1 October 2004
The week following my Battalion Formal, my company went to
the field for training. I got to skip the first day, as I had other work I had
to do on Monday, and supposedly Tuesday. I say Supposedly for a reason. I was
supposed to go out for Tuesday night and Wednesday. At 8am on Tuesday, I got a
phone call telling me to be out at the gate at 8:30. I wouldn't have to worry
about Breakfast, they had some for me. I wouldn't have to worry about my
weapon, they would bring it for me. WRONG.
So, I arrived at our Field site without breakfast or my weapon... which I would need for the training, by 9:30am. I went out on the morning training exercises with a borrowed weapon, and managed to get my team killed (in simulation) but then again, that was the point of the exercise. I actually got a fair amount of sleep out there, with plenty of down time between exercises.
Tuesday evening rolled around, and more people showed up to participate in the evening training. We had to go about a mile out into the woods, in the dark, and bring back a simulated air-drop of supplies. There were two teams sent out at different times to different locations. The OPFOR (Opposing Force) plan was to let us go out unmolested, and hit us on the return. My team, took a break before crossing a back-woods intersection - right below the ambush location. We had done such a good job of light and noise discipline, we caught the OPFOR by surprise. No, we didn't discover them and take them out on the way out... but we should have. They had been relaxing and some had been smoking. They all froze, and waited for us to pass. One of my team landed so close to an OPFOR member that OPFOR could have slit his throat without the rest of us knowing. Another OPFOR NCO still had a lit cigarette that some of our team smelt... our team SGT (who knew OPFOR's plan) told those who smelt it that they were imagining it. We pushed on, and the OPFOR said we crossed the danger zone perfectly.
When we got to the Drop Site, there was some confusion: Not all the required equipment was present (Most notably a Stretcher for the simulated casualty recovery). Also, as part of this confusion, we discovered that the 2nd team had lost a man on the way out (Well, actually, I heard some of the Observers talking on Cell Phones about it). Instantly, I knew who they were missing. I suppose I should back up and explain why.
This soldier is a nice kid. Very kind. He also had a car accident a while back that has left him with the apparent mental capacity of a child. He worries the mature among us everyday... and is a bit too much of a target for the immature. I'm not going to use his name, so I'll simply refer to him as Forrest Gump - this guy is as close to the character as you'll ever find in real life.
Anyway, PFC Gump got himself lost during the deployment phase of the Night Ops exercise. I wasn't there, I don't know how - but I do know it was dark enough that we didn't see OPFOR mere inches from us during our deployment - so it's relatively easy to see how someone could get separated from their group.
So, we sit on the ground, in full tactical orientation for about 20 minutes while we wait for the SNAFUs to straighten themselves out. We eventually get the stretcher, load up, and head back. It was too much equipment, and too heavy for the available manpower. We hit the road-intersection where OPFOR is setup, and I hear the <click> and subsequent metal-on-metal slide of an M-249 SAW (Machine Gun) jamming on a blank. Then I hear another one on another angle.
The Ambush is on, but OPFOR is having mechanical difficulties. Before most of us can react, we are hit with the earth-shattering <BOOM> of either a Genade or Mortar simulator going off. Those detailed to security return fire, the rest of us pick up the supplies and head off. Someone had set off a smoke grenade (or six) ahead of us. Two of us were on the stretcher, myself in back. I saw the man on the front disappear into the smoke and knew it was going to be THICK. I didn't get more than a few steps into the smoke before we were all on the ground, feeling around to get the body back on the stretcher. A few more steps with the stretcher (and associated combat sounds) with me on the front of the stretcher, and I had the body, the stretcher, and the guy in back on my back. We were horridly sunk at this point, feeling around to get the body and the stretcher. About this point a simulator of some sort ignited a fire in a bush. In a real combat situation, we wouldn't have cared. In training, we had just set the woods on fire.
Out came the two 5-gallon water-jugs we'd been carrying on the stretcher with the CPR dummy. One jug went onto the fire and bush... putting it out. We then noticed that there was smoke coming from the back-side of the body and stretcher (It turns out a smoke grenade had rolled beneath it). So, to make sure it wasn't on fire, we dumped the other water jug on the body and stretcher. I took both jugs (now empty) and someone else took their turn on the stretcher. Together, we headed out of the smoke zone. I had to go some 50m or so to clear the smoke... and farther still until I could see or breath normally (It wasn't CS gas as in the NBC chamber but it was still smoke).
We almost missed the turn back to our camp-site, and had to pull some of the people who had passed it back, but returned to the camp then in good order. The 2nd group had it easy by comparison, but returned without PFC Gump. OPFOR returned a while later, also without PFC Gump. This was, as they say, Not Good.
We got some recovery time, and I even got to nap for about 45 minutes before we all got back together out front. Noise and Light discipline (a hallmark of being in the field) were suspended by the Company Commander. We turned on all the lights. Supply personnel were handing out chemical glow-sticks to everyone. Flashlights were distributed.
