Tuesday, December 14, 2004

GTA

I just returned from Convoy Live Fire qualification. This was vital milestone. All units pass; how many times the unit will go through this qualification is inverse to the amount of preparation spent for this big event.

We spent a week rehearsing at the local training area and after we went through live fire evaluation troops remarked how the training was harder that the actual event. One big reason training was harder was that we trained with blank rounds instead of live bullets. At GTA, with reason, puts heavy emphasis on SAFETY. The Officer In Charge (OIC) of the qualification range said there are two safety rules. Rule number one: don’t be a dumbass. Rule number two: don’t let your buddy be a dumbass. There were lots of “Grafisms” or safety rules that were imposed. One example was that drivers could not drive with their weapon next to them. The TC or Vehicle Commander had to hold the weapon of the driver and then hand their M-16 back before exiting the vehicle. Another was if anybody in the convoy did not have a set of night vision goggles, the convoy had to travel at night with head lights on. Nobody was supposed to fix bayonets and perform IMT on the targets. Last you were not to fire back in to the target area after an engagement to double tap targets or do quality assuarance checks, you might hit the range tower and that would piss off the Range OIC.

Other safety rules were common sense. You had to communicate with your whole section during an engagement. Yell while moving; tell you buddies that you are moving behind them. Have fifteen degrees of separation while firing or no firing over vehicles, you did not want to frag a fellow troop. While we stopped and engaged an ambush, a senior NCO told me to move back and after I stepped back a SAW gunner let it rip. If I did not move back I would have been pink mist.

The day of qualification we did dry runs during the day and night to see what the targets look like and give the leadership of the convoy practice time to figure out how they would react to different situations: who would take over if the convoy OIC was killed, perform first aid, call a nine line MEDEVAC request , tell higher HQ about a unexploded IED (UXO) unexploded or Situation Report (SITREP).

Like in the in the financial world, the smarter you invest, the greater the reward, and we invested lots of time in rehearsal. Horror stories were going around about units having unauthorized discharges of weapons in vehicles, not having muzzle discipline or swinging rifle barrels around or other unsafe acts. These are great ways to change the chain of command and get another week at warm and fun filled Graf. We lived by the adage of practice makes perfect.

So we drove around, engaged targets while conducting a maintenance halt, backing up from an UXO, reacted to a sniper, block ambush/IED and cutting those targets to ribbons. During the night convoy, it was a bit surrealistic. When it is dark everything is louder and when M-16s are rattling away, M-203 40mm grenade launchers are going pop and M-249 SAWs are spitting bullets, it was loud. It was like the Star Wars the movie when the rebels and storm troopers were firing, but sped up faster. The tracer rounds were glowing red and pounding the crap out of the targets. One time I stopped and just look around and I felt a small amount of pity for the stupid idiots who think they can pull a fast one in a direct engagement with the US Army or Marines. It is awe inspiring to see all the firepower go down range. Then I got back in a good groove and started to take well aim shots at targets.

One interesting part of the range was that not all of the “Plywoodians” or pop up targets were the bad guys. Some were painted white that were civilian males and the black ones were suppose to look like women in tradition Islamic clothing. You were supposed to only target the Plywoodians dressed in white with a diagonal black stripe representing a weapon and they were sometimes mixed with the civilians in mock villages. If you hit the civilians, the Observer/Controller would let you know that you are screwing up by the numbers and you might get another reservation at GTA to re-qualify. Mowing down civilians is not good-ask the French. (Video is here.)

After firing we had to go back out on the range and pick up spent shell casings. That was fun, since it felt like it was five to ten degrees above zero Fahrenheit at night.

One of the interesting things about this exercise is that we slept in barracks with open bays that held 40 soldiers. I found out that we had a quartet of lumberjacks or troops that snore. I had to sleep with my hearing protection that I would normally use on the rifle range. It sounded like a symphony of saws.

Last the food was pretty good. It has improved over time since I was a Private. Breakfast was the good old standard of eggs, sausage, potatoes or SOS over biscuits. Once we had steak and shrimp for dinner and another time was pot roast, so nobody had a reason to complain.

The most memorable quote was: Nobody gets lost with graphics on their map.

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