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 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.
Ray models the new ninja suit underwear.