Lewis, rather than driving 7 hours to Corvallis, spending 5 hours going back to Ft. Lewis, riding a bus for 5 hours back to Corvallis, and then driving 7 hours back to Port Townsend. Thank God, he saved me about $200 worth of gas.

We rolled up Thursday night, and immediately racked out. My platoon had to pull guard duty that night. I was practically dripping with excitement... no, wait, that was just the rain that night. I was tabbed to pull guard from 0400 to 0430, and wake up was at 0600. That does wonders for my energy levels the next day.

On Friday morning, we started the day with Short Range Marksmanship, or SRM. It was our only Live Fire range of the drill, and as such, the most dangerous. SRM consists of learning to shoot out of muscle memory at short ranges in different positions. Facing various directions, on the move, behind cover, and through portals. Because my own weapon was deadlined, I didn't get the opportunity to have a weapon that was zeroed to my particular style, so I had to use Kentucky Windage to account for that. It didn't look too pretty. To make the portal firing even more complicated, I couldn't just shove the barrel into the portal like some people could, due to my underslung 203.

After we wrapped up the SRM, the Brigade commander came and spoke to us about the upcoming deployment. I'll cover that in another post.

Because our platoon finished up early, the Platoon Sergeant decided to take us over to the adjacent sewer mock up, and show us how to clear a sewer system. There was no sewage in it, thank God, but the pipes started at a 4' diameter, and got smaller from there. It was hell on my knees.

After the company had their fill of SRM, we were loaded into a few deuce and a halfs, rucks and all, and shipped to our next training. While loading the deuce, one of the NCOs yelled for all the privates to pile on top of the rucks in order to seat all the NCOs. I knew that promotion to E-4 would have it's perks. :)

The next training was the HEAT, or Humvee Egress Assessment Training. One of the leading causes of deaths in theatre nowdays is a Humvee roll over killing the gunner. So they built these simulators. They're a mockup of the interior of a Humvee, but it's mounted on a gimbal so they can flip it and roll it. They stuffed us inside it, and showed us the rollover angles, 25% for an 1151, 30% for an 1114. Then they roll it over, and tell us to get out. If you've ever been inside a Humvee, you know it's a pretty cramped ride. I could barely move, and it took some contortionism in order to sort out how I was going to get out of the thing once it flipped over.

After everyone had their runthrough in the flipper, we piled back onto the deuces, and rolled out to the Convoy Fire range. Once there, we ate dinner, and sorted out who was riding in what truck. As a 203 gunner, I was relegated to being a dismount. Which essentially meant that I sat in the back of the vehicle, and tried not to look too bored. Things happened, other things exploded, I got out, stood by a tree pulling security, listened to other people shooting at the opfor, tried to keep the ants off of me, got back in the Humvee, and that was it. I was thoroughly bored with the whole thing.

Thankfully, that was the last training of the day. We racked out, and second platoon got to pull guard, and I actually got to sleep. Yay.

On Saturday morning, We kicked things off with a mounted traffic control point, or TCP. We rolled out to the site in our vehicles, and rushed to set up the signs and concertina wire to create the checkpoint. As usual, I got to pull lateral security. After the first vehicle passed through the check point, my squad leader came by and told me that they had found a railroad running parallel to the road on the other side, and they wanted me to go secure it to ensure no one could bypass us. Ok. As I pushed through the brush to get to the railroad, I saw a head pop up. The Opfor. I lit him up, and then SPC Munch, who was pulling short security on that side lit him up. In response, he pulled out a grenade sim, and threw it at me. I decided at that time it would be prudent to seek less dangerous grounds. As I pulled back behind cover. The opfor disappeared back into the woodline, never to be seen again. We rolled up the TCP, and called index.

Next on the menu was a dismounted TCP. We came upon our site, and established security. To prevent a situation like had occurred on the last iteration, I got tasked with immediately scouting the woodline for any avenues of approach. I found a nearby road about fifty meters out, so my new task was to pull security on that road. In a grove of Scotch Broom so tall I could barely see over it. Apparently, the search team got hit with a car bomb, then they dialed in some mortars in on us, and the whole time, I there, standing in the scotch broom, not seeing a damn thing. Oh, and trying to keep by partner from dying from his allergies. How fun. We broke contact after the mortar fire became sustained, and headed back to the TAA.

Back in the deuces... I think my foot was sawed off by a displaced KABAR... No, just numb.

We arrived at Leschi Town. Leschi Town is the most awesome urban combat range I've ever seen. Every building has furniture, every door can be breached, it's amazing. We ran a negotiation mission, where we were supposed to march into this neighborhood, while the PL conducts negotiations with the mayor. The goal was to convince the mayor to let us search the houses for weapon caches and insurgents. Each team got assigned to guard a building, and proceed to search it once the mayor arrived. My team got tasked with the two story behemoth. Which also turned out to be crawling with all the insurgents in the village. Fun!

