Wednesday, March 31

We spent a large part of last week training in Fort Riley's hi-tech Battle Simulation Center. The Sim Center allows units to train in a 'virtual' world. They have pods built with interiors identical to the Army's M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle, M1 Abrams tank, HMMWV, and Tactical Operations Centers. They have enough pods to train a full tank company and a full Bradley company simultaneously. We used the HMMWV and Bradley simulators.

Here's what the Bradley pods look like from the outside. The driver sits in the smaller of the two pods that make up each Bradley simulator. I'm standing between the driver and crew pods.

Here's the inside of the dismounted infantry pod with SPC Hanson in the photo. You get a panoramic view from all the monitors, plus and electronic map directly in front of the operator. The joy stick allows the person to move around. In this exercise we were calling in artillery on enemy that we spotted. If you look closely you'll also see Army radios that we used to call in the fire.

Here's another view of the dismounted infantry pod with CPTs White and Meyers visible. This time the monitors are showing the view through binoculars.

After each training session we do an After Action Review in the classroom, where the computer can play back everything that occurred.

By doing this training at the Sim Center, we can pack a whole lot more training into less time than if we actually have our vehicles out in the post training area. Plus you can simulate situations and enemy activity better.

Wednesday, March 24

16 March

Another unit moved into our building today. It is a Field Artillery Battery mobilizing for Operation Noble Eagle. Noble Eagle is the operation to safeguard bases and other sites in the U.S. that are important for national security. In this case, they'll be guarding a couple of chemical weapons depots here in the U.S. There are a lot of soldiers in the unit and they're really cramping our style :-) We pretty much 'owned' the building before they showed up. The good news is they'll only be here for a week and a half before moving on to the depots.

I really need to get used to the bugle calls here. Loud speakers on post sound Reveille at 6:30 to raise the flag. All units, including ours, are formed up at that time to start physical training after the flag is raised. All the troops are quartered on a part of the post called Custer Hill. The MPs block off the entire hill to car traffic during PT so that units can run without worrying about traffic. I have two men that have to attend a transportation meeting on another part of post at 7:30, but have to leave our billets at 6:25 so they can get off the hill before it's closed down.

At 5 p.m. they sound Retreat and lower the flag. Everyone outdoors stops what they're doing, faces the flag or the sound of the bugle, and salutes. Even people in cars pull over, get out, and pay respect. Then over the course of the evening several more bugle calls go out. I don't know yet what they all mean. However, the final call is at 11:00 pm. That's supposed to signal 'lights out' but we're usually already in our racks by then.

13 March

Today we had a class on Troop Leading Procedures. TLP are sort of a 'project management/leadership methodology' that the Army uses as a framework for planning, communicating, and executing missions. It was mostly review for me, but for a lot of the soldiers it was their first instruction about it. Everyone in the Army needs to be on this framework to cut down on the time it takes to familiarize and orient units to each other. The Army task organizes all the time now, throwing together a mixture of units needed to accomplish a particular mission. The framework makes units "plug and play" compatible-- a term I borrow from the computer industry that means you can plug a device into your PC and have it work right away without a lot of special setup.

This evening the girl friend of one of our NCOs brought us pork loin to grill, and a cheese cake. One of the officers grilled veggies. It was quite a treat and we all pitched in to reimbursed the girl friend. We set up tables in the day room to eat on while we watched the movie 'Open Range' on the TV. She also brought her dogs-- which were a big hit. The soldiers smothered them with affection.

-- Rick

Tuesday, March 23

11 March

We got our DCU's (Desert Camo Uniforms) back from the sewing shop today. The unit patch was sewn on the left shoulder, an American flag on the right, name tag sewn over the right pocket, and the U.S. Army tag sewn on over the left pocket. They wouldn't sew on our rank and special badges like Airborne and combat patches, so those who want them will have to take them to a private sewing shop. After that, the Army will take the DCUs and spray them with a persistent bug repellent. It's supposed to keep the sand fleas and mites off us and is supposed to be effective for 100 washes. I sure hope there are no health risks to this chemical. If there are, their would probably be an argument that the risks are outweighed by eliminating the risks posed by the critters.

