|Cold and hungry|
As we near the end of our pre deployment training and look towards our long months in the desert I can't help but reflect on the crazy experience this has been thus far. I don't think there is any way to truly capture it all in words, but I'm going to do my best with some help from my battle buddies!
When we arrived at Camp McCrady (a small sub camp of Fort Jackson Army post) it was late at night. We were hungry, tired, and freaking cold. We had waited for hours at the airport in CA to catch the flight to SC. Needless to say we were all slightly crabby. We filed into a classroom where they thankfully had a hot meal waiting. Normally I would have been not too happy about the soggy veggies, powdered potatoes, and greasy meat... but on that night it honestly looked gourmet to me. We filled out paperwork and awaited our room assignments. We then had to drag our seabags to our hooches (one of the many interesting words that is used around here.... this one describes our barracks). In contrast to NEMTI where we had just come from this place was a huge upgrade. NEMTI was cots in a wooden sea hut, these were bunk beds in a normal building. Complete with lockers to store our gear and an attached bathroom that didn't require walking outside (I'm realizing on deployment it's the small things that make you happy). We proceeded to pass out and sleep quite well on our 2 thread count sheets and wooly green Army blankets.
The first week was plenty of classroom time. Most of us medical types started to get a little cabin fever... little did we know we should have appreciated the time spent sitting and relaxing, because things got a lot rougher! We were fitted for our vests and Kevlar helmets and given 2 huge seabags along with a large rucksack of gear. We had already been given one seabag in San Diego so now we had a total of 4-5 depending on how much personal gear you brought. We were told that we were only allowed to bring 3 seabags, the rucksack, and a carry on with us into country... yeah, you do that math, packing will be interesting considering moderation is not my strong suit.
We were then issued our weapons. For the nurses we will always have a sidearm, but for the benefit of total weapons immersion and familiarization we were also given a rifle to carry. And by carry I mean never have more than arms length away from you. It reminded me of the flour baby I had to carry in middle school... you had to have it at all times and care for it like a child. Now my "child" was capable of deadly force... minor difference I guess. We also had to clear both weapons before entering any building. And clearing is not a one man job, you always had to have a battle buddy with you. Need to use the head (bathroom)? Bring your buddy cause you can't take your weapons in there... so your buddy stands outside like a husband holding his wives's purse. Want to go to chow? You better hope someone else is hungry cause those bad boys must come with you and be cleared prior to entering the DFAC (Army cafeteria).
Week two ushered in our new normal...hours upon hours spent at the range. Wake up before dawn, put over 40 pounds of gear on (along with layers upon layers of clothes to combat the inevitable cold), file onto a bus with your platoon, drive to the range, sit in the bleachers watching the sun come up and get ready to shoot your weapons all day. Sounds like fun until you know that a few lucky ones have been at the range since 0430 loading ammo for the day. Or that almost every range day happened to be cold and rainy (30-40 degrees usually). Lunch every day was an MRE (and I may never eat Skittles again). Firing positions normally would be fine... but pile all that gear on and the kneeling fighting position turns into me looking like an arthritic grandma trying to hobble my way to the ground. And don't you dare drop anything because a gaggle of Narmy sailders (Navy sailors trying to be Army) will just stare at it helplessly hoping someone else picks it up because bending over is a lesson in balance and strength with all that gear making you entirely too top heavy.
There were also days spent learning other important combat skills such as rollover drills for the vehicles, convoy tactics, base security, individual movement techniques... too many to tell... but I will say one of the most valuable lessons is my new vocabulary... I'll give you a quick lesson...
First, there are many, many ways to say OK in the Army. They include but are not limited to hooah, er, yut, tracking, good to go, and ra. For example, "Place your weapon on safe and holster it before you leave, tracking?" The correct response to this... simply a return "tracking", said with motivation! So a conversation between us all sometimes is like cavemen communicating with sound... it's entertaining and entirely normal. Next there are the subtle differences between Army and Navy lingo. A bathroom is a latrine, not a head. We are living on post, not on base. And we shop at the PX, not the NEX. Then there are just the plain old interesting terms and phrases we've picked up:
Police up the brass - pick up the shell casings on the range after shooting all day.
Battle rattle - the full set of gear we must wear at all times including the vest, helmet, kneepads, elbow pads, goggles or ballistic sunglasses, and gloves.
If you're walking you're wrong! - refers to the sense of urgency required when going anywhere.
Treat everyone with respect but have a plan in mind to kill them - enough said.
Shootas, sailas, killas - said before every time we would shoot on the range to get our attention.
Brain bucket - helmet.
There are so many more, but now you might be able to slightly understand what I'm saying. In all seriousness though these past few weeks have been some of the hardest I've ever experienced. There have been moments where I honestly questioned my place here... exhaustion will do that to a person and I didn't know tired until I could easily fall asleep on the cold rocky ground without a problem while others are shooting their weapons yards away. There were some nights that a shower was far too much effort (my hygiene gets relegated to baby wipes sometimes!). The food is definitely questionable, but by dinner you just appreciate a hot meal. The togetherness gets overwhelming at times, but you realize you have all your battle buddies suffering with you and it makes you feel slightly better. The drill sergeants are unrelenting in their quest for everything we do to be perfect, but they are some of the most motivating and inspiring people I've met in my life.
In the end, however, it's all been worth it. Sitting on the other side, looking back, it's one of the best experiences of my life. I'll never forget the lessons... some may save my life or the lives of my battle buddies. I'm more than ready to move on but so thankful I had this time to learn more about myself and my tolerance for embracing the suck that combat training can really be. I've gotten tougher, stronger, and live the motto of Semper Gumby (always flexible) everyday. I'm ready for what's ahead and thankful for what's behind.