23 August 2007

Chinook Flight

I had promised that I would post the pictures and videos I took from our Chinook flight. Well, I’ve finally done so. The pictures and videos are at http://zarquon.staticcling.org/1344/Drill/Chinook/. If anybody has additional pictures, please email them to me.

I’m hoping to pretty up the website these are on, add titles and descriptions to the photos, and make a blog post on that drill, but don’t hold your breath.

25 July 2007

AT07-Day 6

Trucks in the field

I didn’t post yesterday, so this post is about the day before yesterday. Fortunately for me, we didn’t do much, so it should be easy to remember.

We went out into the field “today” (I’m having trouble with tenses now that I’m not posting the day of—help?) for the first time. The company we are supporting (who are themselves supporting the Cavalry (note Cavalry, not Calvary; Calvary was where Jesus died)) has established a TOC in the training area in South Post. So our mission changed from hanging out in a parking lot waiting for missions to hanging out in a tree-lined clearing (pictured) waiting for missions.

I may have to retract what I said earlier about going to the field needlessly. It’s nice out here. Pretty. Quiet, as always, except when a vehicle is going by. Nice as it is to go back to a bed and the option of a shower every night, I wouldn’t cry too hard if we had to stay in tents out here.

We didn’t do too much today; the only mission I remember was to replace the water in the water buffalo. Apparently someone was under the impression that it had to be emptied and refilled every day, which I thought wasteful and silly. Fortunately, that got straightened out, but not before we did it the first day.

We had a bit of a problem with it; we couldn't open the drain plug on the back of the thing; the nut was bigger than any wrench we could find, including the extra-large crescent wrench every truck is supposed to carry. So we propped open the spigots and drove down the road, not sure how long it would take to drain at that rate; the thing was half full. Well, when we got to the water point, we found the ACTUAL drain plug UNDERNEATH the tank, which of course makes much more sense. This one was small enough for our wrench, so we didn't have to stand at the water point for half an hour waiting for it to drain. I wonder what the thing on the back is for? Bakos climbed up on the tank to direct the 4-inch hose into the hole. I turned on the pump, and Bakos only sprayed himself once. We had a moment of panic when he told me to turn off the pump. I did, but the water kept going. It got all the way up the neck before stopping. We were afraid we were going to have a mess on our hands.

Since that’s the most interesting thing that happened to me all day, I have room to hold forth on the trucks we're driving (apparently MMS messages have a character limit, which is why yesterday’s post is broken into two parts). The manual is marked “approved for public release,” so I won't feel bad mentioning some technical details (when did THAT happen? Last I remember, truck TMs were marked with a destruction notice to avoid falling into enemy hands. Now they read “distribution unlimited” instead. I was all ready to say I was NOT giving technical details).

The trucks we’re driving this camp have been loaned to us from the 1544th Trans Co. out of Paris, Ill. They got them from the old artillery units that had switched to infantry and didn't need them anymore, to replace the nice new trucks that they took to Iraq a few years ago but some other unit (probably a deploying one) needed them more. The 1544th got nice new FMTVs to replace their old trucks which were of the exact same type as the ones they have now, but were not the actual same trucks; I don’t know where those went. No, the trucks the artillery got were the ones the 1244th TC gave up when they transitioned to Det. 1, 1344th, which used a different type of truck. The 1244th got these trucks when they (we) deployed to Saudi/Iraq for Desert Storm.

So are we getting this? I'm currently driving trucks (called M923A2s) on loan to the 1344th (part of which was formerly the 1244th) that I drove in Desert Storm that were then given to the artillery, then to the 1544th to replace their FMTVs, which replaced THEIR M923A2s that THEY took to Desert Storm. Yeesh.

