Friday, July 3, 2009

Day 68-69 (Fri-Sat June 5-6, 2009)

Graduation...been a long 10 weeks

Graduation day!!!! All of class 71 showed up at the gym where we initially entered Camp Funston and lined up for the ceremony. With all of us standing at parade rest, a few words were said by the chaplain and the Executive Officer of Camp Funston. Next, with the audio tape playing in the background, the Army units sang their Army songs, the Air Force sang a verse of their song and then…the audio tape quit…no Navy love. So, in fine fashion as would be expected, we as 25 strong Navy sailors belted out Anchor’s Away…without music. Afterwards, CDR Troup (the head of our Navy Liaison Team) said that our version was by far the best he’d heard in his time at Fort Riley. Go Navy!

All in all, the graduation took 7 minutes. The most efficient evolution we were ever a part of at Fort Riley. Time to go home for a few weeks. Oh yeah, after the graduation, we were informed that our I-stop time would be extended from 16 to 22 days off. Sweet.

Having packed everything up, we boarded a bus for Kansas City International Airport at midnight. We arrived at KCI by 0300 and by 0630 we were heading home. What a good feeling.

Day 67 (Thurdsay June 4, 2009)

Here you go, I don't want it anymore...

This day was dedicated to turning in all our equipment (Hum-Vs, Radios, CrewServ weapons, etc.). Not much to talk about other than we all started packing up our things to head home for a few weeks. This was called our I-Stop (Individual Stop).

Day 66 (Wednesday June 3, 2009)

Capstone...bout time

Well, the big day arrived. The Capstone Course was the pinnacle of our training; testing all of the skills we acquired over the 10 weeks at Fort Riley. It was a live, role playing set of scenarios in which we needed to travel to 3 different villages and complete predetermined missions. Both us, and our enemies were given “blanks” to fire for the day.

(Mike's wearing the "nut-hugger" gun turret harness while Jerry is happy for him)

(Me, Andrew and Mike)

(Travis enjoying his coffee and a peace sign...but notice the reflection in the window...I look like a tourist)

We saddled up the Hum-Vs and headed up to the yet another range where we received our briefing and made plans for the mission. Every person on our Team of 14 had a job. In each of the three vehicles, there was a driver, a TC or truck commander who sat in the front passenger seat, the gunner in the turret and two dismounts.

(Notice the cigarette hangin' out of Sgt. P's mouth...classic)

I was a dismount and along with Jerry, Sgt Plewniak (who was affectionately deemed Sgt. P), and CDR Glover. As dismounts, we were the ground security for CDR Heimer, who was accompanied by his personal security, LCDR Shadley. In the first village, our mission was to facilitate the last of our Leader Engagements in which CDR Heimer and LCDR Shadley met with the village leaders inside a village building. The four dismounts, including myself, proceeded to cordon (secure) the building with our M4s in hand. We each took a corner of the building and maintained site of one another to ensure communication. Meanwhile, the village people (not the musical group) who were all paid actors, roamed around the building trying to walk in back doors and distract us. Some acted mean while others curiously investigated every inch of the surrounding territory. Even in the setting of a pretend scenario, it was quite nerve-racking keeping tabs on all of the villagers.

After the meeting, all 4 dismounts pushed through the crowd to bring CDR Heimer safely to the vehicle. However, while we were occupied with the meeting and internal security, our Hum-V crews (providing outer cordon) were dealing with a rogue vehicle with known enemy affiliations. Unfortunately, the vehicle made it past the outer cordon and in the process, one of our teammates, CDR Foster was shot (make believe). Because I was also the “medic” for the team, I ran to CDR’s aid. But, as I was running to CDR, Jerry and I took on fire from the rogue vehicle (basically, the insurgent was firing at us with a rifle from behind the driver’s door). We both immediately stopped and returned fire, but in real life, I would have been a goner. Lesson learned…don’t forget to keep your head on a swivel. None the less, I made it to the CDR and fixed him up for transport. Eventually, we used what is called a 9-Line Medivac request to call in the Blackhawk medivac helicopters to transport our wounded CDR.