Also today, we got the 2d Anthrax shot. We'll get our next one next week and another couple of boosters while we're in country. We also got the Smallpox vaccine. It creates a blister that is contagious, so we have to keep a bandage over it all the time. It'll be a couple of weeks before it scabs over and goes away. It should leave a small scar.

Supplies are trickling in. I'm impressed with some of the things they're buying for us-- mainly because I remember having to pay for these things myself when I was Regular Army. They've bought us combat rifle slings which position the rifles so we can take aim quicker if something suddenly happens. They've also bought us more GPS systems, safety glasses (that make us look like the Terminator), and Camelback water hydration systems.

Wednesday, March 17

10 March 04

The day after Base Operations we had the Convoy Live Fire exercise. We got to fire our weapons from inside our vehicles; a first for me and everyone else I know. I was the Convoy Commander for a convoy consisting of about 60 personnel, 1 Humvee, and six 2.5 ton trucks. Forty soldiers came from an active duty Armor battalion here at Riley. Once I got the convoy organized and did rehearsals of how to tactically mount and dismount the trucks, and review radio procedures, we did the course using blank ammunition. Then we loaded real ammunition and did it again.

First, the Armor battalion's 50 cal machine gun on the first truck engaged a target over 1300 meters to our front. Then we got to an area of the road where targets popped up on the left side of the truck and we engaged them with our M16s. Then later the right side got to shoot. Last, we dismounted and took up a hasty defense and engaged more pop-up targets.

The other cool thing besides shooting from vehicles was shooting using the automatic 3-round burst features of the M16. To keep costs down, the Army almost always makes us shoot in the single shot mode at rifle ranges.

This day was a big morale booster, the soldiers loved it. I chose two young E-5s to command the two trucks the 105th's soldiers were in. They did a great job. I was proud of the whole unit. From my vantage point, the 105th outshined the active duty unit.

The following two days of training consisted of how to 'harden' vehicles in order to protect us from mines and rifle fire using sand bags, kevlar blankets, steel panels, etc. We also honed our skills on the radio systems and encryption equipment we'll be using. Last but not least, we got to use the global positioning systems to navigate to various points on foot and by vehicle. These past two days have been loosely scheduled to give the soldiers a rest and a chance to run errands.
7 March 04

Today we completed Base Operations training. In this training we learned how to secure a small base for operations. This included things like running an Entry Control Point, defending the perimeter, use of a quick reaction force, and how to call for medical evacuation. They threw many scenarios at us while we ran the base. Several times we came under sniper fire. In this situation we'd take cover, treat casualties, attempt to locate the sniper, and send the quick reaction force after the sniper if we did spot him.

At other times local civilians would approach our perimeter or gates with weapons-- which is not uncommon in Afghanistan. The learning point here is not to over-react and escalate the situation. Just because they have an AK-47 doesn't make them bad people, just about every man over there carries one around. We do have to pay close attention to them, though. If they are acting suspiciously, like they're studying our defenses for vulnerabilities, we can either detain them ourselves or have the local police detain them for questioning.

At the Entry Control Point we'd check occupants of the vehicles for they're identification and the nature of business and turn them away if anything didn't jive. If it looked OK, we'd wave them on to the next station where they would get out of the vehicle. The passengers would be escorted to a personnel search area. The driver would open anything we wanted to search in or on the vehicle, after he was searched. We'd confiscate any weapons and arrange an escort for any non-US nationals that had business on base. We did a pretty thorough job overall, but they did sneak a pipe bomb through and blew the Command Post up... with me in it!

Tuesday, March 16

6 March,

The unit loved doing the urban operations training described in my previous entry. But I know they are very tired. We've had some very long days over the past week. We need to build up our stamina over the long run. Most everyone is handling the stress well, but once in a while I can see how it is affecting people's judgement, attitudes, and tempers. Just three more days and gates training will be completed!

The family stopped in this evening for an exotic dinner at Burger King :-) Trey really lit up when he saw me walk up to the van and open the door. The look on his face is one I'll remember for a long time.