Anyway, they’re pretty nice trucks, at least when well maintained, which these aren’t, really. The arty beat the hell out of them. They’re not as nice as the FMTVs, which have air conditioning and such, but they're a lot nicer than the deuce-and-a-halfs they replaced. The picture for today shows one of them: our desert tan one in the background (they got painted before we deployed in 1990). The other two are also 5-ton cargos, but different; the one in the foreground is an older model (M923—no “A”, which means revision or update, number) of the same truck, with an identical body, different engine, and old-style tires The one in the middle is an older type, an 800-series Vietnam-era truck with roughly the same capabilities as the others.

They’re 5-ton trucks, which means that that’s their hauling capacity over cross-country terrain. Their carrying capacity over roads is double that. They’re cargo trucks, which means that they’re general-purpose; they can haul ammo, troops, or general goods (there’s another phrase for that I can’t remember), but not containers or (without special equipment) fuel or (non-bottled) water. They've got tarps that can be put on or off by a couple of troops in five or so minutes, and a pintle for towing small trailers (like a water buffalo) or disabled trucks, and on-the-fly three-axle drive.

The version we have (A2) has three major differences from older models: A more powerful, turbocharged, Cummings engine; large, single tires (older trucks had smaller duals on the rear two axles); and CTIS. The Central Tire Inflation System is what made these trucks unique when they were new. What it means is that you can change the tire pressure from the cab. This is much more useful than it may sound. On the highway, you gain nothing from it. But off-road or on gravel or dirt roads, it’s great. Not only is the ride smoother, but you gain a lot more traction, especially in sand. I challenge anyone to get a fully functional, unloaded 923A2 stuck where the tires can get purchase. I don’t think it can be done. Put that b!@*# into 6x6 low transfer Emergency mode and she’ll pull out of almost anything. Unfortunately, the CTIS has a lot of fragile parts and electronics, and breaks easily. And since it isn’t necessary for driving, the mechanics are never in a rush to get it fixed. But it’s awesome when it works. It even has a Run Flat mode where it will constantly keep pressure in any tire that has a leak.

Well, that’s all for now. Toodles until tomorrow.

18 July 2007

AT07-Day 5

Aah, what boredom does to you (waiting to load with meals at the TISA—Day 4)

Reading through my old posts, I realized that I’ve never really explained what’s going on here. That’s probably confusing for those who don’t know what “AT07” means.

I am on National Guard Annual Training (usually called AT or Summer Camp)—two weeks every year spent with our unit at some Army base (nearly always Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, for Illinois guardsmen) doing combat training in our job field, in my case truck driving. That's the theory, anyway. In practice, the two weeks always remains the same, but everything else can change. Some years we do “Golden Cargo” missions where we haul loads over the road for the Army and never see a tent (that’s FUN). Some years we stay home and come in a few at a time and drive missions for the State out of the armory, or do “home station” AT where a few of us stay at the Armory and do whatever odd jobs the full-timers have for us. Sometimes (like this year) we get tasked out to support other units going to the field without actually doing much field training ourselves. And sometimes, sometimes, we actually go out as a company, set up our tents, establish a defensive perimeter, get attacked occasionally, and run combat-style missions or LANES training. But that’s rare. I can count the number of times we’ve actually done that as a company since I’ve been in on the fingers of one hand (well, there may have been a few times that that happened that I couldn’t go for some reason).

Those two weeks, plus one weekend every month, constitutes the obligations of the National Guardsman, barring getting called up for State or Federal active duty.

A little about Fort McCoy: First, I’m sick of Fort McCoy. I’ve come here, for one reason or another, probably more times than the number of years I’ve been in the Guard. Several times it’s looked like we were going to go to Honduras, or Germany, or even Egypt, but it always turns out to be Ft. McCoy. Well, we went to Camp Ripley, Minnesota, once. When I first joined, some guys talked about a winter camp they had been on in Alaska. Brr.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve been other places (barring activations, of course): California for NTC twice (fun!), Fort Campbell, Kentucky. But those were on my own, attached to other units. The only time I can remember that the unit went anywhere other than Fort McCoy or Camp Ripley (or stayed home and ran sporadic missions for year-round AT) for AT was Golden Cargo in Utah. Well, they did a Golden Cargo in New York once, but I wasn't with that time. Still, I've seen much more of Fort McCoy than I'd like.

