Sunday, May 31, 2009


This post is dedicated to my URF. Phonetically "ur-f". The actual acronym is "Unit Request of Forces", meaning the Army, which is pretty strapped for people, asked for assistance for each mission and billet to accomplish that mission from other services. Each URF has its own number to track its mission, personnel and status. An URF can be as big as 18 or so, but our URF is

only 2 people. So my bunkmate, Steve, and I are an URF. As a nickname I call him URF a lot. It is good to have a battle buddy you can count on in these types of situations. Thanks URF.

Friday and Saturday were Afghanistan specific big picture medical lectures, with lots of reference material on disc in case we need it later.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Urban Ops, -Room Clearing

Every one of our instructors started off with "We usually work up to this over several months, but you will do it all today." That should have been a clue.

We had a class on room clearing, then we were split into 4 man teams and 12 man squads. We practiced for about 3o min, then went through two small test houses.

The final 'test' had us operate as a whole squad- which we had yet to do- to clear a 2 story building. Wax/rubber bullets added realism. The results were sobering.

Our 12 man squad took 50% casualties, 2 of which were fratricide. 3 out of 4 leaders became casualties. The actual OPFOR of 2 aggressors and 4 paper targets were subdued.

While the medical care for our many injured was good, there are some things that are best left to the combat arms professionals who do this type of thing all the time.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

SRM-Reflex Shooting Range

Today was another productive day at the Range. Since most shots are fired at less than 50 meters in our current conflicts, the Army has instituted training to accomplish this Short Range Marksmanship. Since repetition builds reflexes.

To the credit of the Army instructors and safety coaches, there was plenty of explanation and dry drills prior to actually putting rounds in the chambers. All shots were in the double tap- or controlled pair- mode.

The first set of firing was at the ready position with the M-4. On command we fired at targets from 5 to 25 meters away. We fired from facing full on, but started in many different facing positions: facing full- on, facing sideways right, facing sideways left, and facing backwards positions. There was also firing on the move while closing with targets.

The second course of fire had us transitioning from our M-4 Carbine to our M-9 pistol and back (double taps at pop up targets) switching magazines until all of our magazines were empty. I found I did much better with the M-9 doing these transitions, than I did at the regular range. I counted at least 15 transitions.

There was also a short course of fire for fire control. There were different colored shapes on the targets. As the tower called off a shape or color- we were to double tap until our magazines were empty. They called out several combinations at one time.

The stress course of fire was last. From the prone we ran 50 meters with a cleared and safe M-4's into a building. We had to shoot from one window- 2 sets of double taps, then trade with our battle buddies to the other window-where you had to shoot with your other (nondominant) hand. We then jogged to some barriers and had to shoot regular x2 doubles off one side of the barrier, then switch hands again to shoot nondominant. Finally we finished up with a jog to an old vehicle and shot braced from the hood. All the while the staff were setting off flash-bangs, smoke grenades, shouting and running sirens and whistles.

Very good reflex shooting training and great confidence training. 170 rounds downrange per person. No incidents with safety. A good day all around. I know folks who would pay good money for such and experience on a private range.

Monday, May 25, 2009

COIN then Memorial Day

Last week was spent in many long tedious lectures on CounterInsurgency (COIN) theory and applications to Afghanistan. At the end of the week, we went over personnel recovery as well.
Thankfully we had a 4 day weekend to celebrate Memorial Day. I must say that it increased my morale significantly.

I got to spend time with my favorite people in the whole world. I got to swim, watch movies, nap in the rainy afternoon, play baseball, eat together and I got to see my son get his scouting God and Me award presented in church. It was so good to be home, even if only for a few days.

I also saw some true American patriots in action. The flight crews of several of the flights I took went out of their way to thank those of us who were in the Military for our service. One flight even had a PA announcement and a rousing applause from the passengers. I even observed several citizens give up their first class seats to Military personnel in Uniform. This was a heartwarming gesture that shows just how much the American people appreciate the sacrifices of people like me and my family.

Memorial Day is about the fallen and their families. I distinctly recall the tingly feeling I had one early morning while I visited the American Cemetery in Nettuno Italy. It is the only type of ground we as Americans have ever asked for during all of our Wars and Operations abroad- enough ground to bury the 7,861 war dead from WWII Italian campaign.

Citizens of the USA, we are proudly and humbly your servants. Photo of training team Neptune.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Continued Training

We spent time in classes on Wednesday- Law of Warfare, generic rules of engagement.

Thursday we spent in classes on Call for Fire and Air support. The photo is a shot of the screen that was our practical exercise trainer. It will be a very bad day indeed when medical folks are needed to call in and direct Close Air Support.

