Friday, April 23, 2010


Not only can I ride a motorcycle, pilot a plane or helicopter, shoot a machine gun, I also save lives by donating blood! I am now to almost 7 gallons of blood donated in my lifetime.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

My Name Ain't Baby, it's "Marc", "Mr. Rassler" if your Nasty.

Very early Monday morning my team and I drove to Houston International Airport without very high hopes that we would be able to fully complete our journey to Germany. After about a couple hours of driving someone in our gang with a new 'smart' phone was able to look up and determine that our flight to Germany had been canceled. We tried making some phone calls back to Fort Polk to see if we could turn the bus around, as it wasn't worth continuing the trip. Their answer was to continue to the airport, as part of the flight was still showing as good. After a couple more hours of driving we finally made it to the airport, and I walked in and talked to the gate agent. Her polite response, was I don't know why you guys wasted your time driving here as we would have never boarded you in Houston only to have you stuck in Newark. So we made the four hour drive back to Fort Polk, and began the waiting game for our next flight. At this point, because of the back-up caused by the giant ash cloud over Europe, it looks like it might be a week spent waiting here at Ft Polk.

Because we have graduated, and have no duties or tasks to complete we have been doing a bit of sitting around. Yesterday I went to the gym twice, and did a long session today. Forecast for the rest of the week, more gym time. It's probably best that I've been spending a lot of time in the gym, in order to help keep it clean. Yesterday I noticed some mice running around, so I rolled up my sleeves and let my pythons out of their cages, and choked the mice!

In order to make it seem like we are actually doing some Army training while we are sitting around, yesterday and today we practiced doing close quarters building and room clearing. We have also been doing trying some styles of self defense for some of the new modern weapons that the enemy might posses. The video below is a good example of the training we have been doing.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Graduate of Fort Polk!

This past Friday my team and I, class 94, graduated and earned the right to leave Fort Polk. Truthfully one of the lamest "graduations" I have been a part. Mostly for the fact that we spent approximately an hour the night before, and a half hour the morning of just practicing the graduation ceremony. The only difficult thing that was tasked of our group was to stand in a straight line formation, come to attention and salute at the playing of the National Anthem. We also had to sing both the Army and Air Force songs, I didn't have the Air Force song memorized but I was able to lip sync it and I doubt anyone knew the difference.

Because of how are training was scheduled even though we had gone through a graduation ceremony we still were not to call it a day and bask in all of our new knowledge. Immediately after the ceremony we had to go to our arm's room and draw our our weapons and head out to the mounted convoy live-fire range. After about an hour drive, and a half hour of initial safety briefings we headed out to try our luck on the range. The first half of the range was the "blank fire" lane, which is designed to refine the battle drills that we have drawn up for given situations. For those unfamiliar with the term "battle drill", basically it means "If the enemy does 'X', our plan is that we will do 'Y'." Like learning how to run a play in football or basketball, they take practice to do the right and do them quickly. The blank fire range allowed to us to practice what we should do if we encounter a roadside IED, how to cross a water culvert (which according to recent enemy tactics is where IEDs are being hidden), or simply if bad guys appear from a hiding spot and start shooting at us. Simple answer for that last one is, we shoot back! After practicing many of techniques, we swapped out our blank rounds and began the live fire portion of the range. Unfortunately we had some weapons issues, and by the end of the lane only had one working weapons which sometimes happens in the real life. One weapon wouldn't work from the beginning, a second kept jamming and could only shoot a couple rounds at a time, and the other weapons just did not have many rounds and were out of ammunition by the end of the lane.

At the end of the live fire lane we simulated a medical emergency and bringing our soldiers to medevac helicopter. One thing that we learned from this portion is that having a man wounded is an instant force reducer. Not only is the injured man taken out of the fight, but it can take several healthy men also out of the fight to rescue and treat the injured. One of larger soldiers was notionally injured with all of his uniform and body armor pieces he was probably near 300 pounds, add to that the weight of our body armor and the awkward angles that our weapons create it can take more than four men to lift one man on a stretcher.

