Friday, May 02, 2008

BOLC II - Week 4 - Day 4&5

A pretty neat PT. More of this Crossfit stuff, lots of different muscle activities then interlaced with short sprints. Pretty good workout and I was definitely feeling it later. Then we got ready (grabbing our vests, body armor, Kevlar, and rucksacks packed for our overnight camping trip)... and waited... and waited. Finally the second group of buses came and picked us up. Its such a pain getting on these buses with all this gear, since you put your rucksack in front (we call it front-load) and wearing all your other gear, and stumble up and onto the bus. Then we spent the morning running room clearing exercises at the squad (9ish soldiers or so. mine had 11 so we some extra support) level. After each of those missions we would then sit down and conduct the AAR (After Action Review), where we identify things we did well and things that we still need to improve on. I can see why this is something you need to train a lot on, since it requires a lot of coordination and has a lot of variables (every room is different). This was all done with us using blanks in our weapons.

This is the MOUT (Military Operations Urban Terrain) site McKenna at Ft. Benning

Then the most popular man at the site stopped by, the AAFES (Army Air Force Exchange System) snack truck, lovingly called the "Gut Truck" by the soldiers. Here you can buy soda's, chips, gatorade, and any number of snack, as well as things like mini pizza's and sandwiches. I was talking to the driver and kidding him, asking how does it feel to be the most popular person in the field right now (he did realize popularity was fleeting, kidding that he knew it would disappear the moment he stopped driving the truck).

After lunch (MRE's were also ready. Some are surprisingly tasty. Or at least the other treats in them (ranging from M&M's, brownies, cookies) can be) we were ready to start using the Simunitions. They basically pull the upper part of the M4 (since it splits in 2, the upper is mainly the barrel and the lower contains the guts, things like springs, trigger assemblies, etc) and replace it with a blue barreled version that shoots 9mm simunitions. They also use special magazines that fit into the standard m4 that can accept the 9mm Simunition round. Basically it shoots it fast enough to get it down the barrel and around the speed that you would expect out of paintballs. Then we geared up with the rest of the stuff, adding a mask and goggles over our Kevlars helmets, a neck protector and then a whole body protector. You can see all the gear on below, including the blue barreled simunition.

Since each mission takes time each squad only got to go once. Mine got to go first. We entered a building that had 3 enemies in. In clearing the room we took 2 casualties, which we (and in particular, me) had to pick up and extract to a nominal casualty collection point. My god, I was HOT by the end of the exercise. Then later I served as an OPFOR (Opposing Force). I put on all the above gear and then added a red "man dress" (basically clothing like the hajji over there wear) and try to tag another squad as they ran their mission. It was pretty fun.

After all that it was dinner (hot rations brought out from the chow hall) and then we waited for darkness to fall. We mounted our NOD(night vision devices) as darkness fell and prepped for a night assault. We also did a familiarization mission where we walked though the woods around the site in the darkness using the NODs to see what is around us. Its very weird since the device really causes you to lose depth perception (since its just a monocle mounted on the helmet) and took some getting used to. We did our night mission twice (we did pretty well for the conditions and inexperience of the team) and then bedded out in the field. Yep, me the camping hater spent the night sleeping out in a sleeping bag under the stars. We didn't get to bed until 2330 (1130).

It seemed moments later, like no time had passed at all, we then woke up at 0500. Time for some field PT. In our BDU's we stretched and did a pyramid of push ups and sit-ups. Not by our choice we also did some rifle PT... (my arms are still hurting from keeping that rifle out there like that) Some time for personal hygiene and then some more trucked in breakfast. We then started prepping for the big exercise of the day, a platoon level (4 squads, 41 soldiers in this case) assault of a couple of buildings at the site (sadly we were back to using blanks, since there are only so many simunitions sets and the other platoons needed their training time as well).

Prepping for the mission

Facing an OPFOR of 9 soldier spread over 3 multi-story building (the three in the first picture here in fact) our platoon took 7 casualties to take the buildings. Some confusion and inexperience at operating at this level caused this high count, but it was overall considered a success and our cadre were quite pleased.

All that was left was a police call (gathering all the expended blanks that we used) and packing up to leave. Still we didn't get back until 1600 and weren't released until 1730. First priority was a shower..... I suspect that I will be in bed early and sleep late tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

BOLC II - Week 4 - Day3

Intense PT! A mile run to the stadium(DoughBoy Stadium), then we did the stairs. Then we drew weapons and headed out to the MOUT Site, McKenna. MOUT stands for Military Operations in Urban Terrain, which is basically moving in an urban environment and entering and clearing room.