Friday was detainee and site exploitation day. Detainees are pretty self explanatory. Site Exploitation is the collection of contraband and evidence to eventually convict detainees. We had a practical exercise in the full battle rattle with actors playing in various roles as Afghan Army soldiers, suspects to be tactically questioned, and a compound to be searched in very finite period of time. I had a small team to seach and catalogue the contraband in the house. The Observer/controllers were impressed how rapidly and methodically we searched and catalogued the gear in the house. He asked which intelligence group we were with. He was suprised when we revealed that we are Medical. It was good training, and it is possible that I might participate in something similiar downrange, but I would like to think that as Medical folks we will be employed in more the hearts and minds category of work.

Unexpectedly I met up with one of my VMI classmates, Kent Doane, who is in the training class ahead of me. He is in the Guard now. Last night he and I went to a backyard neighborhood social with another Brother Rat, Paul Mele- who is CO of an Apache BN here at Ft Riley. It was good to catch up with them and the goings-on at our 20th reunion.

Thank you to those of you who are leaving comments and feedback. That will be even more critical as I make to transition from training to boots on the ground.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

More Range Time- M-9 Pistol, M-4 Carbine day/night and Mk 19 Famfire

I still remember days long ago at VMI. On Saturday mornings in the fall on the way to classes some upperclassman would inevitably stop a Rat and demand. "What day is Today Rat?" The answer was a scripted and well rehearsed "Game Day, Baby, Game Day- Sir!!!" The more vigor you put into your delivery the less trouble you were likely to recieve.

Well today and yesterday I felt like answering the question with "Range Day, Baby, Range Day!!!"

Yesterday morning we left on our convoy to the Pistol range. This was a very different course of fire from any I have performed in the past. We were given 9 preloaded magazines with between 1 and 7 rounds each. All of the targets were pop-up computer- timed targets which only were up from 3-7 seconds each at varied distances.. The last portion of the M-9 range had us all walking on line down the range and shooting pop-up targets as they presented.

Then our Navy section was off to the M4 range. First was the iron sight zeroing of the weapon at 25 meters. The coaches were not too interested in fine tuning my "dope" on the weapon, since we would be using the M68 optical sight for our qualification with the M-4. Once both of these were zeroed from a supported foxhole position, we were off to the range.

The Army range had targets, pop-up again, from 50 to 30O meters. Once again targets were up for only 3-5 seconds each. Shooting was done from a foxhole, prone and kneeling positions. I am used to a more leisurely precision firing, so I had to change tactics. With the M68 sight it was quite easy to take on the range. In fact I was "robbed" of 2-3 shots since I hit the target while it was still on the way up. The system only recognized a hit after the target was fully in the up position.

Night fire with the M-4 was more of a Star Wars experience than marksmanship. The range was completely black. We had our night vision goggles on and our PEG-2 lasers- which are mounted and bore sited on our M-4's. All night fire was from supported and then unsupported foxhole positions. The laser put out an infrared laser point. With the butt of the M-4 on my chest I just guided the laser point to the popup target and fired. My face was nowhere near a firing position, as we were not looking through sites or a scope. It was odd, but while the targets were a little closer, I did almost as well during the night as I did during the day. It was another late night since we didn't get back to Camp until after midnight.

While I must dime out the Army for not even giving us a period of instruction on the basics, disassembly or cleaning of the M-4, I have lots of confidence in this weapon.

We also completed our Combat lifesaver course with mass casualty drills, carries of live personnel with moulage injury makeup. Since we are Medical folks, we pretty much smoked this event.

Today was the Mark 19 range. The Mark 19 is originally a Navy weapon system adopted by our ground forces. It is an automatic grenade launcher. It fires 40mm grenades up to 1500 meters like a machine gun. It is a fun area target weapon, but is not a precision weapon. It is used alongside 50 cal machineguns to compliment the effects of each. The Mk-19 can also be used to provide short range indirect fire to positions you cannot actually see. It was a fun, but all too short 32 rounds.

Photos are of an UpArmored HMMWV with a Mark 19 mounted.
Photo #2 practice rounds hitting the target.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Range Day, Machine Guns - Day and Night

- A day at the range is most definitely better than a day in the office. Yesterday was the first of only two days at the firing ranges during our training here. The course of fire was both to familiarize and if possible qualify on the M2 .50 caliber machinegun, and the M240G machinegun both in day and night settings. We also did familiarization fire with the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) during the day. All firing was performed from a stationary HMMWV. Daytime with iron sights, nightime with thermal imaging scopes. Each individual fired about 900 rounds of various types throughout the day and night.

