As of a few days ago, it has been the longest time that I've been under Title 10 (Active Duty) since I underwent training at Fort Lee for my 92A (Automated Logistics Specialist) MOS (Military Occupational Specialty). It doesn't feel all that bad right now. The first week was the hardest. I missed my friends and family terribly. I mean, I still miss them, but I've become more used to the feeling. I'm looking at this deployment like a vacation, or a new job, if you will. I try to remain focused on my duties and my tasks, and take each day as it comes.
Yesterday, we met a few soldiers (from Arizona also) who had returned from the Middle East (Kuwait). I remember in Basic Training and AIT, I would feel pretty bad when I saw other platoons graduating. It would remind me of how long I had before I could finally go home. When I saw these soldiers, I didn't feel disheartened. Sure, I did wish I was in their place - but right now, I just want to get my training done, get out of Fort Lewis, and head out to Iraq. Once there, I can start taking care of my mission ther. It's actually very rare that a unit has to go through three months of training. Many of the instructors here, looked very incredulous when they heard about it. The reason our training period is so long is that we are doing a mission in Iraq that is completely different from what we normally do. My unit is normally an artillery unit, but our mission is quite different from that. Hence, we have to undergo a lot of training so that we know what we have to do when we get to Iraq. Looking at it that way, I guess it is necessary, even though it makes our mission a whole lot longer.
The training we are going through isn't all that bad. Some of it was just a refresher of what I was taught in Basic, like the Gas Chamber for example. Oh yeah, the Gas Chamber. That was... fun! I had almost forgotten the smell of CS gas! We went into the chamber (a tent, actually) and stood around in a circle. The instructor would come to you, and instruct you to remove your mask. You have to take a huge breath, pull off your mask, and then count to then. You then put it back on, and clear it (remove all the CS). It never clears perfectly - and so you can feel the CS gas burning the damp parts of your face. It feels like really bad razor burn, or like sunburn. After that, you can either take of your mask and experience the full effect of the gas, and then walk out, or you can just walk out with mask on. But being the macho and masochistic individuals we are (actually we're just high-speed, HOOAH soldiers) we took off our masks, opened our eyes, and breathed in some of the gas. We came out gasping and choking, with our ears and noses and mouths streaming out tears, snot, and saliva. Not a very pretty picture, but it does a lot to clear up your sinuses. You are supposed to walk in a circle, waving your hands in the air so that the wind can blow away the CS particles. After about five minutes, your skin isn't burning all that much, and your eyes should have stopped burning. In about ten minutes, you feel perfectly normal. So it's not all that bad - I actually wouldn't mind doing it again. The pepper spray thing didn't really happen, but I hear we will get sprayed sometime before we leave.
Friday, I was supposed to get my wisdom teeth pulled. At least that's what they told me. I get to the dental clinic at 8 am, and the clerk there tells me that I wasn't supposed to be there until 12:30 pm. I get to the clinic at 12:30 pm, and after a few minutes, a doctor takes look at me. He asks me about my teeth, and how they're feeling, and starts telling me about how they would be pulling my teeth out. After doing that, he tells me that I'm all set. I blink a couple of times and then ask him why hasn't pulled me teeth out yet. He tells me that this was simply an evaluation and they were just verifying that they had to pull out my teeth. I was pretty pissed off. I felt like the entire day was a waste of my time. Anyway, I got a new appointment for the 27th. That's the day when they're actually going to pull out my teeth.
On Saturday, we had a road-march. I hate them with a passion. It involves carrying a huge load of your stuff over a long distance. You're not marching properly, so it's more of a walk. That's not too bad, right? Wrong. I'm short (5'4"), so I have short legs. Conversely, taller people have longer legs, and therefore they take longer strides. I have to power-walk to keep up with them, since two of my strides equals one of theirs. Also, I get really bad shin splints while road marching, which doesn't make the experience any more pleasurable. But since this is the Army, you just have to suck it up and drive on. I used to get them while running, but I don't anymore. I guess if you keep doing the activity that gives you shin splints, they eventually go away. Still sucks. The rest of the day we got off, but since I had guard duty from 1 pm to 5 pm, I didn't get off until 5pm. That sucked a little bit, but I'm sure there are more of those free days coming up. Which reminds me - I'll let you guys know if I have a day or two off. So if any of you are going to be in the Seattle area at that time, maybe we can meet up. Rach, if I remember correctly, you might be coming up here, right? Hopefully I'll have some time off then.