SO, there I was, at midnight, in the field, wearing full Camouflage Battle Dress Uniform, Face-paint, Kevlar Helmet... with three or four blue and green chem-lights stuck in my helmet band... and one hanging from my wrist... in a line with 80 or so of my fellow soldiers similarly dressed, spaced 10 feet apart stretching the better part of a kilometer, walking through the forest calling out Gump's name. We had only been at it about 30 minutes when we received the order to return to base.
Gump had gotten horribly turned around, and actually wound up outside the training area. He flagged down a Taxi (wearing BDUs, Kevlar, Flack-Vest, Camo-face paint, and carrying his loaded M-16) to get himself back to base. He got back to the gate, and contacted the BN Staff Duty office.
I got to bed about 2am.
Two days later, I was back from the field. Friday I had a short day of work, an afternoon meeting, and an evening session tutoring a MSG (E-8) in Statistics. I didn't get home until about 9pm.
Saturday morning, I _HAD_ to do laundry and a few other chores (bills etc.). By the time I was done with it all, it was Saturday afternoon. Not wanting to loose the whole day, I took a short-hop up to Bingen and a portion of the Rhinetal (Rhine River valley). I determined that (at least from the west bank of the river) the view wasn't as good as it is on the river cruise. I toured a castle. Can't recall the name of it though - this stretch of the Rhine is littered with castles. You almost can't throw a stone without hitting one.
This particular castle is one of the older ones in the valley. It was for a time the residence of the elder brother of Willhem I (the first Kaiser of Germany). Alas, it was a rather unremarkable castle... just a basic "Keep" style multi-floor residence, with some surrounding support fortifications. It did have a stunning view of the river, and at least three other castles.
On up the river, I passed some fantastically scenic villages, but I didn't stop as I wanted to get home in time to watch the NCState@VT game. I did, but we lost :-(. I definitely need to go spend a day or two up there exploring properly - though I'm certain I could spend a month and not properly experience the area.
Sounds like a full week? Yeah, it was. Here's the bonus:
Sunday evening, I was in my room relaxing, and getting ready for the week ahead. At one point I looked out my window to see virtually everybody from the barracks standing out in the parking lot - including several people wearing bathrobes or similar. The fire alarm wasn't going off, but it sure looked like a fire evacuation. I could see blue strobes flashing around the corner of the building, so I knew an emergency vehicle was there. Carefully, with proper clothing for the weather, I exited the building and went to find out what was going on. Turns out, there was a suspected car-bomb in a parking area just off post, and on the other side of my building.
While we all twiddled our thumbs out in the parking lot, I learned a few details: It wasn't actually a car bomb... but a car on which someone had spray-painted BOMB on the hood. It was a car that had been abandoned - it had sat out there since before I arrived in March. Turns out, the owner of said car was the one who got drunk and painted it, and the backs of a few people's heads, and numerous other things. The Military Police evacuated the area around the car to a 500m radius (yeah right, 500m is the entire annex on which I live, we were standing around in the parking lot just the other side of my building, just opposite the car in question). The Politzei (German police) shut down the Autobahn that runs next to post as well. For a time, EOD (Emergency Ordinance Disposal) was going to blow up the car, but they eventually decided not to). Here's the kicker: the idiot who did the spray-painting was apparently the recently appointed driver for the Battalion Commander. Not anymore (Note: asked the other day what tjos SPC (E-4) was dressing up as on Halloween he said "An E-1!").
This week was a relatively normal week. We finished cleaning up from the Field, and had the usual activities ongoing. Then, Wednesday hit. It seemed to be a normal day, and then someone mentioned to me that the Post was locked down. Rumor said that the Bank had just been robbed. Eventually, I got the scoop. There _had_ been an Armed Robbery of the bank here on post. While the MPs had locked down post for a while, they re-opened it, but were thoroughly checking everybody and every vehicle exiting post.
I had a meeting to attend to off post, so I managed to clear the checkpoints a little before 4pm. Unfortunately, I had to return to work afterwards. I decided to park off-post. I walked back into work, did what I had to, and then left before they locked everything down for the room-by-room inspection of post, in search of the firearm and money. I went to the Adult Ed class at my church that evening, and returned for the Health and Welfare inspection of my building late in the evening. I finally got to bed about 0200.
Gotta think about this one: some idiot decides to commit armed robbery (with an illegal firearm) on an Army Post, overseas (at an elevated Threat Condition as it is), right down the street one way from the V Corps MP Brigade (The Headquarters for about 10,000 Military Policemen), and the other way from the USAREUR Detention Center (The Military Prison in Europe - like Ft. Leavenworth in the U.S.). You can literally see both buildings from the front of the bank he robbed. I understand they caught him sometime that evening.
Today, I got to spend most of my time away from my office, as my supervisor is also the Battalion Equal Opportunity Representative, and there's an EO issue that has started up. So much for a normal week.
In the morning, I plan to go to Bamberg, a town in northern Franconia (a region of Germany) that is well over 1000 years old, and was almost untouched by the last war (It is worth noting that Mannheim is over 1200 years old, but was devastated by WWII). This time, I am supposed to have company for the trip - a couple of people from church who want to tag along :-D.
So, that's the week (or two) that was. Not much in the way of actual European Exploration, but certainly an interesting week. We'll see if I can get back to interesting sites and history this weekend.