- Like most range days, we arose early (0530 muster). Our Navy teams, Blackbeard and Neptune, are still in the early stages of mastering mounted combat patrols and convoy operations. We did make it to the range all together and in one piece. The first order of business of course was the safety and range briefs. Then I was off with a small group to zero the M240. After we accomplished this we rejoined our group in line for daytime firing of the M2 50 cal.

- The 50 cal has been in service for at least 70 faithful years since before WWII. It is featured in the photos, along with yours truly getting directions from the range coach. The 50 cal is also one of the most popular and photogenic of the defensive mounts on HMMWV's and other armored troop carriers. While the arcane art of maintaining settings of headspace and timing is required to safely and effectively employ this fearsome ordinance, its tremendous shock power, range, and penetration have made it an enduring and powerful symbol of the US.

- Next was the M240 7.62 mm machinegun. It is the successor to the M60(pig) of earlier years. It can be moved onto a target more rapidly at short ranges. It seems heavier than my recollection of the old M60, but is a seemingly reliable light machinegun.

- Last was the SAW, which is slightly modified from the days I knew it in the early 90's. Perhaps because I had fired the SAW more than these other weapons, I did much better with the SAW.

- Daytime firing was OK, but after using the thermal imaging at night, I truly understand why our technology has made us masters of the night. The imaging systems were awesome in their effectiveness. It was ridiculously easy to pick off a target at 1000 meters on a pitch black night with the 50 cal. That is over half a mile away!

- My favorite course of fire was the M240 nightime qualification. Eleven pop up targets in 3 minutes from 100 to 400 meters with 200 rounds to use. I tied with several others for high score on that event. It was fun, but even more fun to watch others as the fireworks from 10 gun positions lit up the sky.

- Thankfully the weather was nice during the day. I would like to especially thank my Dear Love for the ipod, which made the waiting times more tolerable.

- On the challenge side our HMMWV started to smoke on the return to Camp Funston and had to be towed. We did not leave the range until 0430 the next morning after clearing the range. The rain and pillars of lightning from the sky while I was in the open topped HMMWV were less than welcome, as was the 8 hours of weapons cleaning our team performed on the machine guns today.

- I am beat after about 40 hours without sleeping in a bed. As tired as an Intern as they say. Now to sleep.

But a day at the Range beats a day in the office anytime.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Machine Guns and Foreign Weapons

We were assigned radios, HMMWV's, and crew served weapons this morning.

The afternoon was spent going over the 240G, 249 SAW, and M2(50 cal) machine guns. We had to demonstrate competency in clearing, firing, and assembly/disassembly of these automatic weapons. It has been a long time since I had to set headspace and timing on a 50 cal. We also went over the AK-47, the RPK and PKM machineguns, and the Dragunov sniper rifle with scope. Assembly and disassembly of these were not required, but was so easy I did them a few times each. It is clear why the AK is so ubiquitous and hardy compared to our complex but longer range weapons. Unfortunately no range time with the Russian type weapons. The optics and thermal imaging devices were kind of difficult to follow. More to follow as we shoot the US Machine guns day and night this week

Monday, May 4, 2009

Comm and Liberty

Wednesday and Thurday of last week were spent on communications. In some ways I feel like a time traveller, who has arrived from 20 years ago. When we used radios at that time all you had to do was turn two dials, master the on/off switch, and push a button to talk. Encryption was a vague esoteric thing which Comm people did. I was sorely nostalgic for those good old days when things were simple and you could talk no further than 5 kilometers on a good day with a PRC-77.
Imagine my suprise when introduced to 4 radio systems that are all keypad activated. We had two days of instruction which covered the basics of loading crypto data into the radios, programming channels, satellite, and various frequencies, entering satellite exact time into the radios, and then attempting to talk. It was pretty overwhelming. The instruction mostly consisted of following slide by slide the instructors prompts on how to accomplish the tasks. It would have been really nice to have a laminated 1 or 2 sheet go by for each system for future use, when the instructor and slide projector are not available. At the end of the training our 8 man group had to encrypt, load and talk on 2 radios of each type. Amazingly our group, most of which had never seen or touched these radios before got it done in about 30 min. The training tasks were accomplished, but I don't think I will retain much.
Thankfully the Army had a 3 day weekend. I caught a flight home and suprised the kids Tricia and I picked them up from school Friday. It was a wonderful weekend of eating together, biking downtown and swimming in the pool. I hope to have the opportunity to run home again during training. I will point out, however, that the Marine Corps can count all the way to 96 hours of liberty, instead of the standard Army 72.
Later today I am leading the US side of a Leader engagement (play acting) where we are to meet with our Afghan counterparts to discuss the need for wells so that the local poppy crop won't fail. It should be an interesting discussion.