Nonetheless, there’s good reason why we come here so often: it’s a nice, big (and I mean big; check a map), wooded training area, it has tons of temporary housing, with headquarters buildings and mess halls in each housing area, it’s a Reserve post, so coordination with the Regular Army is not necessary, and it’s not far from Chicago, where many of our units are. It’s a very good, convenient place to bring most or all of the Illinois Guard to train together.

The place has changed a bit in the last few years; besides the ongoing modernization of the barracks (this has been going on for nearly ten years, and I saw them working on one the other day), Fort McCoy has become a major mobilization site (the only site? I heard units from Texas mob from here) for Reserve and Guard units deploying to and from Iraq. They have set up FOBs (Forward Operating Bases) around post to simulate being in Iraq, complete with road signs in Engish and Arabic, simulated roadside bombs (IEDs), minarets broadcasting prayers in Arabic five times a day, and “civilians” walking around in Arabic garb. None of this was here four or five years ago.

It’s pretty here, too: This part of Wisconsin is heavily forested, with a mix of deciduous and coniferous trees, but mainly pine and fir. There's a lake on post that some years we have been allowed to have a company party/picnic at. And they have seriously modernized the facilities in the last 5-10 years: The PX is now almost a shopping center, and the club has gone from an old Enlisted club with a bar and a few pool tables to a real nightclub with dance floors, beer gardens, and loud music called McCoys (which it looks like we won't be allowed to go to this year—darn).

The main thing we did yesterday was pick up dunnage from a Mark 19 range, which took a lot longer than we thought; we were almost ready to leave when the Sergeant Major said, “You’re not leaving, are you?” When we told him that we were going to, he told us that he still had people that had to fire. When we asked how long that would take, he told us fifteen minutes. An hour and a half later, we got loaded and moved out. Then the NCO in charge of us and I dropped the dunnage off at the ASP. We got the Cav boys to load it all on the truck, but there was only the SFC and I to UNload it (well, alright, we had a forklift to help us, but we had to load all the ammo boxes onto the forklift). That’s okay, they had Schwan’s ice cream bars for sale at the ASP for 50¢. I had a caramel cream. Mmmmm.

I’m trying to arrange the ability to go to the gym after duty hours, but it doesn’t look likely. Apparently, we’ve got it fairly easy compared to some of the others; they were out until 2200, whereas we got off at about 18. So they need us in the area in case something comes up. Understandable, but annoying. I could probably get away with running around the Company area, but it’s just not the same. I wish I had that iPod Nano and Nike+ kit; that would probably make running down the street fun. But that's $250 I Just Don't Have.

RUMOR: There are 50,000 troops on Fort McCoy: 25,000 mobilizing, 22,000 demobilizing, and 3,000 at Annual Training like us. I don't believe it; the post seems even less crowded than usual at this time of year, if anything. But it’s a big post; they could easily be hiding somewhere I haven’t seen.

17 July 2007

AT07-Day 4

Day 1—driving to Wisconsin

We'll see how long posting on the next day lasts; it’s convenient, and I don’t cut into my sleep, but the days all run together, and I forget what we did the day before.

I’m trying a new method of posting: Blogger Mobile, which allows me to post pictures I take with my phone, which the last two posts show. Unfortunately, there's no way to post HTML from my phone, so there's no formatting or links possible. I’ll update the formatting when I get home.

I’m going to get fat out here. My goal was to lose weight this summer camp, but I’m bored so often (like right now, waiting for them to finish firing the Mk19 so they can load their dunnage, although watching them fire is pretty cool) that I’m eating a lot, just for something else to do.

