January 2004

So we got back from Louisianna a couple days ago and are back at lovely Fort Drum, New York. There is a lot to talk about, I just wanted to put up a quick post to tell you there will be a full entry coming in a day or two.

Some Bradley fighting vehicles at JRTC at Fort Polk, Louisianna.

Tomorrow we go into “the box” for our final training exercise before going into combat. Here at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) at Fort Polk, the scenarios that units go through are all pretty much unwinnable. I don’t think anyone has ever beaten JRTC. But that’s kinda the point. You will lose. It’s just a matter of how long you can hold out before losing and how gracefully you lose. This, apparently, is a good way to assess the battle-readiness of the brigades that come to be given a stamp of “deployable” before going over seas. The guys that are posted here, the “Geronimo Joes” as there’s known, spend the better part of the year in the field playing the opposing force (OPFOR) for unit after unit that comes down here to be tested including the Rangers, Special Forces and all manner of bad ass. Even these elite units get their asses handed to them most the time. Geronimo Joe knows how to play the game really well. They know these training areas like the backs of their hands, their MILES laser equipment is zeroed perfectly and they know how to fight in such a way that will inflict the maximum amount of damage with the minimal amount of effort. The mission we are taking part in involves my entire brigade and is going on right now. My company will be relieving the guys that are out there now. So far a key logistical bridge has been destroyed, the Brigade Sergeant Major has been killed, three Bradley fighting vehicles have been destroyed by IEDs, two soldiers have been captured and a massive car bomb recently killed 47 soldiers. (Just so things are clear here, none of this is real, it’s all a training simulation.) My job will essentially be to keep a small town safe. This entails quite a bit of work and the way they have things scheduled, I don’t think they expect us to eat, sleep or poop for five days straight.

This is the second time that I’ve been to JRTC. The Geronimos are very proficient at what they do which makes for excellent training exercises. Instead of having someone from your own unit play OPFOR in an ad-hoc fashion like most training exercises, these guys have everything orchestrated really well. I have to admit that I’m very excited about this operation. I didn’t discuss the last op much because I was too busy going off on a personal tangent in the post where I would have mentioned it. We did well and I was reminded how much I love my job, how much I love to fight. I may not feel the same when the real bullets fly, but I can’t deny how exciting those brief moments of intensity are.

We did the same scenario twice. We were in a small village of about a dozen buildings, trying to find a suspected insurgent, an arms dealer and link-up with our contact guy. On the first iteration we went in fast and hard. We cleared the buildings fairly quickly, found the insurgent, found the arms dealers and found our inside man. All without firing a single shot. But they said we were too aggressive, that we didn’t “win their hearts and minds.” I supposed I contributed to this. There was a guy in a black ski mask that was harassing us, trying to take our gear and just creeping us out in general. So I had finally had enough of him and had him detained. When it came time to remove him from the building we were keeping him in, he wouldn’t get up. So I kicked the chair out from under his feet that he had them propped up on and grabbed him by the shirt collar. At this point the observer-controller (OC) started freaking out and told me how he was going to escort me off the training area if I got any more physical with the guy. Understand that I hadn’t done anything wrong at this point (yet) other than I shouldn’t have grabbed his shirt. I had no intent of getting physical with the guy, but I wanted to instill in him the fear that I was just stupid enough to take the training too far and actually lay hands on him. In reality if this were to have happened, I probably would gotten my ass kicked. This guy was twice my size. I successfully articulated to the OC that I was just using the universal word for “stand up” by trying to pull him to his feet. I know I come off as a nice guy, etc. etc. to the other guys and in this blog, but in reality I have a very competitive and very aggressive side, I just don’t wear it like a crown. So the big joke about all this was the irony of how it was me that was getting warned that I was in danger of being escorted off the training area. To tell you the truth, I looked at this guy wearing his nasty little ski mask, his blonde eye-brows and redish goatee stubble sticking out of the mouth hole of his mask and all I saw was a typical bully. This guy was an active duty soldier and he wanted to fuck with the National Guard guys. So I fucked with him.

