“The field” is something every soldier stationed in deployable units has to deal with. Every so often, the unit commander will decree that a span of time must be spent in the wilds. Soldiers pack up the gear they will need, say goodbye to their families, and tromp off to the intended location.
In typical “field problems” as they’re called, a unit is acting out a scenario. All the various sections and shops have to perform their wartime mission reacting to the specific circumstances dictated by the chain of events in said scenario. There are field problems that center around training to attempt to simulate an austere environment, similar to war.
Our BNCOC class was scheduled to go to Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland for a weeklong field problem called “Project Warrior,” run by a unit separate from the NCO Academy. The intent of the outing was to provide us (journalists and broadcasters) with some quality warrior time (i.e. training on weapons, urban combat, etc.). As many of us are very green at being troops, the idea was sound; but it was last minute. Apparently the first sergeant at the NCO Academy turned the normal few day, there-and-back training into a full-blown week away from the schoolhouse. It would mean the rest of our class work and assignments would be compressed into the fragment of our final week, a reality that we’re dealing with now.
Also, as was said in other posts, many of us spend a lot of time living in “austere environments” in our units as it is. We felt that we didn’t need any more practice at it.
But, in the end, we all left for APG, which was just an hour or so away. Our home for the week was an old, long warehouse off one of the small post’s main roads. Inside were several rooms, partitioned by free-standing walls, built to divide the huge interior. There was a classroom, a weapons room, four combatives areas (matted floor, padded walls, etc.), and a small electronic weapon range that used lasers mounted on M16s to register shots and give feedback on accuracy.
All in all, not a bad setup. Our port-a-potties were just outside and we had one of those plastic hand-washing stations that are everywhere in Iraq to keep our mits somewhat grime free.
Then we started learning about the training schedule, which outlined our day-to-day happenings. Classes and training would start every day at 0500 and go until midnight. We would sleep on one of the combatives mats. Wakeup would be at 0400 to give us time to pack our stuff away and sweep the mats, then shave and such to be ready to go at 0500. Weapons guards would stand 45-minute shifts through the night, meaning the four-hour maximum sleep time would be pruned further.
Temperatures inside mirrored the outside—low 40s to 50s, mainly. Cold, especially for many of us who didn’t bring any sort of outdoor gear from our home stations. We had been assured before traveling to BNCOC that there was no field problem planned. Thus, when our cadre all of the sudden made the proclamation that we’d be camping out, many of us were a little miffed.
Luckily, I was able to borrow a duffle bag to pack all of my stuff, and got a thermal undershirt to keep me from shivering so violently. Hours and hours in 50-degree weather can really exhaust a man, especially when paired with extensive training and very little planned sleep.
And so we began. In all honesty, a lot of the training was good. We were able to spend a lot of time with our weapons, firing at pop-up targets, using blanks and lasers to simulate actual firing. We learned a lot of techniques for reflexive firing and tactical reloading. We were able to focus on our marksmanship (to brag, I had the best shot group in the class with a 0.9cm spread between my shots). And we learned how to storm buildings, clear rooms and all that Army stuff. We also spent a lot of time with crew-served weapons (.50-cal, M19 grenade machine gun, M249 squad automatic weapon). The cadre there tested us on how fast we could take apart and put together the large weapons. It was good to get familiar with them.
My hands barely survived. They began cracking and bleeding after the second day. We use that alcohol hand sanitizer, which saps moisture. That, coupled with the kerosene heaters we employed to stop the shivering, kept my poor fingers bleeding. Then, clumsy me, I had chunks of flesh torn off in bits here and there with all the machine gun ratcheting and assembling. Good times, especially when the weapon cleaning solvents leeched in there. Ouch.
The unarmed combatives sessions were hit and miss. Normally, to gain level 1 certification (our goal), you had to endure 40 hours of instruction. That block typically is spread out over several weeks, incorporated into a normal training schedule. Not for us, though, we went at it for hours a day. In the end we were well shy of the actual 40 hours, but we were bruised, beaten, and several of us had sustained significant injuries. On of my mates bruised two ribs and can barely walk, our 100-pound female had her calf muscle ripped and got a good knot on her spine, and your’s truly was bent in half the wrong way enough to hear my back pop. I’ve been nursing it ever since.
All of it was due to the fact that we were racing through the techniques without adequate time. Arm bars, submission moves, and general ass kicking with bare hands are dangerous. I really wish they wouldn’t have rushed through it so much. We all were limping and creaking through the training after the first night. But, since the schedule was so full, we never could recover.
The final even for our unarmed combatives course was the “clinch drill,” where the Project Warrior cadre could bring in a group of punchers to don boxing gloves and lay into us. The idea is that we have to learn to close the distance in a fight in order to employ all of our grappling techniques, so you charge in to a guy, take a few hits to the head, and achieve your clinch. We had padded helmets, but it was still funny to see how people reacted to being punched in the face, especially those who haven’t been in too many fights. Uber peep Finch came up to me with watering eyes and a swollen face, a little concerned. I had to tell him that fighting ain’t like getting a massage. The body generally doesn’t like forceful blows to the head, and things like watery eyes and headaches are the norm. That little dude got back in and did his thing, though. God bless, him.
In the end I did get a bit out of it. However, we’re now staying up late getting our class assignments done. The NCO Academy instructors recognize that we had a whole week of class time unexpectedly taken away, and are giving us an extra day to compensate. Still, that means we have six less days to complete the normal workload. And, given the fact that I still have a stiff neck and aches everywhere, I can’t say that I was a fan of the whole enterprise. Maybe if they extended BNCOC to be a week longer so we don’t have to curtail classes and assignments, then it’d be alright.
But, anyway, that’s how my week went—hour by agonizing hour. It was one of the longest weeks of my life, actually. I’m glad to be back in climate-controlled rooms again, though. I’ll just need a few days to get my body clock back to normal.