Friday, January 9, 2009

What I did instead. & How things didn't turn out how I tought they would.

At the end of high school I was not sure about my future. A common enough dilemma to be sure. I knew enough that I wanted to go to college to study literature or computers, but college meant money. I don't like owing people anything so I didn't want to go the lender route.
I started looking into the armed forces. I couldn't fit my head in the jar so Marines were out. I got car sick as a kid so the Airforce was out. I had been on one really bad ocean fishing trip and got so sick that I didn't want to even look at the Navy. All that left really was the Army. They would let me jump out of airplanes, shoot some really cool guns, and they had a college fund program, that I felt would fit my plans nicely.

I signed the papers for 4 years, raised my right hand, swore the oath and was shipped out just months after I graduated from high school. Yep I was in the army now.

Looking back, basic was fun. I remember the training and think "that wasn't so bad". Recall the other guys in my platoon and wonder what ever happened to so and so. While I was there however, there were times when I questioned my decision. Usually around 4 am when the Drill Sergeant would come in screaming and banging trashcans. Or standing in a pit, with mud up to my knees, keeping watch during field maneuvers, while the rain pounded down around us. Streams of water running directly into our fighting position filling it faster than the ground could absorb it.
Morning Physical Training wasn't so bad either. Except the running. My god we ran. We ran on the roads, around a track, through the woods, over hill and dale. Singing those songs they taught us about blood, guts and war. Did I say singing? More like screaming. I already had laryngitis from an infection and all the singing, yelling and screaming finally was to much for my poor vocal cords. They ended up scarring, but that's ok. I wasn't gonna be a rock star.

After Basic was Airborne school. Wow. What a difference from basic. Those of us who attended directly from basic suffered a little bit of culture shock. We were treated like humans again. On non jump days we were off by 1700 hours. (that's 5pm for you civilians out there) We were aloud to go out. Off base even. My gawd that first night was awesome. The five of use from basic hung out and did stuff together most of the time. We hit a steak place. I ordered a house salad, 20oz porterhouse, "Texas" fries, baked potato and some "barley pop" The waitress HAD to know we were underage but she could also tell we were fresh out of boot. None of us got wasted. We did have enough to be buzzed before we left.

The first two weeks of Airborne school were training. Up at 0615 just in time to get dressed, shaved and be in formation at 0630 to start PT. (Physical Training) Then we would hit the showers and eat breakfast so we could start the actual Airborn part of the training day. Normally with a 10 minute break every hour so the smokers could do their thing, and finally we were released at 1700 to do what ever we wanted to. This went on for 2 weeks.

Did I mention that we had weekends off too? Gawd what was I suppose to do? There was a holiday weekend after that second week. That meant I had Saturday, Sunday, AND Monday off. I'm not sure what we did for the whole weekend but I do remember running into our Drill Sergeant from Basic. We talked and laughed. He invited us to a little bar he hung out in and we shook hands before saying see you later. I do look back and wish we still hadn't been intimidated enough to actually go to that little bar.

Instead, one of the guys wanted to go to a "lingerie" store. Yes this was a thinly veiled cathouse. You walk in and are met by a line of women all dressed in sexy lingerie. You pick one and off you go. I have no idea what the cost was as I didn't try any of their services. Hell I had fun just watching the ones parading around and tempting us to partake of their offerings. I chit chatted with one and then another. I was tempted mind you but I have never utilized the service of a cash for ass style service, besides I had someone back home. Not that I don't think it should be legalized everywhere. I think it should. I think there is a stigmata associated with prostitution that is very hypocritical. (It would be fun to go off on a tangent and detail my beliefs on this subject but that is for another time.) Anyways...I know two of us left there a few bucks shorter and a little happier. Who knows what else they left there with.