The main mission we went on yesterday was a “one hour” mission to get MRE’s and heater meals for our chow hall. This turned into more like three hours making three trips to pick up several pallets of meals, then ice, bringing them back to our chow hall, and unloading them by hand—with help, of course. Normally we aren’t supposed to help with loading and unloading—as I like to say, we’re truck drivers, not stevedores. But when it’s your own unit you’re supporting, all bets are off, since you’re fair game for a detail in the first place. I had intended to work out yesterday, but I considered that my workout, seeing as we were throwing and catching a couple hundred thirty-pound boxes.

Units will sometimes get miffed at us for not helping to load or offload stuff. But what they don't realize is that they have to do that once in a while; if we could be counted on to load and unload their equipment from our trucks, we would be doing nothing else. It's Not Our Job. Now, that doesn't mean we’re not allowed to help; if I’m asked nicely as a favor, if they don’t have enough people and I feel bad for them, or, particularly, if I’m in a hurry, I might lend a hand.

Regardless, it’s nice to work for the chow hall; we got two plates full of freshly baked peanut butter chip & M&M cookies, plus milk, for our efforts. Yum. Not having had lunch yet, I essentially had a lunch of cookies.

I got a chance to go to the PX yesterday for the first time since we got here. Good thing, too, as I was almost out of socks. You’d think that, after almost 20 years in the Army, I'd have more boot socks than I knew what to do with. Well, that’s true of brown T-shirts and underwear, but for some reason I only managed to find five pairs of Army socks, total. I’m hoping to buy a lot more stuff later to go with the new uniforms we have, but I’m broke at the moment, so that will have to wait.

We didn’t do much after that; after our shift was over, we chilled in the barracks for the rest of the evening. Or at least I did; my co-driver volunteered to go on another mission that lasted quite a while. I tried to get to sleep early, but was fairly restless and not sleepy. After I got to sleep, I was woken up by a meeting in progress. Apparently, they decided to be nice and not wake people up for it if they didn't absolutely have to be there. I got up and joined in. It took another while to get to sleep after that, so I’m pretty sleepy today.

I’ve pretty much stopped explaining military terminology in these posts; if you don't know what a word or phrase means (either in a new post or an old one), leave a comment and I’ll make a glossary entry.

AT07-Day 3


I had the great idea of using my copious downtime between missions to write my posts instead of trying to do it when I’m dead tired and
ought to be sleeping. And it was a great idea…except for the fact that I can now barely remember what happened yesterday.

Let’s see…my co-driver (Bakos) and I got tasked to support Delta company of the battalion we’re supporting, along with two other trucks with drivers. This involved a lot of sitting around in our trucks, their office, or their barracks waiting for missions, getting a mission, doing it, then coming back and waiting some more. Apparently, this is what we’ll be doing for the rest of AT. This leaves a lot of time for reading, resting or blogging.

Most of the missions are to take the Cavalry (who the Forward Support Battalion we are attached to is supporting) out to ranges: M16, .50 cal (that’s what’s in the picture), MK19 (an automatic genade launcher I would love to see fire), SAW (the smaller successor to the M60 “pig”). The main thing we did yesterday was to pick up some dunnage from the range and keep it in the truck (a 5-ton M923A2) overnight to deliver it to the ASP this morning. There’s another team that falls in on our trucks at night; apparently they want to be able to send missions out at a moment's notice.

The rest of the company (well, platoon, really; we’ve only got a platoon's amount of people) is doing similar missions, but out of our own area and possibly at a faster pace.

The current word is that we (the 1344th element) won’t be moving out to the field, partially because we didn’t bring any tents. Everybody’s pretty happy about this, myself included. Of course, nobody really likes going out to the field, but I don’t mind it if we’re going to really play the game and do some serious field training. But going to the field for the sake of the experience of staying in tents and running missions from there instead of the barracks—which has happened before and what this would almost certainly be—is just silly, and I’m glad that we’re (hopefully) not doing it.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not running down good field training. What we did in 2005, running real combat style missions out of a FOB, was great, and I wish we could do it again (minus all the heat casualties, of course). But this would not be like that.