Moving on to the next village, we were informed of hostile intentions within. All the dismounts moved to the village center where we had a task of which I can’t remember. Yet, in the midst of our objective, the crowd turned aggressive. Additionally, in a building across the road, a sniper was firing on us. I was hit and needed medical attention. Since we were all trained in CLS (Combat Life Support), Sgt P tended to me and then to CDR Glover who was also hit. While we were being helped, our gunners in the Hum-Vs targeted the sniper and terminated him. Let’s get the crap out of here…

The final village was also hostile in nature. Dismounting again, we all provided security for CDR Heimer to meet with the village elder. During this scenario though, while walking through the main part of the village, we took on fire from a sniper in a second story window. Strategically, we maneuvered ourselves behind buildings and returned fire. The sniper was captured and brought down from the building and a I reinvented my roll as “Tactical Questioner”. Though, I didn’t get anything out of him…I suck. But, the sniper was identified as an insurgent and taken in for professional questioning. Phew, the course ended there and we returned to base for our “hotwash”. This didn’t go as well due to a suspected case of fratricide, but the 1st Sgt was mistaken and we moved on. End of the day…thank goodness. Being a dismount was not very easy…but it was kind of fun.

(This is what the villages looked like...and no, I don't think that is a piece of crap on the hood...we had just gone through a muddy field...)

Day 65 (Tuesday June 2, 2009)

Are we about done with these?...

In the morning we had Leader Engagement #8 where Andrew was the lead and Jerry was his “henchman”. They did well, but could have used the “Water Specialist”…that was me from a previous leader engagement.

(Andrew and Jerry on the couch with the interpreter)


(Tim...just happy to be here)

(Travis and Josh...shear jubilation)

(I think Jerry is giving me a signal???)

Come afternoon, as a Navy Team, we prepared for the upcoming Capstone Course. I’ll go more into that tomorrow.

Day 64 (Monday June 1, 2009)

...I can't think of a title for this...other than, I ROCK AS A DISMOUNT!!!

This morning we went to one of the many ranges for what was to be known as…Mounted Combat Patrol Live Fire Exercise.

(Morning ride with the back open on the Hum-V...our A/C)

(Just another Hum-V pic)

(It was a georgeous morning...that's looking out the back of the Hum-V)

The range was set up as a course in which our mounted combat patrol proceeded past several checkpoints engaging enemy forces (pop-up targets and automated moving trucks) and even encountered an IED.

(Lining up to go on patrol)

(Mike giving the patented thumbs up sign)

(Jerry ready to roll)

(Dismount...always the last one in)

In a convoy of 3 Hum-Vs, we moved through 3 checkpoints with the gunners in the turrets firing upon the aforementioned targets. At the 4th checkpoint, I was one of 3 persons (the other 2 being CDR Foster and CDR Harbison) to dismount our vehicle, move on foot to a side road and upon an explosion, shoot the pop-up targets. We all fired our weapons from the prone (lying on our stomach) position. Admittedly, I wanted to be sure to shoot all 20 rounds in my M4, so I put the firing mode on “burst” which fired 3 rounds at a time…I burned through my magazine pretty quick. Cool.

Having moved past one more checkpoint where the gunner fired on the enemy behind us, our middle vehicle was hit by an IED (imaginary) and I had to get out of our Hum-V (which was in front of theirs) and hook up the tow strap…easily done in under 10 seconds…I should have gone NASCAR...either that or rodeo.

(Proud dismount)

After we finished with the course, we received our “hotwash” and learned of our good and bad points. Overall, we didn’t do too bad…even for a bunch of medical personnel.

(Our "hotwash" building)

(Steve, Beth, and Dennis...Dennis looks like he's about to mug Beth)

(Travis...he didn't draw that stuff on the board, despite what he tells you)

This evening we had two events to celebrate 1) Andrew's birthday and 2) Josh's promotion to LCDR. And, in predictable fashion, we ended up at Famous Dave's BBQ for some good ol' ribs. Afterwards, dessert...Baskin Robbins...31 flavors of course.

(L to R: Andrew, Rob, Less, Jerry and Travis)

Day 63 (Sunday May 31, 2009)

R & R...

I didn’t do much today. I think I slept in and worked out at the gym. Movin’ on….

Day 61-62 (Fri-Sat May 29-30, 2009)

What's it really like?...

On both Friday and Saturday, we were briefed by CSTC-A (Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan). A LT Colonel in the Air Force (a physician) and a civilian physician presented information on what was the state of Afghanistan as pertained to the medical mission. I can't go into details about this, so this blog is going to be pretty short.

However, Saturday being a half day, in celebration of the penultimate weekend as we approached graduation, some of our Navy team members coordinated a BBQ fiesta with the Army Reservists who were in their barracks. The food was awesome. Here are some pix.

(Mike, Steve, Josh, and can tell they're hungry)

(Rob, just wanted to show he's competent in the kitchen.)

(Tim, I think I've seen that hand sign before...)

(Mike and Jerry...Thrilled I'm taking a picture of them.)

(Less and Dennis..."I once caught a fish this big...")

(Motley Crew)

(Obviously myself, Jerry above and Lach next to me.)