The second iteration was us trying to win those hearts and minds. We took it slow and because of this we never finished searching the buildings– all we did was argue with villagers. (Side note: the translators we had this time were Iraqi-Americans all from Salt Lake City of all places, my home town.) Then we took sniper fire. We were pinned down in a building. Three guys had already gone down. Kirk wanted to go out a window and run straight up to the building where the sniper was, using some available cover along the way. I wanted to run across the road and from cover of some other buildings, maneuver to the side of the sniper’s building where he had no window access to engage us. As usual, Kirk and I couldn’t agree, so he took his team out the window. He reacted quickly, something he and I both like to do when we start taking fire, so I’ll give him props for that. But as soon as they got out that window, his whole team got lit up. Now that Orlando and I were the only ones left from out squad at that time, we ran across the street like I wanted to, linked up with some guys from another squad and I told them, “follow me” (the motto of the Infantry, one I actually like). We ran to the building, entered it through a window (the front door was locked), and prepared to enter the next door. I opened it and, hey, what do you know, a second door! This is the second time this has happened to me if you remember when I opened a door on a building only to find the other side boarded up. Very frustrating. It’s like taking off panties and finding a plastered-shut vulva. There were keys attached to the doorknob of the first door, but they didn’t open this second one. While I was working on the door, it suddenly burst open, a barrel poked out and fires blindly missing everyone in the room, then slammed shut again, locked. Okay, now I was pissed. This was a brand new structure and the door was meant to be able to close and lock. In other words, not be kicked in. By this time, there were three OCs watching the whole mess and there was even a film crew capturing the events, I supposed for training purposed. Then I heard someone say somewhat hushed, “Just kick it in.” So I was like, “Yeah?” and the response was a solemn, “Yeah.” Looking at this steel reinforced door I knew it wasn’t meant to be kicked in, especially not for training, and wouldn’t go down easy. So I grabbed Orlando and told him to kick the door with me on three. One, two, three! Bam! The door bursts open! We quickly cleared the room, got the sniper, and continued on with the mission. It may seem like a stupid juvenile violent thing, but kicking that door in felt really damn good. The OCs could have stopped us and they didn’t, so fuck it, right?

The whole reason I recounted all this is that this particular exercise reminded again how much I love doing this. It’s utterly visceral. I know it’s completely counter to most of my personality, but intelligent measured violence is a magnificent thing.


So I’m gonna be gone for about five days. When I return, hopefully I’ll have some good stories and photos. Tonight Socky was kidnapped and someone tried to frame the First Sergeant by planting Socky in his wall locker. Socky was recovered, but Ray was none too pleased. HUMINT (Human Intelligence) brought the sock-snatcher to light and retribution will be meted out. I’ll try my best to cover the bloodletting.

Some pics:

Some of the guys from second squad (mine) and third squad

When giving an operation order it is good to have a terrain model of the portion of the map where you will be operating to explain things. They usually are constructed from items found around the barracks.

Today while we were doing close quarters battle (CQB) rehearsals in an old abandoned theatre down the street, this is what we found in the projector room: The Love Shack! The theatre is right next to the Troop Medical Clinic, the only place you’ll find female soldiers for miles, so we deduced that this was where the medics go to play doctor. Those naughty, naughty medics. As usual, Dan is looking grumpy as hell. I truly believe he was one of Tolkien’s dwarves in a former life. If he started carrying a battle axe during training, I don’t think I’d even notice.

When clearing buildings, it is important to keep a barrel pointed on all openings in the room where a possible threat could emerge such as doors, attics, windows, large holes in the walls, etc. While we were using the latrine to rehearse CQB, Anthony made sure to cover any possible threats that might have emerged from this hole. Yes, that’s Ray, he was just trying to wash cammo off his face before we rudely interrupted him.

From left, Kirk, Chris, and Ray in Louisiana model the alternate ways to wear the kevlar collar and groin protection as headgear in the “Pope” and “Flying Nun” styles. Photo by Matt.

Here, Ray displays the “Pharaoh” style of the kevlar collar. “Let me see you make bricks without straw, Moses!” Photo by Matt.

ninja Ray
Ray models the new ninja suit underwear.

They say Iraqis-gone-wild sometimes like to climb onto Humvees. To deter those wacky Arab frat-boy antics, you just wrap your truck with concertina wire. This is an effective tool for crowd control in all places other than New York City where the wire would be covered with plastic shopping bags by the end of the day.