Back to Airborne School. That Third week was Jump Week, and since Monday was a holiday we had to shove 2 jumps in on that first day. WOW. That first jump was AWESOME!!! I didn't pause in the door. In fact I almost knocked the guy in front of me over. I pushed my static line into the Jump Masters hand turned, took a step and jumped out slapping into the position we were trained to. Chin to chest. Body slightly bent. One hand over the reserve and then SNAP. The chute deployed. I was in the air. Looking around. Floating slowly towards the ground...Wait. Holy shit the ground was coming up fast. There was a stream right in the middle of the Drop zone and I was headed right at it. I tried "slipping away from it" which of course was the wrong answer. I should have "slipped" towards it a bit so as to over shoot but no luck. SPLASH right in the middle. I landed so lightly that I barley felt it. There I was standing in ice cold water up to my knees, my chute collapsing to the ground around me when I hear "You BETTER do a PLF AirBorne!" ( PLF= Parachute Landing Fall and your supposed to do one EVERY time.) I made that sound you make when you know your about to do something you don't want to. Something like "unhhunhuhu". I did a little hop and flopped over into the water. I then stood up, Looked at the Jump Instructor, grinned from ear to ear and shouted "AirBorne Sergeant" I packed up my chute and headed to the drop off point.

(NOTE: You have all probably seen a PLF type maneuver on tv. When some one jumps from one roof top to a lower one. They kind of tuck and roll into it. That is pretty much what a PLF is. I'll post a video at the bottom)

Remember I said we had two jumps that day? Well the second jump was just as cool until I hit the ground. (preforming a proper PLF this time) "thrump,bump,crump" is as close as I can get to the sound and feeling of hitting the ground. It was still a little light out but the sun had almost sunk behind the horizon. There were no updrafts to slow my decent. The temperature had dropped and my clothes were still wet. By the time I got to the assembly area I was shivering and my teeth were doing that clicky thing. Luckily the buses were there and they had the heat running.

The rest of Airborne school was much the same. I did my 5 jumps, Graduated and boarded a bus to Ft Bragg. NC.

To be Continued: (NOTE: Continued below in same post.)

PS:Here is a recruitment video for jump school.



Ft. Bragg North Carolina. Home of the 82nd Airborne Division. I hated that place. There were many reasons and I'll go over some of them, but for now here is a 15 minute video about The 82nd Airborne Division. Hey Just because I hated parts of it doesn't mean there wasn't parts I'm proud to have been part of.

If you didn't watch the video that's fine. It is a little dated. So if you would rather read about it I'm gonna steal some info from Wiki.

The 82nd Airborne Division of the United States Army is an elite modular airborne infantry division and was constituted in the National Army as the 82nd Division on March 5, 1917, and was organized on March 25, 1917, at Camp Gordon, Georgia. Since members of the division came from all 48 states, the unit was given the nickname “All-American.” This is the basis for its famed “AA” shoulder patch.

I was in a infantry batalion as a TOW Gunner. At the time the official military classification of My job title was 11H1P which basically meant that I was a Heavy Anti-Armor Weapons Infantryman with Airborne school. Most the time it was the same routine. PT at 0630, done by 730, shower (we shaved before PT) get dressed and eat breakfast. Just in time for Formation at 0900 to start the "duty" day. Mondays was motor stables. Where we went down to the motorpool to Inspect, clean, inventory and work on our Humvees.

What's the difference between a Hummer and a Humvee? What does "Humvee" stand for?

The two terms overlap somewhat, but generally, "Hummer" refers to the civilian models and "Humvee" refers to the military ones. "Humvee" comes from "HMMWV", a military term for "High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle". The civilian models are basically the same as the military ones (they go down the same assembly line until reaching the finishing stages) with the addition of nice interiors and other "creature comforts".

Once 1130 rolled around we were off to lunch untill 1300 (1pm) for another formation. (lunch was an hour and a half long because sometimes it took that long to get through the chow hall.) After formation we worked on weapon systems. We would ground mount the TOW system. (TOW is an acronym for Tube-launched, Optically tracked, Wire-guided missile system) Rut roe. Another block quote incoming.

The TOW anti-tank missile of Iran-Contra fame was introduced for service in the US Army in 1970. Current versions are capable of penetrating more than 30 inches of armor, or "any 1990s tank," at a maximum range of more than 3,000 meters. It can be fired by infantrymen using a tripod, as well from vehicles and helicopters, and can launch 3 missiles in 90 seconds. It is primarily used in antitank warfare, and is a command to line of sight, wire-guided weapon. TOW is used to engage and destroy enemy armored vehicles, primarily tanks. Secondary mission is to destroy other point targets such as non-armored vehicles, crew-served weapons and launchers. This system is designed to attack and defeat tanks and other armored vehicles. The system will operate in all weather conditions and on the "dirty" battlefield.

Here is a short 20 second video of a "training" Missile being fired. The only part about it being training is that the explosive warhead has been removed.