Saturday and Sunday we spent cleaning up our equipment and vehicles for turn-in, and preparation to leave. After handing over the Humvees that we had checked out from the Army, we spent the next couple days preparing for our departure from Fort Polk. With all the uniform pieces, equipment, and personal clothes and reading materials; it was like trying to stuff 12 pounds of crap into a 10 pound bag. By the time I finished packing my duffel bags, ruck sack, and carry on items there was hardly an once of free space. It is amazing at all the stuff that the Army gives to go to war. In addition to my weapons helmet and body armor we also have a load/ammo vest, four additional new sets of uniforms, a new multi-layer set of winter clothes, winter boots, sleeping bag and pad, first aid fanny pack, chemical protective suit and mask, PT uniforms, shave and shower kit, and whatever additional personal items a person can fit in with their remaining space. Since we know the unit we will be replacing, many guys took to mailing some items forward to meet us in theatre in order to make space in their duffel bags.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Conversation with the Sergeant Major of the Army Kenneth O. Preston

Tuesday my team and I had the privilege to share lunch with Sergeant Major of the Army Kenneth O. Preston, the highest ranking enlisted soldier for the Army. It was a unique opportunity to share a meal with a man who has many insights to where the Army has been, where it is now, and perhaps where it might be in the future.

SMA Preston started his lunch conversation stating that currently the Army is at a combined strength of about 1.1 millions soldiers; which includes over 500 thousand Active Duty, more than 350 thousand for the National Guard, and over 200 thousand for the Army Reserve. At this time there are more US Army personnel deployed throughout the world (approx 263 thousand), than at the height of the 2007 Iraq surge (250 thousand). This included troops at two major theatres of operation for Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as numerous small spot throughout the world including Africa and South America.

The Army leadership has been working hard to increase the dwell (home) for soldiers between deployments throughout the Army. There was a time during the height of the Iraq war in which some Active Duty units had less than a year home before heading back overseas. Currently the goal is to have Active ratio of 2 years home per year deployed, and a 4:1 ratio for Guard and Reserve units. He stated that they hope to reach this goal by the end of of 2011, however he admitted that might be tough to reach for some high demand Reserve units which have a majority of the Army's medical assets. To help reach these goals they have increased the size of the Active, Guard, and Reserve over the past four years by 80,000 people which was two years earlier than what congress had originally authorized the Army. Over the next three years the Army would temporarily add an additional 22,000 soldiers. SMA Preston also assured those assembled that the Army would not go back to 15 month deployments, and is working to end the stop-loss policy which would deploy soldiers who are near the end of their enlistment.

SMA Preston then spent a few moments talking about the Iraq war. Currently in Iraq there are 100 thousand troops or so, however by the end of September of this year in accordance with the agreement with the Iraq government there will only 50,000 US Troops in Iraq. By the end of the 2011 all US forces will be out of Iraq. It was asked of the SMA if that meant that we (the US) would give up a major logistical base such as Joint Base Balad, which was a home to several thousand US troops including Army and Air Force Aviation assets as wells as a major supply hub. For as much time and money was invested in that base as well the logistical value of the base it would seem a waste to just give it back to the Iraqi's. He assured that by the end of 2011 we would hand the keys over to that base and all the major bases in Iraq and we (the US) would be out of Iraq.

Currently in Iraq there are several convoys a day, with 100s of trucks pulling material out of Iraq. Everything from tanks and trucks to flat screen TVs, and containerized housing units. Much of the major combat items, such as M1 tanks or M2 Bradley fighting vehicles have already been pulled out of Iraq. Smart logisticians are now in Kuwait working to figure out where to send all of the items that are being pulled out of Iraq. Some things, such as MRAP vehicles will be sent directly to Kuwait for use with surge occurring there. While many items are being sent back to the states, and will be distributed throughout the Army to different units. Finally some items such as old Humvees will be sold directly to the Iraq government.

A question was asked about uniforms, which is something that Sergeant Majors love to talk about. In Afghanistan the Army is about to start fielding the new "Multicam" uniform, which looks like a cross between the old style Battle Dress Uniform and the new Army Combat Uniform (which we wear now). SMA Preston admitted that the ACU was about an 85% solution when it was brought into service a few years ago. The main war fight was occurring in Iraq, and the higher need was a camouflage pattern that would work in Iraq, which is why the ACU was adopted. In Afghanistan, many people feel that the current ACU pattern for lack of a better word sticks out like a sore thumb. In an effort to correct that issue the Army, this summer will start fielding the Multicam pattern to units in or going to Afghanistan. The intention is to use the same uniform design, they will just have the uniform manufacturer use the Multicam color pattern. Unfortunately for those of us who will be in Afghanistan and most likely wearing the Multicam we will not be allowed to wear it when we return home to the United States after our deployment.

