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Default Adagio for Strings, 9/17/04

Webstral 09-17-2004, 03:22 PM On September 12, which was a Sunday, we did NBC and Land Navigation training. NBC training was pretty unremarkable. We cleaned our protective masks and had some classes on using M8 and M9 detection papers.

The road march was more interesting. We had been issued our Interceptor vests a couple of days beforehand. The Interceptor vest is not a ballistic nylon vest in the traditional armored vest sense. The vest is basically a pair of pockets, front and back, that hold convex armor plates. The plates cover the vital organs and much of the spine. The idea isn't to provide total-body coverage, but rather to cover only what needs to be covered to keep a soldier alive until a medevac can arrive. The vest weighs around twenty-two pounds, and almost all of this weight goes onto the shoulders. Add the usual equipment we carry, and I found that I noticed the difference.

We marched three miles to the training site with vests, LBE, Kevlar, and weapons. Some carried assault packs with water, while others simply carried Camel Baks, which are two-quart hydration systems slung over the back like a pack. All told, this wasn't that much weight--probably no more than seventy pounds in my case. I've carried more weight, though not lately.

Once we arrived at the training site, we were given our Land Nav materials and sent on our way. Several of the more high-speed people in the unit had complained the last time that the course was too short. Total movement was probably about 4,000 meters over sand and through scrub brush. It was plenty long for me, but there are plenty of guys in the unit who are more accomplished at land navigation than I and who are in better condition than I. Their cajoling won the day, and the Land Nav course on Sunday included something more like 6,000 meters of movement. The extra 2,000 meters makes a difference.

Hernandez and I partnered for this exercise. Neither of us had a protractor, and by the time I made my way to the front of the line, the instructors were out of protractors as well. We waited about twenty-five minutes for a protractor to become available. When one did, I immediately set about plotting our points and a course. When I was done, I asked Hernandez to double-check my work. He did, and his check revealed that I had made an amateurish mistake. Once I have my grid, I'm supposed to measure left-to-right across the grid. I measured right-to-left, so my points were anywhere from fifty meters to eight hundred meters too far west. Hernandez had to do the lot over again, and this cost us another twenty to twenty-five minutes.

Once we got out on the course, we were basically okay for about ninety minutes. We had trouble with the third point, which was at the end of a 900-meter movement. We arrived at the place where my pace count and Hernandez' compass work said our point should be, but there was nothing there. I should describe the terrain at this point.

The Land Nav course is fairly typical of the landscape around El Paso. The whole area is basically valley bottom with a very gentle overall slope. The ground is principally sand with very few rocks. Distributed every ten to fifty meters are mounds of sand and brush that appear to be an accumulation of years' of shrub growth binding the soil together. I think of sand dunes along the sea shore. Without roots and plants, the mounds would fall apart.

Anyway, the mounds are a significant obstacle to land navigation. In many cases, they block line-of-sight, making it difficult if not impossible to pick a reference point on the horizon. Climbing up the side is only sometimes feasible. More often, one is forced to go around. This messes with pace count and orientation. It's far harder to navigate through this area than it looks. Doug, this place looks like Banshee with smaller mounds and more plant life.

Hernandez and I were fairly typical, except that we got off to a later start. We got to the end of a long movement and found nothing within eyeshot. I conducted an expanding circular search pattern and eventually found a point some 75 meters north of where we thought we were supposed to be. There was nothing else in the area, so we recorded the number of the point and moved on. I still don't know if we got it right.

After another thirty minutes of hard movement, Hernandez hit a wall. He simply couldn't move very quickly any more. I took his SAW and gave him my M4/M203 combination, which on the surface didn't seem like it would change a whole bunch. However, Hernandez said he was glad to get the weight off his shoulders. He wasn't able to pick up the pace, though.

As a result, we didn't get the opportunity to pick up a couple of points which would have been fairly easy to find but which required us to cover a fair amount of ground. Between our late start and our inability to move out, we weren't able to get three points that were fruit waiting to be plucked from the vine. This was intensely frustrating for me and did little to improve my impression of myself as an infantryman.

When we got back to our AO (Area of Operations), we were in a very mixed condition. A lot of guys were smoked. They weren't used to carrying all that weight, and they would have been challenged to move so far so fast without the body armor. With the body armor, a lot of guys were torn up. And we still had night Land Nav to go.