This is Orlando, my new SAW gunner. Peter, my now-former SAW gunner, has managed to catch a mild case of narcolepsy and is probably going to be discharged from the Army. I’ve know Orlando for several years. He is an experienced SAW gunner and an all-around bad motherfucker. He’s mellowed over the years, but there was a time when this salty Lower East Side-raised Nuyorican would cut you for looking at him wrong. This is not hyperbole. He has a knife scar on his face that runs from mid-forehead, through his right eyebrow and down to his nose where part of his nostril was sewn back on. Orlando’s SAW is the most enemy casualty-producing weapon I have direct command of and there is no doubt in my mind that Orlando will gladly produce these casualties from me, should I ask.

Socky got promoted! He is now a Private (E-2). This is our company sniper section, a photo taken immediately after the promotion ceremony. Yes, Socky got blood rank. From the left, Ed, Chris, Socky, Ray, and Cola.

Silent Scope
Ray recently discovered the sniper video game “Silent Scope” in the laundry building. It’s become a bit of an obsession for both of us and Cola is starting to get into it too now.

high scores
If anyone reading plays this game, could you please validate for me that these are some incredibly sick scores? They all belong to Ray except the last which is Cola’s. My top score is a meager 388000.

Ray gets muddy

Ray gets muddier
Trying to walk to and from chow usually involves having to avoid a lot of mud. Ray got tired of walking around the mud and was going to walk through a puddle when Chris told him, “Ray, do not walk through that mud puddle.” So he ran, dove into, crawled through, rolled around in, did flutter kicks in and made snow angels in it instead. This is not the first time Ray has spontaneously violated unsuspecting mud puddles. Chris, frustrated, made Ray do three-to-five second rushes, high crawls and low crawls all the way back to the barracks where he just rolled around in more mud. There is no degree of physical discomfort that I believe Ray would not gleefully endure. Just don’t ever give him tuna salad with celery bits in it– this he will not endure.

one eye open
Tom Ridge and President Bush say to stay vigilant. You think you’re vigilant? What do you know about vigilant? Willy literally sleeps with one eye open.

Salt Lake City once had a really big punk scene in the 80’s. My friend Brad in junior high school had older brothers, unlike me, that were into punk and I found them fascinating. The allure of the rebel figure and the power he wielded held me terrified and enamored. It made me giddy to vicariously enjoy seeing someone saying fuck you to the world. I wasn’t quite old enough to really enjoy the SLC punk scene in its heyday, but I feel I was cognizant enough to at least appreciate it as much as I could as an awkward and uncool seventh grader. I would record punk off late-night alternative radio onto shitty tapes overwriting them with Fear, Black Flag, SNFU, DRI, and The Dead Kennedys. And then I had my goth period, but this was before there was the word ‘goth.’ At the time, I really could think of no pursuit more intuitive than the exploration and exploitation of ones own angst and ennui. All this really amounted to was a lot of embarrassingly bad poetry and a penchant for young goth girls that I don’t think I’ll ever overcome. (see: suicidegirls.com) Lori Cannon of Boise, you changed your name and I don’t know where you are now. You started all this with your This Mortal Coil, Clan of Xymox and My Bloody Valentine. The Last Unicorn made you cry and you gave me the nick name ‘Luck Dragon’ because of the way I would curl my lip. It seems to me uncoincidental that I would dream about you, drive to Boise that same day, sleep in the parking lot of your apartment in my dad’s tiny silver car with my best friend Mark as my copilot, only to find the next morning when I knocked on your door that you had been wed the night before. I need closure, dammit! I still dress in all black, but now it’s because I live in New York City. Holy shit, did I just type all that?

During the 90’s, the most notorious of youth scenes in Salt Lake was the straight edge scene. Teen angst was channeled into ridiculously hypocritical and violent value systems where suburban pathos was tattooed and pierced into a nazi-like slipshod ethos. I was in college (the first time) during this period and fell in love with a college-radio art-rock band called Shudder to Think. I went to a live show they played at a shithole venue in Salt Lake where the straight edge band, Integrity, opened. What a strange mix that crowd was. The booking agent must have still had the needle in his arm when he planned that line-up. All I remember was a kid with a tattoo on his back of the H. R. Giger painting of the woman crucified on a pentagram to an upside cross. These kids didn’t drink, smoke, do drugs, most were vegetarian and usually vegan and the most adherent were celibate. So it should come as no surprise that they would beat up just about everyone in sight for any number of vapid reasons rooted in a thinly-veiled but deep sense of self-loathing all in the name of spearheading some sort of social change. Yeah, whatever.

