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.


Anonymous said...

While you're explaining the core concepts for the n00bs (like me), you might also think about changing the tagline that describes this blog as being about Operation Crescent Relief in Louisiana. These recent posts have nothing to do with Katrina, and that could be confusing to those coming here without benefit of knowing you personally (and thus knowing what is up). Just a thought.