I think the general consensus among the soldiers is that the preferred way to clear a room is either a tank round through the door or fragmentation grenade(sorry, but my preference is the health and safety of my soldiers. I am pretty unapologetic in that regard. This other stuff is far more dangerous), but unfortunately the ROE (Rules of Engagement) don't really allow for that anymore . So we are back on the standby of having 4 soldiers enter the room, packed right next to each other and exploding into the room, each heading to the point where we can dominate the room (killing any stupid bastard who is stupid enough to threaten American, Coalition or Iraqi forces).

The MOUT site is actually pretty cool. I will put some pictures up on Friday (as we will be staying out at the MOUT site tomorrow to do some night operations) of the place as it is pretty impressive. I commented to couple of my classmates that it really feels like a video game, since there are all these 1-3 story buildings that have no furniture and are all pretty much shells. Very much like some of the video games that that I have played over the years.

This stuff requires a lot of practice and repetition. Its actually pretty fun, since its a very active task and also requires you to think and move dynamically. Every room and building is different so you must constantly adapt the tactics to the situation. Today was all just familiarization with tactics, learning the correct way to handle different situations and working together as a tactical team. It looks really cool when you are working well together.

We worked on this stuff right up to 1600, boarded buses and then headed back to the barracks. I write this wearing my BDU's (today is the last day we can wear them in the Army so I figured one last hurrah, as of tomorrow they are no longer an authorized uniform) doing CQ. Tomorrow we have a long and exciting day, as we will begin to train with an OPFOR (Opposing Force) who will defend the buildings. Perhaps even more interesting is that we will be armed with Simunitions, basically big paint guns (they remove the upper part of our M4 and place a new one in that is designed to handle and feed the simunitions). Then we will do it at night before laying down to sleep out there.

BOLC II - Week 4 - Day 2

Another glorious morning. It was a bit cold (mid-40's) and we ran to the PT field and did a combo of pushups and situps (different variations). Then it was time to gear up and hit the range.

A bunch of waiting around (this is the Army after all). Then we had quick mini classes on the weapon that we would shoot immediately afterward. Below you can see the first on deck, the M2 Machine Gun. This weapon shoots 50 calibre rounds and is awesome. Too bad I only got to shoot 15 rounds, its kind of fun. As you can see they mounted the weapons on HMMV's to give us a more realistic fire.

And above of course is me, ready to rock and roll. This weapon is awesome and fun to shoot.

Then it was on to the other weapons, the M249 Machine Gun (often called the SAW, Squad Automatic Weapon). Its the standard weapon and you will find that almost all infantry squads have 2 of these. Then it was the M240B, the bigger brother of the 249. It fires a larger round than the 249 (7.62mm vs 5.56mm) but is fairly comparable.

We also got to shoot the M203. This is the weapon that you see slung underneath M16/M4's that fires a 40mm grenade. We fired what amounts to be paintball rounds, though they have the same kick and ballistic profile of a live round. You get a nice splash of paint when it hits the target. Normally we also can fire the M19, which is an automatic grenade launcher but because of range restrictions we couldn't. I really wish we could since it looks fun.

After we cleared the range we then had a class on convoy operations. We will be doing that next week so we definitely paid attention, since this is a serious operational class (lots of experience being in/running them in the classroom so you got lots of useful anecdotes). We got off around 1630.

Monday, April 28, 2008

BOLC II - Week 4 - Day 1

Back to reality after a pleasant weekend. It was raining when we headed down for formation, not a good sign. Started off the day with a 3 mile run (some of it up a pretty steep hill). Then we drew our M4's and got ready for the day. For the morning we had classes in the M2, a .50 calibre machine gun that had been the mainstay of the US Military for coming on 90 years, and the M19, which is an automatic 40mm grenade launchers. This included taking apart and putting them back together (more tricky than it seems). These weapons are huge and when not mounted on a vehicle have a 60-70lb mounts. That took us up to lunch.

The afternoon was devoted to SRM. First we drew a magazine of 30 blanks and went through the motions that we would perform with live ammo. Then it was on to the range (which you can see in the background below) where we drew 3 30-round magazines. Then we performed a number of movements, facing techniques and just plain seeing a target and shooting from a dist of less than 25 meters (in most cases closer, we even shot a few from the 5 meter distance. This involves basically putting the red dot on the target and squeezing off 2 controlled rounds at the target. It was actually a pretty entertaining sequence since I can easily see why these are some very useful skills for the future, since a lot of engagements in Iraq are from close quarters so this is somewhat realistic. After that we helped police the brass (200 in the company * 90 rounds each..... = 18000 rounds expended today) and cleared off the range and returned our weapons. Then we waited around until we were released at 1600.