Since I just turned thirty, I have to admit that it’s possible that I have no idea what goes on in the realm of those younger and hipper than me, but last I checked the recent thing in Salt Lake (and everywhere else) was the emo thing. Yes, it’s short for “emotional” which I think is funny because I find your average Staind radio-play-overkill more emotional than most ’emo’ stuff and I also think it’s funny that Dashboard Confessional is considered too emo to be emo, or so they say. I’m sure these kids are completely beyond calling it ’emo’ anymore, but I don’t have time to be lectured on the difference between post-core and punk-core and emo-core and all that label-evading circumlocution, so I’m just gonna call it all emo. All you need to know is that you will never be cool enough to even begin to understand the complexities and subtle nuances of emo, so don’t try to front like you know emo, just put down that The Promise Ring CD and go buy the new Linkin Park like you wanted to you no-taste RIAA-blowing pop culture slut. I’ve always been bothered by how silly it is that social groups of the young, especially in suburbia, revolve so heavily around music genres. But that’s a discussion for another day. We have war to talk about. But not just yet.

So my friend Mikey-O in Salt Lake has a couple jokes that I love. They go like this:

Q: How many straight-edge kids does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Straight-edge kids don’t change a thing.

Q: How many emo kids does it take to change a light bulb?
A: What, you don’t know?

The second joke I especially like. Let me tell you why.

My company motto is “Let’s Roll.” Or at least that’s what I’ve been led to believe. We yell it when in company formations. I cringe every time I have to say it. But I cringe less when in battalion formations and Delta company yells their motto of “Death by Wire”, which is meant to signify them killing the enemy with wire-guided TOW missiles, I think. Or them hanging themselves with piano wire instead of going to Iraq, or maybe them always calling their cheating wives on the telephone (wire) and them eventually eating a bullet. I dunno. Since “Let’s Roll” is our motto, we use it colloquially, sadly always sarcastically, but still, we employ it regularly in conversation. But I have noticed for quite a while now a few other phrases used on an even more religious and fervent basis. Some of them go like, “What, you didn’t get the word?” or “What, you didn’t hear?” or “You’ve been here three months and you still don’t know that?” or “You’re an infantry team leader and you didn’t know that?” All this time I thought when guys asked these questions they were being condescending patronizing assholes trying desperately to fight for the alpha dog position by leveraging themselves ever-so-slightly with even the most miniscule of information advantages like a bunch of petty little bitches, but now I realize they were just being hooah and quoting the new company motto: “What, you don’t know?”

We finally left Fort Drum. The weather wasn’t really all that bad the last few days we were there. It’s almost like Fort Drum was telling us, Hey guys, I gave you hell but you did a good job. Here’s a little nice weather for ya, think of it as a going away gift. No hard feelings, right? So we pack all our stuff and move out to the Rapid Deployment Center (which is really just a fancy name for “little airport”). Our ruck sacks are in a truck and have been weighed. Each of us, wearing all the gear we’ll take onto the plane, step onto a scale and the weight of the plane is tallied. Oops. Turns out we were 6000 pounds overweight. So eighteen guys (including me) get bumped from the flight and have to take the next one. Yes, 18 guys and their gear weigh three tons. And that’s not counting water or ammo. We go back to the barracks, shower, check email one last time, masturbate one last time, and take short naps then head back to the RPC. We get weighed, sit around, then get in line to board the plane. But wait! During our delay that old bastard Fort Drum had one last bit of spite in him. The temperature dropped something wicked. And as Matt, who used to be in the Air Force, says, the flight line is ALWAYS windy. So there we are, waiting to board this Champion Air jet (who the hell has heard of them anyways?), getting assailed mercilessly by the cold one last miserable time. Very few guys had any kind of cold weather gear on, so all we could do was stand there and just take it. And Fort Drum was laughing at us uncontrollably, nearly pissing himself he was in such sadistic hysterics: “Hey, remember that stuff I said about the good weather? I lied! I don’t like you, I hate you! Fuck you! Yeah, that’s right soldier, FUCK YOU!!! HAHAHAHAHAHA!” God, I hate Fort Drum.