Since Sunday, we have been doing MOUT (Military Operations in Urban Terrain) training. It's actually pretty awesome training. MOUT is fairly recent. Most military training in the past emphasized on training in non-urban terrain. However, most modern combat seems to be happening in urban terrain (Somalia, Iraq, etc.), which implies that we need some serious urban warfare training. That's where MOUT comes into the picture. We learn various techniques that allow us to effectively engafge and neutralize the enemy in such a terrain. Currently, we're focusing on room-clearing techniques. These are techniques that allow us to clear rooms in buildings where there are suspected enemy combatants. These techniques emphasize teamwork and fire superiority to neutralize the enemy threat. Technique is very important here, and we've been spending a lot of time perfecting the correct SRM (Short-Range Marksmanship) stance, in addition to room-clearing techniques. We've been going over them again and again to ensure that they are comitted to muscle memory. On Sunday, we also went to the MOUT training site. The site consists of a entire fake neighbourhood that the Army has built. The buildings are real enough, but they aren't complete. But that is irrelevant since it's simply for training purposes. We actually got to try out our room clearing-techniques in these buildings, which added a whole new dimension to our training. We had to learn to adapt to our surroundings, because you never know what's behind a door - where the enemy is hiding, and where obstructions are. We also learnt how to communicate effectively among our teammates and also with other teams. All in all, pretty good training. On Monday, we did live-fire qualification using the SRM stance. This is to ensure that you can engage the enemy target at close quarters. I'm actually a little ashamed to say that I didn't qualify the first time. It was pretty much my fault. I'm pretty good at getting a good sight picture for long-range fire, but I wasn't doing the short-range sighting correctly. As a result, all my shots were off in one corner of the target. However, once I figured out how to sight correctly, I ended up qualifying with a 20 out of 20. Also for motivation, my Sergeant told me that if I didn't qualify I wouldn't be able "play with my computer" for a week. 🙂 Tuesday was more MOUT training, where we learnt how to pull security on stairwells (open and closed) and clear hallways. Yesterday and today, was MOUT training with live rounds. Unfortunately, I didn't get to go. I was in the Orderly Room all day. The main reason is that we got our Cable Internet Access yesterday from Comcast. The network was initially set up with WPA-PSK, but my Laptop crapped out on it and wouldn't connect. In addition, a few other people weren't able to connect as well. Then suddenly, at about 10 pm, the entire network went down. Next morning, we found out that some moron had unplugged the Modem to watch the TV. We plugged it back in, but it was all screwed up. So I set up the wireless network again, this time using WEP. It's working pretty smoothly so far, except for occasional outages where I have to power-cycle the modem. I think it's because of the intense load due to the number of people we have here. I tried to reboot the modem, but the option was disabled by Comcast. However, I was able to access the reboot functionality anyway (hehehe), but I couldn't really verify whether it had actually rebooted or not. Anyway, it seems to be functioning pretty well for right now, so that's a good thing. I'm glad that I have access to the Internet now :). Right now, I'm on guard duty - they told me at the last minute. I have to be here for four hours - that's till 1 am. I was looking forward to a good night of sleep because we don't have wakeup until 0715 tomorrow, but now I'm only going a little more than 6 hours of sleep, which is even lesser than normal. It sucks. Talk about Murphy's Law. I'm pissed right now. Everytime I've had guard, I've been screwed over. Bah.
That's about it for now. Oh yeah, and I've got a few more pictures:
M16 Firing and Qualification Range
Those BCG (Birth Control Glasses) shades make you look so cool
Full Battle Rattle Baby!
Thomas and I with our masks on
Waiting to get gassed!
Stacked Right before Entering and Clearing a Room