Friday, March 12

The next day of Gate 2 we did Urban Operations. We learned how to enter and clear an entire building, how to move between buildings, traps to look out for, and did a realistic scenario. The scenario was that we were escorting Katie Couric to a remote site to do a live broadcast. On our way our convoy was blocked from the front and rear, then the locals started shooting at us. We had to seek the cover or a building, clear it, call for assistance, and hunker down until assistance could arrive.

We had a lady in civilian clothes acting like Katie. The OPFOR were dressed as locals and when the gunfire erupted some of us had to lay down suppressive fire while the others exited the vehicles and established a hasty perimeter. Then after I called for assistance, we chose a building to take shelter in. One team entered the building and started to clear it of any 'hazards'. Then the next team entered the building bringing Katie, the wounded, and what materials we could manage to carry from the vehicles. Our Combat Life Savers started treating the wounded while we finished clearing the building and setting up a defense. We had to 'hold the fort' till the calvary arrived two hours later. It was a great exercise and a lot of fun!

Moving between buildings:

Entering building. Trainer is in desert camo (DCUs). He recently returned from a tour in Afghanistan.

'Stacking' at the door.

Approaching door.

Local answering our knock. She later slammed the door shut on us. Lesson learned, after the door is openned position yourself to catch the door if they attempted to close it on you. Reopening the door ourselves after 10 seconds elapsed would be very risky.

Later, she scared the heck out of my soldier by popping up out of a trap door in the floor. We apprehended her for her own safety while we were in the house. She's really an Army Major.

Working our way from room to room. These are old WW II Army barracks.

We just completed Gates training two days ago. Gates training was created as a direct result of feedback from units in Iraq and Afghanistan and is design to teach us things that will help keep us 'healthy' over there. It takes a crawl, walk, run approach to learning these skills. To get through each 'gate' of the training you have to pass certain requirements.

In gate one we learned things like individual movement techniques, urban operations, convoy operations, and personnel and vehicle search techniques. Individual movement techniques are ways of moving around that minimize your exposure/risk under direct fire. The search techniques are similar to those used in law enforcement: how to control people while you search them for contraband and how to cuff them with zip cuffs if necessary. In urban ops we learned how to enter and clear a room much like the SWAT teams you see on TV.

In gate two, we put the techniques we learned in gate one into action as a unit in realistic training scenarios. One day we did convoy operations. As Commander, I had to plan the route, put the right people in the right vehicles, the right vehicles in the right order (for best security and control), and lead rehearsals of the battle drills. Examples of convoy battle drills are: react to sniper fire, react to unblocked ambush, react to blocked ambush, what to do is the convoy becomes seperated, what to do if civilian personnel or vehicles attempt to get into our convoy, etc.

We worked our way through several of these scenarious throughout the day wearing our full 'battle rattle' on the tank trails of Fort Riley. Links to some photo's are below. The trainers had OPFOR (opposing forces) out there to make it realistic. We had blank ammunition and MILES gear. MILES is a sturdy, upscale version of laser tag that fits on our weapons and vests. This allows us to know when we git the OPFOR, or when they hit us. They hit us very hard. We experienced several casualties through the day. The soldiers learned that Rambo techniques only work in Hollywood.

Monday, March 1

Let me try to catch you all up on what's happened since my blog entry on the first day.

We had a meeting the first afternoon with all the major staff directorates at Fort Riley to provide all sorts of nit-noid data about our unit. Our welcome brief was in a nice conference room. There was a seat at the main table for me, the Oklahoma detachment commander, and my First Sergeant. The rest of the unit sat in seats along the side of the room. After the introductions, we immediately broke out into smaller rooms where our personnel people met with Riley's to go over numbers of people, qualifications, personnel files, etc. Our medical person went over our medical records with their medical people to spot anyone that may need physicals or shots. Our supply people met with theirs to go over the required equipment, versus what we brought, and what we're short. Our training people met with their training people to discuss what training requirements we already met prior to reporting to Riley and built a training schedule to knock out the other requirements while at Riley. I spent my time hopping between the rooms ensuring things went smoothly-- generally the did go smoothly.

