Day 22 (Monday April 20, 2009)
Today we learned about IED's. IED stands for Improvised Explosive Device. Essentially, these are landmines placed by insurgents. This was an incredibly important class considering the environment to which we are traveling. They taught us everything from what they look like to how they are employed to where they are typically placed. By the end of the class, I was scared @#$%less. After the classroom work, we were taken outdoors, marched a little over a mile in full "Battle Rattle" and shown how to investigate the territory for IED's. To simulate real-life scenarios, we worked with stationary HMMWV's and a make-shift town (check out the pictures).
OK, Time out. Let me explain a few things first. "Battle Rattle" means body armor and weighs somewhere between 35-70 lbs depending on what exactly you're wearing and HMMWV (Hum-V) stands for "Highly Mobile Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle". The HMMWV's we will be using weigh about 12000 lbs...but we don't have to carry those...sorry, bad joke. (In the picture below, I'm the one in the middle.)
This was all very practical, though as I've stated before, I hope I never have to use this information.
Day 23 (Tuesday April 21, 2009)
Driver's Training today ... yee-haawwww!!! (That was my best Dukes of Hazard holler.) Having checked out our weapons in the morning, by afternoon, we marched in full Battle Rattle over to the motor pool to learn about HMMWV's. (We check out our weapons without ammunition and carry them around during certain evolutions. The idea being, those weapons are considered our "Battle Buddies" and we need to be aware of their presence at all times.) After an initial Power Point brief, because everything in the military is preceded by a Power Point brief, we broke down into groups of 4 and headed to the Hummers.
With one supervisor in the passenger seat, three of us assumed the driver's seat and the two back seats, while the fourth person manned the gun turret (this is where the gunner sits and looks out the top of the vehicle).
We drove out into the middle to Fort Riley and bounced around the countryside for about an hour; all taking turns driving. Unfortunately, I never made it into the gunner's seat. I'm a little disappointed (this is me pouting). Following our drive through rural Kansas, we headed back to the motor pool and learned how to change a flat tire on a HMMWV. This instruction was bound to happen, yet due to a blown tire on our outing, we experienced it a little sooner. We also learned out to tow another HMMWV, both with an A frame straight bar and with a Nylon strap, called a "hasty tow". The hasty tow is appropriate when you are under fire and need to leave immediately.
Finally, the last exercise of the afternoon was a ride through the "HEAT". Oooo, what is the HEAT you ask. Well, it is the HMMWV Egress Assistance Trainer. And again...you still might be asking "what is the HEAT?" Basically, it is a Hum-V simulator for roll-over accidents and a training aide to practice escaping the vehicle. (I tried to post a short video on what this looks like, but I couldn't get it to work.) After entering the vehicle and seat belting in, the trainer was turned 180 degrees upside down to demonstrate "seat belt security" ... sure, I guess I'll buy that. Honestly, I believe it was done to disorient the trainee before the multiple 360 degree turns. After the spinning stopped us in the 180 degree "upside down" position, we were told, over an internal vehicle speaker, to "Egress".
Now, since I was sitting in the driver's seat, I was able to hold myself in place with the steering wheel and avoid strangling myself with the seat belt. However, when I tried to unlock the door, my Tyrannosaurus-like short arms were no match for the distance to the door handle. So, with only one option, I unbelted myself and sank with a thud to the roof of the Hum-V. And, with cat-like reflexes, I tumbled my way to all-fours, discovered the elusive door handle and laboriously, crashed through the driver's side door. Mind you, we had to do this in our Battle Rattle, which makes me the equivalent of a 200 pound, 5 foot 8 inch bag of wrenches bouncing around in a steel box. Impressive, huh? One last episode to this saga; as I get out of the vehicle, I hear about 15 incoherent voices shouting repeatedly "....... close the door!" So, I close the door. Oops. What the voices were really saying was "DON'T close the door!" You see, I was suppose to leave the door open for others to get out if their doors were stuck, because it's not easy to reopen these 450 lb hatches once they are closed. WOW! I'm exhausted just thinking about it. In all honesty though, instructive and fun.
Believe it or not, the day wasn't over. After being let out at 1700 for dinner, we hiked back to the motor pool for our night driving exercise. You're probably thinking, "that's not too tough, just turn on your headlights".
Well, we try make things a bit more complicated, so this evening's evolution was done without lights. Break out the Night Vision Goggles (NVG's)!!! This was cool. Very much like playing a video game. While I don't have any pictures to demonstrate the drive, you'll be able to see what the goggles look like and a really awesome "hero" pose by me. When we arrived at the motor pool, we took out our goggles, put them on, and learned how to use them in the hanger. Everything one sees with the NVG's is in a green hue. So, after stumbling through the dark, we took our new found power to the rugged back roads of Fort Riley. All kinds of respect for our troops using this equipment. We all had a chance to drive and called it a night by 2300. Coolest day yet!