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.