In a node to the Army of the Future the SMA admitted that Army Scientist are working to make our body armor lighter and more user friendly. In a perfect world body armor would weigh little more than our current fabric uniform and cover the entire body. Until science can come up with a better solution we will use the product that we have, and pound for pound there isn't a much better solution to stop a 7.62mm bullet on the market. Over the last few years there have been complaints or frustrations about the current M4 rifle, which I also now carry. There are some rifles on the market are slightly better, but not significantly better to make the Army want to purchase the new rifles. Ideally the Army is waiting for what he calls a "leap ahead" technology breakthrough. Scientists are working on technologies in which the weapon might only weigh but a couple pounds while carrying 300 rounds. The bullets might have plastic shell casings, or no shell casing at all. In conjunction with the other services the Army is also working to develop a replacement for the HMMWV (hummer). Because of the nature of the fight that the Iraq war turned into the Hummer was a less than ideal vehicle. The Joint Light Tactical Vehicle that the services are working to develop will develop some of the soldier comfort issues sorely lacking in the current up-armored HMMWV, as it becomes extremely tight for a normal sized man (such as myself) to fit comfortably in the Hummer wearing body armor and helmet as well as carrying a weapon.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Crack some eggs to make an OMLT

Our OMLT has been living and working together for over a month now and in that time have gotten to learn a lot about each other and the small group that we have created. It has been humorous to observe as there have been what I shall call hetero deployment couples. There are some people that it seems as though they are almost married, that if you see one odds are the other is not to be found too far away. Odds are I might be part of a hetero couple, but I would never admit to it, because that would be a little fruity! Another fun aspect of the team building is some of the nick-names that have come from working with one another. Some of the tamer names are 'Master P', 'Doc', or 'Lumpy'. One is a simple play off of his last name, and a couple of names are probably not appropriate to share outside of the team circle.
Because of our training we have been spending a lot of time in the classroom learning, or at least attempting to learn 'Dari', one of the primary languages spoken in Afghanistan. From some of the frustrations of learning such a foreign language one phase has become part of an innocent inside joke. "Chai Menoshi" in Dari simply means "Would you like some Tea (Chai)?" For our team 'Chai Menoshi' has now become a Noun, Verb, Adverb, or Pronoun. Much like the classic television show "The Smurfs" used the word smurf, five times in one sentence we do the same thing with the phrase Chai Menoshi. Mostly though Chai Menoshi has become a positive expression replacing the word "cool" or "good" in typical English sentences.
I'm hoping that at the end of the deployment I will be able to share some of the practical jokes that have taken place taken place during the deployment. Right now I know of at least one that is on-going that I dare not write about for fear victim(s) might find out!

Friday, April 02, 2010

Range Week!

One month is down, and only 11 more to go! This past week has gone by relatively quick and has been a fun week. Monday we spent the day going through a traditional day of relearning how to shoot our assigned Army weapons. Even though we are required to shoot our weapons at least once a year, before shooting we are always required to go through classes teaching how to shoot a rifle or pistol as though we had never shot before. Just have to focus on good shooting fundamentals; good sight picture, breath control, and trigger squeeze. We got done a fairly resonable time, and I was able to get in a nice long session at the gym in the afternoon. On a side note, on days in which we get done with classes at a reasonable time I have been able to sneak in a morning PT session and good session at the gym in the evening.

Tuesday we got up early and headed out to the range to qualify on our weapons. We started out in the morning by doing a mounted convoy patrol out to the first range in our training M1151 up-armored Hummers. I was the driver of vehicle, and I've determined that it will be a love hate relationship while driving the M1151. It is a fun vehicle to drive, however when wearing body armor, helmet, and radio headphones it is almost like wearing a whiplash collar as it can be difficult to turn my head for a full field a view. Driving the M1151 truly requires a person in the passenger seat, as it is almost impossible to see to the right with all the blind spots created by the additional armor and attachments inside of the vehicle. After a 20 minute drive we arrived at our first range of the day, the M4 zero range.

For those who have never shot a rifle, one of the requirements to make a rifle 'your rifle' is to zero it, which will make it shoot straight and true for you. For the M16/M4 this involves setting up a target 25 meters away, which to the eye of the shooter will look like target that is actually 300 meters away. The technique used is to shoot a series of three shots at a time working to get as tight of a grouping of possible of the three shots. A tight grouping will show that weapon is shooting is straight, and more importantly the shooter is practicing good shooting fundamentals (steady position, aiming, breath control, and trigger squeeze). Once a tight shot group is established, adjustments can be made to the aiming sight posts to bring future shot groups into center mass of the target. Once five out of six shots are within the black of the 300 meter scaled target the rifle and shooter is zeroed and can later go to the qualification range. I had to zero in two serperate sight systems for my rifle; a traditional old set of iron sights and the M68 Close Combat Optic (CCO). I will be honest it took me a bit longer to sight in my rifle than I can ever remember in the past. I'm not sure what caused this, however I'm guessing that part of the cause may have been this was the first time that I've had to shot a rifle with the M203 grenade launcher mounted underneath the main barrel. I think that the grenade launcher created a different hand hold than I'm used to, and as a result I probably didn't have as tight into my shoulder as I should have at time. Plus getting used to the additional body armor, may have led to me being one of the last few of our group to finish sitting in our rifle. In the end though this does not matter, as it is just a chance to do some additional practice shooting as it does not count as qualification.