As soon as the Mayor came out of his house, the insurgents decided to try and attack us. My team rolled right into the house, and cleared the bottom floor, leaving a trail of dead opfor in our wake. We killed 3 opfor on the first floor, and went to secure it so the adjacent teams could come in and clear the second floor. As I went to secure a room, I saw a flash of movement outside the window. I went and checked it out, thinking it was another opfor. Then I saw an M-107 strapped to the guys back, and decided that I was outclassed. Turns out that a special forces group was conducting a live fire sniper exercise in Leschi Town, and the sniper team decided to stalk through our AO. They also had the medics doing their training to the east. You don't want to know how the Special Forces Medics get practical experience. Those poor animals...

On the second iteration, things got a little uglier. The insurgents were spread to two different buildings. One was adjacent to the house we were guarding. When we took contact, we stacked at the side door. That door had a window nearby, I took a quick glance, and spotted one of the opfor inside. She pointed something at me, and I ducked back around the corner. A nerf football went flying out the window at incredible velocity. Turns out she had the simulated RPG. The simulated RPG was a piece of PVC Piping attached to an air compressor, with a nerf football crammed down it. It actually launches them pretty fast, and I'm sure it would hurt to get pegged with it. I sprayed her down through the window, and linked up with Corporal McGuffie inside to clear the rest of the first floor. Things quieted down after that, and I spent the rest of the iteration pulling security on the building.

Once again, back into the deuces. This time came with a twist. Because of the live fire sniper exercise, every road for five miles down range was shut down. So the drivers had to find new and exciting routes to get to our next range at Reagansville. They also had to hit every pothole and bump in the road on the way. Deuce and a halfs have no suspension for the rear beds, so every bump is really jarring. After we went up a hill, around the hill, down the hill, only to hit the exact same pothole as we had 20 minutes ago, people lost it. People either started laughing, or cursing, or both. It was hilarious.
After almost an hour crammed into the back of the dusty, overheated, and uncomfortable deuces, We arrived at Reagansville. Our mission was to conduct a raid on a two story building. We moved out into the woods, and setup an ORP out there. As the Platoon Sergeant took the squad leaders on a recon to scout the objective, the NCOIC came by and asked me why I was on a knee, and not in the prone like everyone else pulling security. This lovely little exchange occurred.

"You need to get in the prone, specialist."
"Do you see that, sergeant?" *Pointing at nearby plant*
"Yeah, so?"
"Do you know what it is?"
"That's poison oak, Sergeant, and it's all over the place."
"Oh... Carry on, specialist."

Yeah, I'm not planning on repeating last time I encountered that foul plant. The PSG returned, and we set up our raid. The three key principles of urban combat are Speed, Suprise, and Violence of Action. We had all three in spades. We rolled up on them, and our pointman, SPC White, managed to shoot every last opfor there, before any of us had a chance to get in on the action. We ran in, charged up the stairs, and cleared the whole two story building in about 20 seconds. Personally, I didn't like the lead element going straight to the second floor without clearing the first floor, because if the second element gets bounced before securing the first floor, you have no where to go, and will most likely get killed. But it worked out well.

we went to sleep the night, and woke up the next morning for a battalion formation. Nothing special happened. I got released to return home. Being hungry, I stopped at an IHOP for breakfast. I had a pair of banana walnut pancakes, two sausage links, some hashbrowns, and two eggs sunny side up. So good. I need to eat there more often.

Upon my arrival home, I said hello to the family, dropped my gear, and immediately dunked my sore and filthy body into a bathtub full of near boiling water. Once I was numb to the scalding heat it felt so good.

I fell asleep at 5 PM out of sheer exhaustion. At 8PM, my adorable little sister knocks on my door, launching my nude form out of bed from the sheer power of suprise. I wasn't sure of anything, who I was, where I was, what was happening, or how to speak english apparently. She got enough out of my raved babbling to figure out not to open the door. She sweetly informed me that Jeff was here. What the hell? Oh well, I put on some clothes, and staggered out to hang out with him.

We went over to his girlfriend's place, and played Super Smash Bros Brawl, and eventually got a raging campfire going outside. We hung out around the fire, smoked some cloves using unorthodox lighting methods, and discussed many random things, including the most morbid, yet ingenious business plan I have ever devised. Jeff produced a flint magnesium block the size of a hand eraser, and chucked it into the fire. That shit burns bright. It was hilarious. Before we knew it, it was 2 AM, and we realised we should probably get some rest.

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