Day 60 (Thursday May 28, 2009)

Video games are for kids...or are they?

Our first evolution of the day was the Mounted Combat Patrol Class. Here, we learned how to look at a village and prepare a mission to engage it. We determined how to set up cordons (security posts) around the village and within it, and how to utilize our assets (soldiers, vehicles, etc.) to complete the mission. This was all done inside a classroom. Afterwards, we went outside to set up our mission for the upcoming Capstone Course (a course designed to test the skills already taught).

(CDR Foster describing our route and tactics.)

The second half of the day is where the fun began. We were bused up to Custer Hill, where we originally stayed in our first week of training, and received a brief on the dynamics of the simulated mounted combat patrol. This was a video game designed to simulate the movement in hostile territory, where strategy was imperative to maneuvering through villages and past traffic and hostile engagements were likely.

(An intrigued crowd during our simulation briefing.)

We were broken up into teams of 5 which included a driver, a TC (truck commander, sitting shotgun), two dismounts (backseat ride alongs) and a gunner (up in the turret). We all sat at computer terminals in the layout of the truck. On each individual's screen was their point of view in the vehicle. You also had the option of viewing the vehicle in first person (inside the Hum-V) or via third person (like an angel from above...cue the Gregorian Chant). We spoke to one another through headsets.

(First person view from inside the Hum-V...yup, I was in the back seat.)

(Third person view...or "Angel Vision".)

The missions began with us maneuvering our animated soldiers into the vehicles and driving in a convoy with the rest of the teams until we reached our destination. There certainly was some hostile fire along the way and our gunners did a great job of taking care of us. Yet, while every silver cloud has it's's a cloud none the less, and fate wielded it's ugly hand. Jerry, our gunner for the mission, had developed a knack for getting shot and today's mission was no different. From up in the turret, he fought valiantly but in the end, perished. Sorry Jerry.

(Travis and I as backseat dismounts...there wasn't alot to do for us.)

(How the simulation was set up for the 5 teams.)

(Travis in the driver's seat...who's watchin' the road?)

That's enough for today.

Day 59 (Wednesday May 27, 2009)

Wax bullets hurt, just ask Jerry...

Today we participated in Glasshouse instruction, Battle Drill 6, and Force on Force.

Glasshouse instruction was essentially teaching us how to enter a room or building safely. I think it's called "Glasshouse" because they use movie theater line barriers as the walls so the audience can see what is going on. We were taught to enter a room 4 at a time. The first person determined the state of the door (open, closed, locked or unlocked), the second person, standing immediately behind the first, had their weapon pointed over the shoulder of the first to engage the enemy from that direction. The third person pointed their weapon upwards to guard for enemy attackers from second story buildings. The fourth had their back against the third person and faced towards the back with their weapon also pointed in that direction. By design, provided 180 degree security while against a wall.

(Left to Right: Chief Erhard, LCDR Riggs, CDR Myers, and LT McClure)

Hand signals were passed down the line to signify the state of the door and when the team was ready to enter the room/building. Upon entering, the first person usually took the right side, the second took the left, the third stepped inside the doorway and to the right and the fourth stepped inside the doorway and to the left. Each individual had a sector of the room and called out their security in the order they entered.

(Here is the same group above demonstrating positions inside a room.)

(CDR Myers (top) and Chief Erhard (bottom) moving around a corner.)

(Mike and Andrew storming the castle.)

Further teaching demonstrated movement down hallways and up stairs as well, but I'll spare the details for now.

Battledrill 6 and Force and Force was a live combat situation in which our 25 team members were divided into 2 teams (each team took a turn). We engaged a building where there were know enemy...with wax bullets themselves. They also had protective gear on but instead of Army attire, they wore dark blue robes to simulate the enemy. After putting on our protective head and face gear, we loaded our M4s with wax bullets. (Every time I say wax now I can't help but think of "40 Year Old Virgin" where Steve Carell's character gets a wax job..."we gonna need mo waaax".)

Our team moved down a dirt road to a building sitting by itself. Upon an explosion, we tactically moved to the building for entry. I was part of the initial 4 troops to enter the building. Once inside, we moved through the first and second rooms, shooting some cardboard cutout enemy. The second team moved in behind us, however in the process of moving past the underside of a stairwell, a couple of team members were shot and had to sit out. There was an insurgent lying down in the dark stairwell plucking off anyone who came around the corner. This individual was difficult to see and shoot but eventually, we got him. Unfortunately, one of my teammates was the victim of fratricide (friendly fire). "Jerry, tough's your butt?" Because 6 of our 12 team members had been wounded, and I was the medic for the team, I had to disengage the fight and tend to the wounded. I pretended to treat their wounds and everyone survived...hooray for me. The exercise continued for another 10 minutes in the upstairs of the building and in the end, we least, that's the way I'm going to remember it.