The rest of the day was uneventful; I was pretty tired (I live a fairly sedentary life out of uniform), so I went to sleep early only to be woken up for a meeting (of course). I still got a decent amount of sleep.

I’ve got a little time (I’ve been writing on this as time permitted all day), so I’ll write a couple of things that have been rattling around my head.

First, an important admin note: if you are subscribed to this blog via Changedetection, I strongly recommend unsubscribing from that and resubscribing using one of the methods on the right. It’s a lot better.

Second, on cell phones, particularly mine: I didn’t bring my laptop this time, and mostly haven’t missed it. I can do nearly everything I need from my Trēo: check email, send email, check the Web, check manuals, take notes, play games, listen to music. I can’t watch movies or play really cool games, but that’s a fairly small sacrifice for not risking damaging my PowerBook.

The only problem—especially the first night—is that the network gets slammed by all the soldiers doing exactly what I'm doing (making phone calls and using the Internet), making it nearly impossible to make calls and the Internet extremely slow.

Well, that’s enough for one day; more tomorrow.

14 July 2007

AT07-Day 2

Well, I didn’t last the night in my cot; I finally realized that that cold breeze was going to keep me awake all night, so I gave up and moved my sleeping bag and poncho liner into the cab of the truck, which turned out to be an excellent idea. The cushions made a nice bed, there was barely enough room, and with no breeze, it was plenty warm enough to sleep. About 5 a.m., I had a bit of a panic; it started to rain. I jumped up to see if I had left anything important out; I shoved my bags under the cot (which my co-driver had since occupied), grabbed my weapon, and went back to the cab and to sleep for two more hours. Thank goodness; I hadn’t heard the wakeup time and was afraid it was going to be 0400 or something. But as it turned out, it was forever before we moved out, for some reason.

We eventually continued to Ft. McCoy without incident (unlike yesterday, with three breakdowns including one blown steering tire), found our barracks, unloaded our gear, parked the trucks, ate dinner (not as good as last night's catered serve-yourself), and chilled in the barracks for the rest of the evening.

The barracks. Ugh. These are World War II-era wooden two- story buildings, with each floor being a large bay filled with bunks. Think Biloxi Blues. I had thought that these had all been renovated and modernized, but apparently not. They are clean and in decent repair, but not only do they lack a water fountain or air conditioning, the toilets have no partitions of any kind between them. Apparently privacy was not valued in the 1940s.

Sorry these posts aren’t as detailed as my Katrina ones; I had my computer then and typing was easier. I’ll try to do better.

Until tomorrow,


AT07-Day 1

Much to write but won’t; late & need sleep.

What a day. We start out an hour late, which is neither unusual nor surprising, seeing as we are driving trucks loaned to us from another company with unknown maintenance issues. For instance, my truck developed an air leak in the tire inflation system that had to be fixed.

But no major issues; got on the road and arrived at where we were to meet up with the Co. we will be supporting at Camp. But they were quite late, so we didn't leave there til late, resulting in us getting to our RON (Remain Over Night) until about 2330, and bed only just now. Bed is on our trucks as best we can make it; cots are available to those who want them. I took one, put it in the open bed of our cargo truck, and am sleeping under the stars on a sleeping bag for a mattress (and to crawl into if it gets cold, which it probably will) under a poncho liner and a poncho. Only problem is there’s a breeze on my head that might keep me awake. It’s pretty though. I saw the Milky Way and a satellite.

Dinner was odd; a chow line set up outside in the dark to serve ourselves. I had eaten Subway earlier and was not hungry, so of course I ate some. It was good, but probably a bad idea. I’m trying to lose weight, and will now probably have to use the latrine in the middle of the night now, presuming I can find the porta-potties in the dark. Why do we do things we know to be bad ideas?

Forgotten item: my extra battery for this phone. No way to charge it up tonight, and it's almost out of juice.

Family & friends back home: I love you and miss you.