This is the state of affairs with B/1-184, and with a lot of National Guard units, I suspect. The physical conditioning and skill levels vary more widely than I remember them varying in the Regular Army. Some guys are in excellent condition and/or have well-developed infantry skills. At the other extreme is a group of guys in terrible shape and/or whose skills are sub-par. This group is considerably larger than is the same group in an active duty unit. There are, of course, guys in the middle. I'm one of them overall, with my physical condition lending me more credit than my infantry skills. Getting us onto the same page is going to be a huge challenge.

At the risk of getting off-topic, there are some things about this National Guard unit that are quite different than the active duty units I've seen. I'll generalize if I can do so without committing a gross error.

We are older and more seasoned than our active duty counterparts. At 34, I am at least ten years older than my active duty counterpart (E-5). At 33, Hernandez is probably thirteen years older than his active duty counterpart. At 38, Smith is nearly twenty years older than his active duty counterpart; and Stacey at 31 is about twelve years older than his active duty counterpart. Hernandez and Stacey are alos far more skilled at the kinds of missions we'll be executing than their active duty counterparts, though Smith and I probably are not. No, I'm definitely less knowledgeable about all things infantry than my active duty counterpart, though I probably understand the Army as a whole better.

In my case, this is an opportunity to round out my skill set. Unfortunately, what I know about this part of Army life has little application. I'm a newbie in a lot of ways. When this tour is done, I'll have a much more well-rounded body of Army knowledge than many, many other soldiers. But learning everything I need to learn to be a squared-away infantryman is going to be a painful process. A good process, but like martial arts a process that will involve a fair amount of pain, sweat, and tears.

The platoon sergeant is in a bad mood today. Well, it would be more accurate to say that he is stressed out. For reasons unknown, we conducted a sensitive items check and came up one PAQ-4 short. (The PAQ-4 is a laser designator for use with small arms.) This is a huge problem for him, since he is signed for all of them. Eventually, the storm blew over, but we all suffered in the meantime.

Life in the tent is interesting. Space is at a premium. Everything we do runs up against the space and privacy issues. I will talk a little about my daily routines to give some indication of what it's like.

Wake-up is generally announced the night before. For a while, we were doing wake-up at 0430 or 0500, but for several mornings it has been at 0600. Thanks be for small miracles. Generally we get 15 minutes to get up, get our PT clothes on, and get outside. One of the unspoken rules is that our bunks should be made before we go out the door for the first time that morning, although no one has been enforcing it. Most people are doing this, and I suspect that the unspoken rule will go without enforcement until some unknown trigger number of soldiers leave their bunks a shambles when we walk out the door for the first time in the morning. Then the Word will come down that everyone must make their beds before getting out the door for the first time in the day.

I do my morning yoga routine before going out, and this has proved to be more of a challenge in this environment than it was in Basic. In Basic (1993), I shared a two-man room with Ric Hering. I have no idea how this happened. Then, all I had to do was get up once the lights went on and run through five repetitions of suria namaskar, or the salute to the sun. Hering stayed in bed for the two to three minutes this took. Now, however, I'm doing the ashtanga version of the salute to the sun, which takes more like five minutes. Also, there's less space. The salute to the sun involves a swoop of the arms to the sides. There was room for this in my room in Basic. Here, however, there isn't the space between the bunks for me to do this. I've had to modify my practice so that my arms go up and down directly in front of me so people can pass me while I'm doing my yoga. It's a little strange to be doing my yoga while soldiers go about their morning routine. However, yoga is just as necessary to me now as it ever was.

After five minutes, I get my PT clothes on. I wear PTs to bed, but I don't wear the same PTs to exercise. This probably seems strange, but there's a logic to it. I only have three sets of PT clothes. This is about as many as I am inclined to have for the moment, since I don't have much space. However, this means that I must do laundry every couple of days if I want to wear fresh PT clothes every day. Given how little time we have to ourselves, I don't really want to spend two hours doing laundry every coupel of nights. Despite the fact that I can write letters and read while I'm doing laundry, it's still a task I don't want to do any more than necessary. As a result, I recycle my exercise PTs and keep them separate from the PTs I wear to bed and while doing my tasks. So I take off my sleep PTs and dig my exercise PTs out of my laundry bag. They smell bad on the second and third days of use, but that's one of the little discomforts involved in training.

