Monday, May 08, 2006

Brown Sand Sailor's Report


I got a little out of order with the Brown Sand Sailor's posts. He sent some final thoughts about his last few days of training before departing:

A final update as we leave CONUS (though, as it turnsout I couldn't send this until we got to Kuwait). AsI type this, I am flying over South Carolina toward feet-wet status, with XM radio playing in my headphones (Lucy, for those in the know and "Loveshack" in particular) and a cup of Starbucks on my table. Ah, civilization! The last three days at Camp McCready now seem just a blur. Oh, and can I just say that the Navy needs to send a bunch of Seabees down there to whip those barracks into shape? Nothing personal to the Army, but they could have used some paint and some newracks. We had a good laugh thinking about the Air Force guys showing up today and crying "Unsat!" Ok, back to Army life. On Wednesday we conducted introductory (or refresher) training on how to be a gate guard, how to spot IEDs, throwing grenades, which I did so well they let me pop a smoke grenade (I know, I know, geek alert, but it was cool nonetheless) how to stack up a team and clear a room, how to conduct squad level movement, how to cross a road and how to conduct fire and movement. All introductory stuff, but almost none of us (except the MAs) had done any of that. All in all pretty exhausting in the heat (we were up to heat category 5 by the end), but we learned a lot. Thursday was another full day, as we spent the morning conducting a land navigation test (marching through the woods on an azimuth to find a set of points) we had a good test between two teams, one using "by the book" map and compass navigation while the other used "redneck navigation" (not surprisingly the map readers won) and a woods patrol against an OpFor of drill sergeants. Our patrol didn't have any contact (although both squads on either side did) but it was still fun. After lunch was the culmination of training, when we conducted a mock assault on a village of ConEx containers. That was also fun, with blank rounds and Miles gear going off all over the place. My particular squad took no casualties, though we were only the blocking force (apparently one of the assault squads was completely wiped out). I did get to shoot half a clip of blanks at the last "terrorist" as he bolted from a container, but so did the SAW gunner, so I suspect he got the kill. The next day was spent on admin and packing up, preparing for our flight to CentCom. A scary thought, given that most of the sailors who'd been there were used to the sea, not the shifting sands of terra infirma.
The preparations included a briefing on Islam and Arabic culture, presented by a native Moroccan U.S. Army staff sergeant. The Army has a new program to recruit Arabic speakers to serve as translators and provide these types of cultural briefings. They often suffer much hardship for the decision to join the U.S. military, as sometimes they are disowned by their families and even spouses. It is hard to imagine that sort of sacrifice, and we let them know we appreciated their help. It makes me feel even better about the purpose and goals of the United States in the world, which is to make it a better place to live for as much of humanity as possible. I know, it sounds corny, but if you think about it, that has been the central feature of U.S. foreign policy since at least 1943 (the U.N. charter), and perhaps even 1918 (Wilson's 14-points). Trying to make the world a better place, because that will keep tyrants and dictators from making it a worse one (yes, ours ystem also does better in a prosperous world with relatively free trade too, but that's the beauty of it all). The thing I remember most about the brief was his clarification of hand signals and body language (i.e. no soles of feet, no pointing, no ok-signal and expect no personal space [EDITOR'S NOTE: And he ain't kidding!] but yes to thumbs up [in Iraq, not Afghanistan] and show respect for elders (seems like a good idea to translate home!). After, a storm came in that night and put a crimp ineveryone's partying plans by knocking out the power. Instead, we sat around the laundry machines (waiting for the power to come back on and complained [remember, that means we're happy] about the humid weather, etc.). I heard a good story. A machinistmate told me "this heat was nothing, why just stand a 12-hour watch in the boiler room of a gator freighter steaming boxes off Liberia in July, now that's hot!" He said the smart watch-standers stood watch in shortsand flip-flops and drank hot coffee (!). His mantra every time a drill sergeant mocked the Navy (in good fun of course) was "Come to my world, then we'll see who's at sea," followed by an evil chuckle. At the end of the night, as I got ready for bed and an 0300 wakeup I thought of the line out of Modris Ecksteins' Rites of Spring where he wonders why soldiers in the trenches during World War I found it so difficult to step back and reflect on their experiences. As he put it, their letters are full of the concerns of daily life and rarely the bigger picture. I think I have a sense of why that is so. It is the sheer shock and disorientation of new experiences coming at you very fast, thinking about everything one step at a time is the only way to stay focused and on track. There just isn't time for deep thought until after. Well, its a theory anyway. We'll see if it holds. Overall the Army training at Camp McCready was fantastic. The cadre of Army drill sergeants was top notch too. SSG Kea in particular was outstanding. Theirs is a thankless job, training a bunch of sailors, some of whom had never touched a rifle before, for two weeks, kicking us out the door, getting one night off and then bang, start it all over again. Oh, the last thing I've got to figure out is what T.E.Lawrence meant by the title of his book Seven Pillars of Wisdom. In our briefing we were shown five pillars of Islam; faith, charity, fasting, pilgrimage and prayer, with a controversial sixth pillar being struggle (both internal and external jihad). Unfortunately the book is buried deep in my seabag. Well, I'll figure it out soon enough I guess.

Fair Winds and Following Sands!

4 Comments:

Blogger Citizen Deux said...

Hopefully he will be issued a proper M4! Sounds like fun, sort of...

12:28 PM  
Blogger Major John said...

I TOLD him to try to get an M-4! I rather hope he has no need of one actually...

10:18 PM  
Blogger Inner Prop said...

He needs a new photo.

4:35 PM  
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