(This is the protective gear for our heads. I'm in the middle and I think Jerry and Travis are my sides.)

Immediately after the exercise, we were taken to another building to have a "hot wash". This is a post-exercise evaluation and critique. We didn't do so well in the grand scheme of things, but being our first time, and being a bunch of medical personnel to boot, we received some praise.

Day 58 (Tuesday May 26, 2009)

Welcome to the Gun Show...

Today was interesting, and probably one of the most useful days if one considers carrying a weapon. We went to the Short Range Marksmanship Range to learn how to tactically use our personal weapons, the M4 and M9.

(Where would we be without another Hum-V picture? Left to right, Jerry and Andrew)

As with all the previous ranges, we were briefed ahead of time on the safety fundamentals of the range. Shortly thereafter, we split into 3 groups of about 10-12 (some of our Air Force compadres were with us) and instructed on the different elements of the range. First, my group went down to the, what I will call "tactical movement" area and learned how to fire behind objects used for cover. Next, we were taught how to move with and draw our M9 pistols while engaging the targets and switch to our M4 immediately. Finally, we learned how to engage a target with our M4, while we were moving. I will explain each of these in more depth as they come up.

Being in the first group, about 15 of us headed down to the range. There were orange cones set up at 25, 20, 15, 10 and 5 meters from the "black paper on wooden targets". Each one of these distances would be a spot from which we would engage the target. Initially, we started at 5 meters with our M4. This part of the exercise had us begin with our weapons in the "low ready" position. This means having our weapons pointed at the as not to shoot thy neighbor...I joke, but serious stuff. The instructor, over a loud speaker, would then say "Target......Up". On "Target", we would look at the target and on "Up", we would aim and fire a "controlled pair". A "controlled pair" is two rounds fired at the target in about 1 second intervals. Then, everyone would turn to their right and face their neighbor's back (again, weapon always in the low ready position). As before, the instructor would call out "Target......Up" and we would view the target, move from a 90 degree angle to the to facing the target, raise our M4s and engage the target with a controlled pair. We did this facing left and 180 degrees away from the patient. Additionally, we engaged the targets by walking towards and away from them. Mind you, we didn't walk backwards and fire, rather, we turned and stood still while engaging the target. This is very difficult as one tries to steady your aim while moving.

After practicing on the black paper targets, we were given white paper targets with a yellow triangle at the head, a red circle on the chest and a black square in the abdomen. Standing at either 5 or 10 meters (I can't remember), we began in the low ready position and upon the loud speaker command, we would engage the target. However, you couldn't just shoot where ever you wanted; you needed to shoot at the target declared by the loud speaker. For example: "yellow triangle...bang bang, red circle...bang bang". (The "bang bang" was me case that wasn't clear.) We fired 20 shots and counted our results. 19 in the target zone for me...not quite sure where that 20th shot went though...hmmmm.

The next exercise was practice at switching from our M9 to our M4, repeatedly. We were given two targets dressed in "very distinct attire", 5-10 meters away, and placed next to one another. On the command from the loud speaker, we shot a controlled pair with our M4 at one target, placed the weapon on safe (this is a very important concept), switched to our M9 and shot another controlled pair at the second target. Each target fell if hit twice. We repeated this process as the targets alternately popped up.

The last and most exciting exercise was a course with three shooting stations. Two participants started out lying on their stomachs, awaiting the "go". Once released, the pair ran to a four-walled enclosure with no roof and two windows facing the targets.

(Here are Mike and Andrew waiting to run.)

Each participant took a window, used the walls for cover, and fired a controlled pair at the targets. To make this more interesting, each person approached their window from the wall in the middle of the windows. Thus, one was required to shoot left-handed from the left window and right-handed from the right window. After the first controlled pair fired, the two participants switched places and repeated the process.

(You are seeing the left window.)

Having finished, the participants ran out of the enclosure and over to 2 orange barricades (one for each). They fired from the right and left sides of the barricades in the same manner as in the enclosure, and then moved onto the last station.

The final site was an old vehicle. The participants lined up side by side, leaned over the hood of the vehicle and fired their controlled pair at the targets...taking great care not to shoot the hood. The instructors yelled and screamed and threw smoke bombs in the area to raise the level of excitement. All good fun.

Please check back to see the video below. It shows a full run through the course. Unfortunately, the internet is a little slow and not allowing me to post it.