We get out and do our PT, then eat breakfast and shower. For me, showering means getting out of my exercise PTs and getting them back into the laundry bag. I pull my towel and washcloth off the frame of my bunk bed, which is where they have been drying since last night's shower. I open my foot locker and pull out my toiletries bag, which has everything I need to shower, shave, and brush my teeth. I also pull my ID card out of my PT shorts. I have to have my ID card to get through the security checkpoint in the concertina wire perimeter surrounding the tent city we share with 116th Brigade Combat Team (Idaho National Guard). My ID card has to get back into my wallet before I begin the next stage of the day.

Showering is actually pretty good. There are perhaps forty showers in two rows, plus maybe as many sinks in two rows. Each shower is its own stall with two curtains on rings for privacy. There's plenty of hot water. It's really quite good compared to the living quarters. I brush my teeth and shave before getting into the shower. This takes a little more than five minutes. Showering is another ten to fifteen, depending on how quickly I can tear myself away from the hot water and privacy of my stall.

Then it's time to get my uniform on. Recently I bought a number of containers at the PX, and this has made my foot locker much better organized. Brown T-shirts are folded and sit on the bottom of the locker without a container. Brown briefs sit in two folded stacks inside a container on top of the T-shirts. Black socks are rolled and stacked inside a container that sits on top of the container for my white PT socks. For some reason, about half my socks are a little too small for me. Getting them on is a pain in the ass. However, about a week ago I plugged in my brain and stopped trying to pinch/grip too-small socks along the sides of my feet and switched to the top and bottom. A life-and-death morning struggle to get my socks on turned into a minor nuisance.

One of the drawbacks of getting older (for me) has been the ossification of my brain. As a kid, I would have figured this one out in a heartbeat. At thirty-four, it took me three weeks of doing it the hard way to change my method.

Then it's on with the pants. I change my pants every three days, give or take a day. I only have two uniforms for ready wear, and again I'm not interested in living my life in the laundry room. It's also convenient to wear the same uniform several days in a row because my pockets are full of the things I need every day. Changing everything to the new uniform (I call it staging when I'm talking to myself) takes several minutes. Here's a list of what I carry:

Left breast pocket: pens, notebook, Sharpie black marker

Right breast pocket: more notebooks, gum, towelette, powdered cider mix, mini maglight, a copy of my orders

Left waist pocket: Iraqi Arabic phrasebook, salt packets

Right waist pocket: Earl Grey tea, more notebooks, prayer card, extra plastic baggies

Right pants pocket: Swiss Army knife, loose change, dollar bills when I have them, two types of lip balm, ear plugs, etc.

Left pants pocket: misc, including trash I can't get rid of immediately

Right cargo pocket: patrol cap, index card holder full of my flash cards, daily issues report form for my fire team, other largish items I have to hold onto throughout the day

Left cargo pocket: chemlight, MRE (broken down), extra batteries for my walkie-talkie

All of these items have a certain logic to where they are and why I carry them. I am trying to pare down what I carry on my person, but I'm not having a lot of luck.



Grimace 09-17-2004, 06:51 PM Good to hear from you again, Webstral.

Sounds like things are keeping ya busy. Keep on truckin'!


ReHerakhte 09-18-2004, 06:52 PM At the risk of sounding a little condescending towards the non-army gamers and towards the write-up in the Players sections of the rulebooks (either edition), I'd like to make a few comments about Webstral's posts here.

My apologies for any offence, I certainly don't mean for my post to be that way.

When reading Web's posts, I found myself remembering very similar things from my own army time and it was easy to see that amongst some military forces, things are not that much different in daily life, particularly amongst Western armies such as the US, British and Australian.

The one thing that struck me though was that Web's posts are conveying all the little things that most civilians wouldn't hear about and were not written up in any of the game books, such as the importance of correct procedure for map reading and the utter exhaustion that can overcome you at times (which is why I kinda preferred GDW's Fatigue rules over many other rules systems Fatigue rules).

Anyway, what I am trying to say is that I think that Web's post are far more effective at getting some ideas of military life across to those people who have never been in the military. You'll get a much better idea of what it's like by reading his stuff than the usual 'cool' advertising campaigns that the military produces to sucker you into joining. I think it's the kind of thing that Referees should make their Players read before getting into a campaign.

Again, apologies if my post comes across in the wrong way, I just figured that Web's posts are a damned fine resource for introducing Players into the game whether it's Twilight or Merc or any other military based game.




Dogger 09-20-2004, 12:22 PM Thanks for the update Web's...keep 'em coming.


sdswede 09-20-2004, 01:03 PM again keep up the posts, Web. look forward to seeing you again in person.


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