We also cleaned and inspected our other weapons, to include the M16, M2, and MK19. and Yep you guessed it More Blockquotes.

The M16 is a lightweight, 5.56 mm caliber, air-cooled, gas-operated, magazine-fed assault rifle, with a rotating bolt, actuated by direct impingement gas operation. The rifle is made of steel, aluminum, and composite plastics.

The following picture is of the four most commonly used. From top to bottom they are: M16A1, M16A2, M4, M16A4

The M2 Machine Gun, or Browning .50 Caliber Machine Gun is a heavy machine gun designed towards the end of World War I by John Browning. It was nicknamed Ma Deuce by US troops or simply called "fifty-cal." in reference to its caliber.

The Mk 19 fires 40 mm grenades at a cyclic rate of 375 to 400 rounds per minute, giving a practical rate of fire of 60 rounds per minute (rapid) and 40 rounds per minute (sustained). The weapon operates on the blowback principle, which uses the chamber pressure from each fired round to load and re-cock the weapon. The Mk 19 is able to lob its grenade at a maximum distance of 2,212 meters, though its effective range for a point target is about 1,500 meters, since the large rear leaf sight is only graduated to 1,500 meters. The nearest safe distance to launch the grenade is 75 meters. In addition, the Mk 19's flash suppressor and its lack of smoke during firing makes it difficult for enemies to spot and counter it.

I wish I had dusk or night firing of these weapons as there is an AHHH effect to it. It's hard to see the MK 19 do its work as the grenades use explosives rather than a flash pot you see in the movies.

After messing with vehicles and weapons all day Is final formation. Usually around 1700. Then we can hit the chow hall for dinner. I hardly ever did. In fact I usually ate at Robin Hoods for lunch (like subway but better) and I'd head into town for dinner. Chow hall food sucked most of the time. Breakfasts were ok and I ate breakfast in the chow hall every day for 7 years.

So that was Monday. Not to bad as Mondays go. Really the rest of the week was the same kind of thing. Training. Training Training Training. It varied, but all in all not to rough. One thing I do miss about being active. All the holidays. We had three day weekends for this and 4 day weekends for that. We usually got off at 1600 hours or earlier on Fridays too.

What wasn't usual was that being in the 82nd, we had recall status. Most the time we had to be within 2 hours of base. Actually less than that. We had to be in formation within 2 hours of the Battalion being notified. There was an extensive call roster to get a hold of everyone as quickly as possible. This was before the wide spread of cell phones. Beepers were the norm then. We got called to go on Training missions, Jumps, to help other units with heavy drop operations (where vehicles get loaded and set, platforms, rigged with parachutes and pushed out to be loaded on planes. All of this revolved around the Division Ready Force or DRF Status your unit was on in a matrix. If you have been on "lockdown" or DRF then you already know what it's like. If you have ever been close to someone that was pregnant and had started contractions but their water hadn't broke then you kinda know. You have to be ready to go at a moments notice. With being pregnant you know that it WILL come. We didn't. We also didn't know where we would be going until we were briefed.

To be continued. (NOTE: continued below.)



Something else I didn't like about North Carolina was the weather. I'm from Oregon. The northern Vally area. Now... When ever I told people I was from Oregon, they would ask "OR E GONE, Dosn't it rain there?" First off there is no E at the end of Oregon. Its pronounced awr-i-guhn and second yes. Yes it does, but not like it did in Georgia and North Carolina while I was there. I'm talking about golf ball sized raindrops. In Oregon it just sprinkled all the time. Between the two states the anual rain fall is almost the same. It just seemed like It all came down in 9 or 10 really big storms in North Carolina. In Oregon it just sprinkled all the time. Something else to take into consideration. Oregon's ground soaks up the water. North Carolina has Clay and the water did not soak into the ground. At least that was my experience. Your Mileage may very. I do miss the lightning storms though.

During the summer of 95, my unit was in Yuma, AZ doing test jumps . On one of the last jumps I ended up knocking the piss out of myself. It went something like this. I exited the plane, and the static line ripped the pack tray off my back deploying the parachute, I hit some cross winds that started a pendulum effect between the chute and myself. I tried countering the effect by pumping the risers the same direction as the swing. That's when I hit another crosswind. So not only was I swinging north to south I now started spinning in rather large circles in comparison to the canopy of my parachute.

