Sunday, October 11, 2009

Navy Individual Augmentee Combat Training....

I feel like I am living a different life. The last two weeks have been incredibly challenging, exhausting, exhilarating, frustrating and thrilling all at once. I miss my family, I miss my friends and I really miss my king sized bed.

When I arrived at Camp McCrady, (a small training center on the outskirts of Ft. Jackson in the area of Columbia, South Carolina) I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The bus ride from Norfolk, VA was uneventful yet long and most of us were just plain ready to get this started.

We were assigned berthing, given our bedding and told to go pick out our ‘rack’. I opened the doors to the barracks and quickly realized that I would be sharing a large room with about 30 other enlisted and officer females. Wow. I was able to find a rack in a quiet corner and set up my stuff.

The first week of training was a lot of briefings and gear issue. Four sea bags later I had enough equipment to last a lifetime on the North Pole. Interestingly enough, I am going to be stationed in Baghdad where the average winter temps are somewhere in the 70s. Hmmm.

Part of the gear we were issued was a Kevlar helmet, weighing approximately 8 pounds and body armor (IBA), which weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of 40-50 pounds. Throw in the full camelback and the M16 and what you have is a sight to behold. Let me tell you folks, it’s heavy. Nearly 50% of my body weight. Right about now I’m really wishing I had taken Coach Debi’s advice about core work outs seriously. Having all of this, plus knee pads (shout out to my Log Cabin peeps), elbow pads is what we call “Battle Rattle”. (I look like a mean ninja killer….except that I have alligator/dinosaur arms because the IBA vest is so big.)

Weapons. We were issued our M16 rifles and M9 pistols and given instructions on how to clear them and clean them. I have had those weapons next to me every second since then, aside from when I was able to sneak away to the Post Exchange to buy a new camera and other necessities. We’ve done all of our weapons training “heavy” (in full battle rattle) and I am proud to say that I qualified on the M16 and was actually able to shoot Expert on the pistol. We were also given training on heavy weapons and we were able to shoot the .50 caliber machine gun. That gun will knock your socks off.

We also trained in first aid, IEDs, and basic cultural awareness. There was much less "white space" than I had heard, but that may be because our Drill Sergeants were able to set up rotating training so that there was really very little down time.

The training that our Cadre has given us has been long, hot and tiring but it’s also been outstanding. Two weeks ago I never would have imagined that I could hold a M16, much less clean it OR shoot a bull’s eye shot on a target 300 yards away while wearing all of the equipment. THAT, my friends, is a testament to how good the training is if you take it seriously.

Anywhooooose, after 3 nights of suffering in the open bay barracks hell with little to no sleep, I won the billeting lottery. Most of the female Lieutenants were moved out of the barracks in to a small ‘dorm’. I now have one roommate (she’s awesome) and even though our muster times are incredibly early (Friday morning’s muster was at 0345) it’s so nice to actually be able to sleep through the night. Incredibly restorative. The only minute downside is that we don’t have an internet connection in this building which is why I haven’t been able to update the blog recently. (When I am able to sneak to one of the common areas to fire up my computer, the bandwidth is so third world that I can't even really upload photos.) Still, it’s more than a fair price to pay.

I really wish I had been able to write daily about what I’ve been doing, I can’t possibly do justice to all of the things I’ve been experiencing. Things that seemed so foreign and out of the ordinary just two weeks ago now roll off my back. I promised myself when I came here I wouldn’t complain out loud and I would be early for everything. So far, I haven’t been able to not grumble a bit here and there, but I have been able to maintain a positive mental outlook most of the time. It has really saved me. There are some people here who have succumbed to the bitterness and they are not pleasant to be around.

Make no mistake: while the training is outstanding, this place sucks. I swear they design it to be so miserable that you actually look forward to being in a war zone. But you know what? This training is also designed to save my life. I have no idea if or how I will be in danger once I get to Iraq, but I truly believe that I know have a good foundation for survival.

At some point in the next few days or weeks I will transition away from South Carolina and over to the Middle East. We are a bit in limbo right now, and further to that I am really not allowed to talk about how or when I will leave here. I'll keep y'all updated once I am able.

1 comment:

  1. Bitterness as comic relief is ok. Bitterness as a lifestyle can be taxing. Love that you won the billet lottery, but lost the Internet service lotto. Much like life, you win some, you lose some. Did you have a moment with the .50 cal when you said to yourself "let me introduce you to my little friend..." Just curious.