Following the zero range, along with four of my buddies rushed to the M203 qualification range. The M203 is a 40mm single shot grenade launcher that is attached underneath the barrel of the M16/M4. It is about 12 inches long, and has a barrel about 3 inches wide (or so). After a couple rounds of fammilarization we began the qualification. Shooting the grenade launcher I found takes almost equal parts of accurate aiming, kentucky windage, and bit of general guessing as to where the round will actually land. For me I found that I pretty accurate shooting between 100 and 200 meters, with a few rounds that landed pretty close at 300 meters. While I still hit within the standard of the 15 meter blast (kill) radius, all the body armor and additional optics on my weapon made shooting under 100 meters much more difficult. The final poriton of the M203 qual course was to shoot and move with grenade launcher on a course they had set up for us. I put several rounds in each of my cargo pants, unfortunately my Army pants are not made of the strongest material and half way through the course my pants developed a giant rip down the inseam of my pants down to my knee. I finished the shoot and move, however when I walked back to the start it made for a good laugh at the giant hole in my pants. At the end of the day, after I took off my shirt, I was surprised to find that I had a giant welt on my bicep. Due to all the body armor that we are required to wear, I found it impossible to properly seat the rifle in my shoulder, as a result I had to use my right bicep as my base of fire.

Upon completing the M203 qualification range we went out to the M16/M4 qualification range. The rest of our team of 15 had already qualified and completed their day qualification table, so the five of us had the rang to ourselves. After a few minutes of a safety briefing and orientation of the range we set out to qualify with our rifles. As far as layout goes, the Ft Polk M16 qualification range was probably one of the better ranges that I've ever shot on. One of the problems that I and several of the other guys had was that we were all exhausted from all the running we did on the previous range. In an ideal situation it is nice to be well rested when attempting to do accurate shooting. In our first attempt at the range I was the only one out of our five to qualify as a first time go. I know that several of the guys were really frustrated at their performance on the M16/M4, even though after a couple more tries everyone eventually qualified. To qualify on the M16/M4 range there are a series of pop-up targets spaced from 50 to 300 meters apart. We are given a total of 40 rounds in which we must hit at least 23 of the 40 targets to be considered qualified. The first 20 rounds are shot in what is called the prone supported, followed by 10 rounds of prone unsupported, and the last 10 rounds are shot from the nealing position.

A few short hours we had to come back to the same day M16/M4 qualification range and do night qualification. It is actually really cool to witness how the process works. On our weapons we have lasers that are only visible at night while wearing night vision goggles. Just like using a laser pointer at work, by putting the laser on the target and shooting the target should go down.

Tuesday was a long fun, and Wednesday was almost as fun. For Wednesday we went through an introduction on shooting some of the foreign weapons we might see. The morning was spent in a classroom environment learning about such rifles as the grand-daddy of foriegn weapons the AK-47, and it's many variants; as well as the Dragunov, RPK, and PKM machine gun. As can be imagines they have just about as many advantages as disadvantages over our comperable us rifles. For just about all of them they were lighter, and probably easier to dissassemble and clean than our weapons. For a ground infantry soldier the weight of the weapon that they carry around can really be an important factor. However for what our weapons lack in weight, we almost certainly make up for in accuracy, and effective range. In the afternoon we all got a chance to shoot several rounds through the AK-47, the Dragunov marksmen (sniper) rifle, and PKM. The AK did not seem that it would be effective much past 200 yards, if at all; where-as the M4/M16 is in it's prime at ranges of 150 to 300 yards or more. I also found that it would be a requirement to wear a good set of gloves when firing the AK-47. It felt like I almost burnt my support hand after firing a weapon that had shot less than 100 rounds in the previous 5 minutes. The PKM machine gun I don't think would be able to match the accuracy of our M240B machine gun, however I think it could more than effectively be able to put a lot of bullets down range in a short amount of time. All in all if was fun shooting the Russian weapons, in the end though it reinforced that our soldiers and Marines have some of the best weapons available.

Thursday we spent the morning in the classroom learning and discussing Mounted Convoy Patrols. The one thing that was reinforced for me in that class, is that no matter how big the Army, it actually still is a pretty small community. Before I arrived to Fort Sill, I wondered how long it would be before I ran into someone I knew. The instructor of the class was a Staff Sergeant that I worked with when I was in Iraq. It took basically a month for the old "It's a Small Army" theory to be proven again.