I don't actually remember hitting the ground, or being found wandering around, or the bus ride back to the billets, nor the plane ride back to Bragg. In fact I don't recall a thing until PT the following Monday morning.I don't know how nobody realized there was something up with me. There is a "suck it up and drive on" mentality at work in most of the combat arms. Anyways we were taking it easy and just running laps around a near by track. Running the corners, sprinting the straightaways. It was the first straightaway that did me in. Suddenly my head exploded, as if I was in the middle of a fight and someone was on my back, going to town on my head with a rubber mallet. I could hear a giant waterfall roaring in my ears and my vision turned off like one of those older style televisions screens that shrink down to a little pinhole before going completely black.

What the hell was going on? Well the diagnosis was concussion. No tests were done. Just medications. That month I almost received a reduction in rank due to sleeping in and being late. That is until I was able to prove that the medications were responsible. I had migraines every day for a year. Less frequent as the years went by. I get 4 or 5 a year now with most everything that goes with them: nausea, sensitivity to bright light and noise. Thankfully I have never vomited due to a migraine. I have also lost the ability to remember numbers well. Give me a list of four or more three digit numbers and I will not be able to remember them. Other aspects of my memory seem to have declined as well. I remember nearly nothing from my childhood. Only good friends and favorite teachers from high school. The rest of my life up until 95 is pretty much a blur. It's not amnesia because I KNOW who I am. I know those I love and hold dear. Emotional situations seem to anchored in place and I can recall them if I try. I do find it difficult to remember new information as easily as I use too. Most of this I didn't even realize until much later.

On a brighter note, towards the end of 1995 I married one of my friends from high school. We were not sweet harts in high school but we were friends. We got close after wards. We talked on the phone a lot. My phone bill got up to 500 one cycle. I asked her to marry me and she said yes. I was stuck over in North Carolina and she was back in Oregon. She did all the work getting the wedding going. I basically showed up while on 2 weeks of leave. We were married and then we drove to North Carolina.

Before being married I had lived in the barracks. So even though I had been out of my moms house since 92 I hadn't really lived on my own. The army supplied me with everything I really needed, and I had no clue about housing. We ended up moving into a little Single wide that we found AFTER we both got to Ft. Bragg. She wasn't too happy about that. She figured I would have had that all taken care of. ME? I had no clue. We made it work however and before too long we were bringing in about 5 grand a month between us. She had a good job. I had made some rank so I was getting paid ok. Our monthly bills were minor. It was great. We just needed to get away from that DRF status. We couldn't do anything with our time off because I was always on 2 hour recall.

My reenlistment window opened and we discussed my staying in but requesting a transfer to Ft Lewis WA. (yes away from the dreaded DRF). What about college? I could always do it later. I wasn't ready to give up on the Army yet. So I "re-uped" and we moved to Ft. Lewis Washington. My wife got another good job and we started pulling in some decent cash. We got on post housing after a bit. We planned for and had our first child. I missed my daughters 1st birthday due to being out on maneuvers. There were other reasons but that was the last straw. That enlistment was up so I left the active Army. I did sign papers to join The Oregon National Guard. I wanted a change of MOS though as I was tired of being Infantry. It just interfered in my family life way to much. So I requested a different MOS. This time I chose Carpentry and Masonry. Something everyone could use a little know-how in.

We moved to a small town in the Oregon Valley halfway between our parents and my new National Guard Armory. My wife had relatives in the area too. Now to just find a job. Hmmm Wow. This sucked. I made nine bucks an hour in a retail establishment. My wife couldn't find a job paying as well as she was in Washington. We had bought a house but the payments were high. I took on a second job part time. My wife fell into a new job. It was a career change but it worked out ok. Then my wife got fired after catching the married bosses girlfriend stealing money from the petty cash. Oh this was after the boss fired the girlfriend but she must have threatened a lawsuit because soon she was back and my wife was gone. She shrugged it off and went back to her old career. She also decide to go back to school to improve her credentials in that field. We planned and had our second child. I quit my first job and got on full time at the other. Finally ending up with 11.20 dollars an hour. We planned and had our second child. A month after her birth my National Guard Unit was deployed to Iraq. My unit followed a month after the first wave.

All this took place during an eleven year period.

I think my first Iraq Tour needs it's own post. So until then....



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