BOLC II Demographics and Food

So its interesting to note the breakdown of my class here at BOLC II. Given the timing of the course we skew a bit higher than most classes, since we are at that odd spot where there odds of college grads decline (since the timing is wrong for most college and academy grads). Its interesting to note that there are NO Academy grads in this class, not in either of the 2 companies (400 people). Its about 45% Active Duty, 40% National Guard and 15% Reserve. Overall we are older, the younguns are in shorter supply. The split is probably 50-50 for whether they came from OCS (either the Federal program here at Benning or the State programs that graduated people such as myself) or from ROTC. There are a few direct commissions that bounce around but they are still fairly rare. We are also an older bunch, with the average hovering probably around 30. Lots of prior experience, you can see probably 30% of the people have combat patches (below the flag on the right arm, it denotes what unit they were attached to during a tour in a combat zone). That's particularly useful since it gives a lot of experience and knowledge that you can't find everywhere. And the final number is 10%. Thats approximately how many of the people going through this are female. My platoon is a good example as we have 41 soldiers and 4 females, each assigned to a different squad.

And now for my favorite topic, the food. I would say that chow here is better than I have experienced (though my experience is pretty limited) though I have been told that its on the middling point for the Army. Breakfast is always good, lots of eggs, scrambled or as an omelet, sausage or bacon, biscuits (with of course, gravy, either sausage or regular available), bacon, oatmeal, grits, waffles. All in all a pretty good selection and nothing to complain about. Lunch and dinner are generally the same. They have 2 lines, a fast line with burgers, fries, and that ilk, and a traditional line with a choice of protein and a starch, along with veggies of various types (my buddy on Facebook posted his status lately as "I think the Army considers tater tots to be veggies"). There is also bread and a salad bar that is pretty comprehensive. The food is a bit on the overcooked side and is too heavy on the grease. While I appreciate this time as one of the last times other than deployment that I get free food, I definitely look forward to eating out on the town when I can. I have also taken to having a liquid breakfast, protein shake plus a sports bar in the morning.

Commando Raid Home

Since Georgia was starting to wear on me I decided to make a quick trip home this weekend. I tried to be all stealthy about it on the recommendations of the girl I am seeing but I appear to be bad at keeping secrets (other than national security ones). I called my older brother to when/if my nephew would be around and apparently even though I think I asked he keep it on the Down Low it trickled back to my parents.
Friday night was a nice relaxing night after a long week. A few drinks with the guys, a movie (OMG, Doomsday seemed to decide to incorporate almost every cliche about apocalypse movies... it was comical) then bed. An early morning, 0430 to get on the road ASAP, get up to Atlanta airport and then a short flight home. I slept the whole flight, probably to the consternation of my neighbors. I got picked up by the woman I have been seeing, walked around Old Town for while, had a nice relaxing lunch at Chart House. Stopped by my parents, had tea and some nice conversation with them, and then headed back to the condo. Spent some more time chatting with my roommate (and killing some bottles of wine... its been 3 weeks since I had wine). Then later in the evening we went out to Brasserie Beck. Great food (I had the mussels and she had the sea bass) and awesome beer (convinced my companion to switch to beer after tasting the awesome St. Louis brand that they had there).

A late morning (gotta sleep in one day of the week), some bagels (thanks to nice roommate) and then off to the surprise of the weekend, a couples massage down in Alexandria. It felt pretty good. It was my first and I have no complaints (though I am pretty good about stress, I don't internalize it too much into my body and luckily I don't have any chronic problems) and even thought it was pretty relaxing (fell asleep for a bit of it). Then it was off to the baseball game. Unfortunately when I left the condo this morning I did not figure that the temperature had dropped so much. So I, the person acclimatized to Georgia (and in body armor), was out in shorts and a tshirt. It was cold. I did get to see the Nationals score, had some Five Guys burgers and fries and just enjoyed the new ballpark. A dinner at my parents, some playing with my nephew and then it was off to the airport for my flight. Another flight where I slept on the way back and a quick drive back to the barracks. I finally got to bed at midnight, so I get at least 5 hours of sleep before formation tomorrow.

Gotta love busy weekends! Sometimes they can be packed full, sometimes its nice to do nothing at all. Gotta mix them up!