Thursday, May 26, 2005

Still alive

Back again - after the driving, etc., school, I took a weekend off and then went straight into another short stint of army life. Unfortunately, that meant that I was living in army quarters which inexplicably lacked broadband Internet access, or even an easy way to dial up. So, I ended up taking a week and a half break from the 'Net, which meant no blogging for me.

I'm glad I volunteered for this one, though, even with the web withdrawl symptoms. A senior officer inexplicably had a really good idea - he has a bunch of troops who are getting ready for "overseas deployment," and he wanted to give them the best training he could. His troops are all what the army calls "service support" troops - rear echelon units like finance, maintenance, or supply. Unfortunately, on today's battlefield, there's no such thing as the rear anymore. Yeah, the infantry and SF go looking for trouble, but any soldier in any unit has a chance of being in the convoy that gets attacked, or standing gate guard when the suicide bomber makes his run. So, the senior officer in question and his entire command worked their butt's off to set up some realistic, tough tactical training for their deploying troops: a lot of ammo, vehicles, training lanes, an entire simulated base in indian country . . . and us. We were all combat leaders: infantry or SF, officers or NCOs, with recent combat experience - all members of the Combat Infantryman's Badge club's Iraq or Afghanistan chapters. Our job was to shadow the units going through the training, giving advice and supplemental training as needed, but more important, trying to instill the warrior ethos in soldiers who might need it very badly in the coming months.

(For those with military training experience, we weren't the O/C's - we were out there in addition to the lane Observer/Controllers, and worked with the unit, not with the lane or the training scenario. For those without US military experience, an O/C is a combination coach and umpire - the O/C runs the unit through the training scenario, and comes up with an evaluation of the good and bad the unit did.)

I was out there on the training lanes for about a week and a half, and the change in the unit I was working with over that time was nothing short of amazing. These were really good kids - they were motivated, hard-working, and, by the end of their training, cohesive and highly aggressive. They were even getting to the point that the Army wants to see in combat arms units, where that agression is tightly focused and controlled. On the last day, they were starting to execute their battle drills with precision and flair without losing their "stone killer" violence of action.

I hope that I had at least a little bit to do with their success, although certainly the lion's share of the credit goes to their own hard work and dedication. For me, it was fun to watch the unit blossom, to see it go from being a bunch of soldiers who were mainly technicians who's last tactical training was probably in basic training, to being a combat team, ready to take on whatever the day has in store for them.

On day one, if you had told me I had to ride in a convoy with them, I'd have been scared to death - by the time training was over, I'd have been happy to hitch a ride through bad guy land with them. I don't want to make too much of their transformation - were they at the level of the infantry at the end of the exercise? No. A few weeks of training doesn't substitute for a lifetime of it. But they're combat soldiers now, ready to execute in a bad situation. They're not crazy SF guys, who want to get into the fight, so I hope that "my guys" go their entire rotation without seeing action. But if they do, God help the poor bastard who attacks them.

Some good comments on my last post, by the way - although a few of you seemed a bit too, ummm . . . interested . . . in some of the more esoteric Tazer possibilities (you know who you are, bless you.)

A couple of questions about the gas chamber (wherein the soldier is exposed to CS (tear) gas.)Yes, I've done it a couple of times and it wasn't pleasant, but the purpose there is a bit different. The gas chamber teaches you to don and clear a protective mask under stressful conditions - the CS is there to simulate a chemical attack. Neither CS nor OC have anything like the disabling, painful effect of a Tazer, but then with a Tazer, when it's over, it's over - none of the residual suffering that chemical agents induce. I can tell you that given the choice between the three of them, I'd take the gas chamber every time - despite the painful and embarrassing running from every facial orifice. Of course, maybe that's because I haven't been in a CS chamber for a few years, while the Tazer suffering is all too recent.

Do I think that the training is applicable to conventional troops in OIF/OEF? In a word, yes. There may be some modification to technique in a HMMWV, but a lot of the principles carry right over. And the Army's qualification for HMMWV is woefully inadequate for the rigors of combat driving. (Of course, I spent a lot of time in Afghanistan riding around in a Land Rover, so you just never know.) And you're right, the Army doesn't have this training internally, so you have to go outside for it. If you can do it though, it's worth it.


Blogger Snake Eater said...

I think--just think--that I'd rather twitch for a few seconds rather than go through the CS chamber routine which involves instantaneous blinding and coughing up of pulminary tissue followed by exiting the chamber and staggering into trees whilst snuffing up a three-foot strand of snot dangling from my nose and then dealing with three days of discomfort from a 1st degree chemical burn; but then again, I've never been tazed.

Sounds like (not) fun.

3:26 AM  
Anonymous Lilly said...

Oh, good to see you back posting. I was hoping your abscence wasn't because you'd run out of stories :-)

As far as tazers and gas chambers-one more reason you should all get paid way more than you do.

5:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As someone who has never been in the army it strikes me that the sort of training you discuss for the support troops should be standard for all deploying troops rather than an exception to the rule. I guess there are limitations in funding and time and obviously most of the training time needs to go to combat arms guys. But still in the current environment in Iraq it seems like training all troops to defend themselves should be required. In the normal course of events would someone in a support MOS have some sort of annual training with tactics and marksmanship?

2:07 PM  
Anonymous Smith said...

I'll take the Tazer, thank you. The quicker the better. Although i'd say the gas chamber get's easier the more you do it. The best is smelling your mask and bdu's a couple days later and cherishing the memories.
As far as the support troops recieving training, my entire brigade (including support personel) had 6 months of training (marksmanship, heavy weapons qual, land nav, common task training, convoy ops, base security, mounted/dismounted patrols, ect.) before we deployed, including a rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center in Fort Polk, LA.
I believe all units recieve similar training.

4:21 PM  
Anonymous Air Force Academy Cadet said...

I am going into the gas tent tomorrow as part of GE training. I'll write something tomorrow about what I find. Personally, I would rather take a taser, but we'll see when I actually do it

6:10 AM  
Anonymous Air Force Academy Cadet said...

After going through a CS gas chamber, I have got to say that it is actually fun. Having been electricuted, I can definitely say that CS gas is much more humane. Sure it sticks with you, but even then it is not so bad. As well, I can vouch that the current issue gas masks work very well, as (at least with this agent) they blocked everything until I removed it. Anyway, if you ever hear someone whinning about an experience with CS gas, you can assume they are either weak or trying to get something (as in through a law suit) they do not deserve.

12:46 AM  

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