While the breakout sessions were going on, some of the soldiers and NCOs went to sign for some vehicles and our billets. We have a large van, mini van, and sedan to use while we're here. We got fairly nice billets-- compared to our expectations. We have 1 - 4 people per room depending on the size of the room and rank of the individuals. I have my own two person room. The room with four people is actually built for eight-- so still plenty of room. None of the rooms lock, so we have to put everything of value into wall lockers when we leave the rooms. There is a 'day room' with pool table and large screen TV... not much time for that yet. Bathrooms are 'community' style, two for males and one for females in the unit. There's another large room we use for unit meetings. About 40 yards away is our dining facility-- nothing fancy, but good sustenance :-) Also about 40 yards away is an Army Distance Learning Center that has computers we can use to access the internet and contact our loved ones.

We spent all evening unpacking, preparing for the next day, and picking up needed supplies and uniform accessories at the post exchange (PX).

The second day was our SRP (soldier readiness processing). They converted a gymnasium for the purpose of SRPing both active duty and reserve units deploying or returning from Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. The do this every day of the week for about 120 soldiers a day. It's phenomenal the amount of troops going and coming from overseas. At the SRP we got active duty ID cards, had a personnel records checked, got us into the active payroll system, had dental exams, medical reviews, AIDS tests, pregnancy tests, hearing tests, wills and powers of attorneys done, and yes... shots. I had the flu, TB, and the dreaded Anthrax shot. Later I'll get the Smallpox shot and two more Anthrax booster shots. The SRP took a lot longer than expected since there was a whole engineering company returning from Iraq that got in in front of us.

Later in the afternoon we did the mask confidence course, aka the gas chamber. The idea is to go into a small building filled with tear gas wearing your protective mask and do a lot of physical tasks design to test the seal of your mask-- and give you confidence that your mask will stay sealed and protect you. We did jumping jacks, neck stretches, push ups, etc. And just so we'd know it was really tear gas in the room, they had us remove our masks just prior to leaving. We could've skipped that part-- I believed them from the start!

The third day we received training on the Army's newest chemical protective overgarment-- a significant improvement over the previous one. The rest of the day was filled with individual's medical, dental, supply, and admin appointments.

The fourth day, we received additional individual clothing and equipment. That included the coveted desert camouflaged uniform DCU. The soldiers have been eager to get the DCU's. We still need to get all the patches sewn on, then they spray them with a semi-permanent bug repellent to keep sand fleas off you. We also got polar tech style jackets and overalls for the cold weather, extra canteens, sleeping matts, etc. This stuff really just supplemented all the stuff we had gotten from the National Guard earlier, i.e. helmets, rucksacks, sleeping bags. In the afternoon we went to the rifle range to zero our M-16s and qualify. The sights on an M-16 are adjustable, so on the zero range we're 'zeroing' the sites to be most accurate. The qualification range has pop-up targets at various distances from 50 to 350 meters away that we have to shoot before they pop-down again. We shoot from two positions: fox holes, and the prone position. We have to hit 23 out of 40 targets to qualify. Then we have to shoot the 50 meter target with our chemical protective masks on and hit it 11 out of 20 shots. It's really tough to aim with a mask on! The last part of qualifying is night fire. After dark we have to hit the 50 meter target 7 of 20 times. We shoot tracer bullets so it looks really cool in the dark-- almost like lasers. I'm the only person in the unit that doesn't have an M-16. I only carry a pistol that I qualified on about a month ago.

The next day we spent several hours cleaning our weapons, setting up an office in one of the rooms, and reinventoring the equipment in our 20 foot shipping container. We had from mid-afternoon Saturday to late Sunday off. Guys from the area, like me, went home. Some family members came here from areas further away i.e. Oklahoma and Kansas City. It was a wonderful break and a well needed rest. We now go into 12 days of regimented training without a break. This 'Force Protection' training is specific to prepare us for the threats of Iraq and Afghanistan. Today was the first day and we covered how to react if we're in a convoy that gets ambushed or hit by an IED. We spent the morning in a classroom learning about it and the afternoon in our full 'battle-rattle' actually doing it against some instructors pretending to be terrorists. Tomorrow we go over Convoy Operations. How to plan and conduct a good, safe convoy of vehicles

Well, it's pretty late now. Good 'talking' to you all :-)

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