Okay, I have to go to bed, so I’m going to make this a speed blog entry. Ready?

You think getting crammed in coach sucks? Try doing it while wearing body armor, a load-bearing vest full of pockets, canteens, bayonets and all manner of G.I. Joe garb while carrying an assault rifle and a carry-on.

Hearing the stewardess (yeah, that’s right, I said stewardess. If they were male, they’d be stewards, dammit!) say, “Please remove all bolts from your weapons. Please place all squad automatic weapons in the overheard compartments and place rifles on the floor or pointed barrel-down by your side please.” was priceless.

Public service announcement: just because your seat on the airplane can recline doesn’t mean it should recline. Leave that shit in the full upright position at all times because the person behind you (*me*) is six-foot-fucking-two and if you recline I’m gonna get really grumpy.

If you live at Fort Polk, drop me a line, I’d love to hear from you.

My squad is getting smaller and smaller: John, the guy that had a girlfriend that changed the locks to their apartment and cleaned out his bank account (which has since been rectified), is being made part of the second sniper team and will not be with us any longer.

More squad news: Juan is still trying to get his tooth fixed. It got infected after the last break. He feels crappy. Anthony has had a chronic cough since this deployment started and managed to upgrade his sickness to a full-blown hospital-rendering flu. He feels crappy. He’s been gone the last two days and has just now rejoined us. Dan is being made our platoon sniper and will be gone for several days doing advanced marksman training. Dan feels crappy that he wasn’t chosen to be on the second sniper team, but happy that his skills are being recognized on some level at least.

Ray was on the advance party and got to Polk several days before I did. All I know is that he got kicked out of a strip club because he wouldn’t stop reading a book he had brought in the club with him. The girls tried their hardest, insomuch that they even put on some hot cunnil-sappho action, but he was unmoved. Only Steve McQueen could have ever been so desireless.

Kirk looks exactly like Stiffler from American Pie. Therefore, I have been dubbed “Finch”, since Kirk and I interact in a way not unlike Stiffler and Finch. Although I don’t think the comparison is all that accurate, I do enjoy being able to tell Kirk that if I’m Finch (something he finds hilarious), that means that I fucked his mom (something I find hilarious).

At the Rapid Deployment Center waiting for a flight

Boarding a charter jet that no one had heard of.

The view from my bunk at my new home at Fort Polk, LA.

I would insert the photo of the delinquent distended dong here, but I have to draw the line for good taste somewhere, right?

Before the dining-in was to begin, an initiation ceremony was to be performed for all the new NCOs (sergeants) that were recently promoted. But before that was to take place, everyone hit the bar. Ah, the evening was off to a spectacular start.

Me and Willy enjoying some Fort Drum microbrew.

And then the initiation ceremony began. As luck would have it Willy and I were standing right next to an unsupervised keg of Killian’s. We then shook the hands of all the new sergeants. And a few were females. I had no idea there were any females in my beloved infantry battalion!

Try to imagine what it must have been like for the servers of this event. These are only about a third of all the attendees.

A big part of the dining-in was the “grog”, a horrific concoction of all manner of poison including whiskey, gin, vodka, sake, Copenhagen (yes, chewing tobacco), the socks the battalion commander wore during his visit to Iraq and water from the East River in New York City.

Each table had to create a centerpiece. This was my squad’s for which I was art director. A few inside jokes here: during the last field exercise a Humvee slipped into a trench and was stuck for quite a while; also on the same exercise there was some serious difficulty getting fuel. Not only was our centerpiece the most creative, but it was probably also the most fitting. By the time midnight finally rolled around I had become silly drunk, had stolen two additional dinners from the servers using shameless trickery, had passed out on a couch during one of the scheduled breaks (when they woke my ass up I announced that I was Buddhist and was merely meditating) and now I had finally toasted the new year. As we left, I took the toy Humvee out of our centerpiece and put it in one of the display cabinets in the foyer. Standing outside waiting for a ride back to the barracks and having resigned myself to not getting a New Year’s kiss this year, a girl came up to me, shook my hand and said “Happy New Year.” Before she knew what was happening, I had pulled her in by the hand and stole a kiss. Okay, so it was only on the cheek, but close enough. Hey, when heaven Fed-Ex’s you manna, you just sign for it, man. Happy New Year everyone!