Saturday, May 31, 2008

I'm Back. . .

. . .In two senses of the word. I am back to posting after a week of catching up on work and workouts. May was my low month so far this year for workouts--especially riding. And I am back in the case of being really far back in the pack at today's bike race. It turns out (no surprise) that military training does not help with training for races. I hung in for three of the ten 2.7-mile laps. I rode five more laps then pulled off the road to watch the finish. One of my teammates took the win by about a second--so it was a good result even if I had no real part in it.

On the start line one of the officials called out my name then told the whole pack at the start (40 racers) that I had enlisted and was going to Iraq. It was quite a surprise. Usually only former national champions get introduced.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Done at 11

This morning we took everything out of the barracks at 545 am and cleaned until about 8 am. Then we went to the armory for formations at 845 and 9 am then one final formation at 1045 am. After that we all left. I got home in time to do the 1pm Friday training ride. It was clear early that I had not been training for bicycle racing for the last three weeks. I hung on until the coasting race then won by an inch or so--at least Scott Haverstick said I won and he was right behind me. It is great to be racing down Turkey Hill again just a year after the crash. Mike the Cop had us going 28mph to Columbia. I dropped off before the climb where we turn toward home and called my youngest daughter to come and get me. I was toast, but it felt good to go fast again.
I'll be racing again next Saturday at the Millport Road Race.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Today the best of the many PowerPoint presentations was on Battlemind. How to keep your head on straight in a combat zone. The course was taught by our battalion flight surgeon. He has a black belt, works out five times each week and says fitness is the secret to keeping a cool head in combat. He also said how important nutrition is to good health. Just before his presentation started we got today's box lunch. Instead of MREs, the box lunch is a cellophane wrapped box. We were eating these box lunches while the filght surgeon spoke. There were various ones but mine was typical: 2 Uncrustables peant butter and jelly sandwiches, a small can of Pringles sour cream and onion potato chips, a candy bar, a bottle of water. Oh well. Most everyone seemed to be paying attention while they ate their PBJs.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Army PowerPoint

For the last two full days of training, three hundred men filled the drill hall at the armory that serves as your headquarters and listened to a series of lectures on Rules of Engagement (when we can shoot), Army values, Sexual Harassment, surviving in hot climates and many more. The first lecture was on the culture and history of Iraq. Most everyone was working very hard to stay awake.

Combat Lifesaver Hands-On Training

Today we gave each other IVs. I lucked out. A young guy who calls me Grandpa G and has had this training three times before decided to be my partner. For the training one of us just had to get the IV and and the other got the IV fluid. I went first and set up the line in my IV partner. Then he started and IV in my arm. I think I twisted the IV a couple of times judging by his face, but I got the IV in the vein on the first stick and had not trouble. My IV was done so well I barely felt it. Several other guys got stuck more than once. I think the most was four. The rest of the day was hands-on tests on tourniquets, splints, compress bandages, Heimlich manouver, and CPR.

At the end of the day, the whole company cleaned weapons until almost 9pm. Tomorrow we have a full day "Death by PowerPoint" class on Iraq.

Monday, May 19, 2008

M19 Grenade Launcher

In today's training we assembled, disassembled and worked on a the M19 belt-fed grenade launcher. This crew-served weapon fires at a rate of more than 300 40mm grenades per minute. We also operated the turret on a HUMVEE with an M19 mounted on it. We were finished with training by mid afternoon so I went to the motor pool to do some paperwork. After an hour of paperwork I had time to ride and go to the gym. Tomorrow we give each other IVs in the Combat Lifesaver hands-on training.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

"Hollywood" -- Front Page of the Sunday News Again

This morning's Lancaster Sunday News had an article about me in Urban Assualt training that was half the front page and most of two inside pages. Here's the link. Today was the first of two days of automatic weapons training and the article got passed around the among the people waiting to be tested on field stripping M249 SAW and M2 .50 Caliber machine guns. I heard "Hollywood" a lot today.
The SAW is new to me. It was introduced in the 80s but not standard issue until the 90s. It is light for a full-auto machine gun and easy to maintain. The M2 50 Cal. is exactly the same gun I fired from M113 Armored Personnel Carriers in the 1970s and 80s. It was introduced in 1921 and last modified in 1968. It is a great weapon--reliable and powerful with a range of more than 500 meters.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Dinner with my Kids

I got as pass tonight after a short training day. I got home by 6pm, in time to take all four of my kids out to dinner and let my wife listen to Prairie Home Companion in peace. We ate at Isaac's, a local restaurant chain with very good sandwiches named after birds. Although the day was short, it was difficult. It was gas mask training. I was never very good at getting my helmet off and mask on and leak checked in 9 seconds. When the 100 soldiers in today's training started lining up to get tested, I went up front first, and failed. So I went off by myself to practice all the the steps--15 or 20 times. I finally got it and was the last one who passed--but I passed. I have to keep working on this one.

Friday, May 16, 2008

IED Training

Today we had training in the many kinds of IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) and how to react to them. I felt much better this morning. The forecast was rain and the forecast was, unfortunately correct. It rained all day. Steadily all morning, hard at noon and tapered off until it stopped just 15 minutes before we loaded into the trucks. All of us were wet and cold. I was less wet and cold than some of the guys because I got issued a full rain suit, some guys had just the jackets. The high temp never got over 55 so everyone was tired as well as dirty when we got back. The training area had churned into mud by the time we finished practicing identifying weapons hidden in the woods and searching vehicles for explosives. The line was so long for the shower, I decided to eat and get on line first, then shower later.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Sick Call

Last night after I signed off I felt strange, but thought I would be OK. At 2am I woke up with my digestive system about to go into reverse. After a half hour in the latrine, I got back to bed. I woke up and got dressed and went to the range for today's training, but I was a mess and thinking the symptoms were about to return. Our motor officer drove me to sick call. The doctor said I have a virus and sent me to the barracks. I slept from 0830 until about 1600. I went on bought some crackers then went back to bed. I tried eating dinner. I am not very hungry, but feeling better. Hopefully, I'll be OK tomorrow. I should certainly be well rested.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Land Navigation

Clearly I need more practice at finding my way in the woods. We went into a woods on a hillside singly and in pairs with a compass, a map, and four points to find in the a rock and fallen-tree strewn wood. We were looking for green target silhouettes. Luckily, my partner had better eyes than me for green objects in dark woods. He found our targets when I saw nothing. We walked about five miles over the rocks and trees and across streams for three hours. Later this summer I am supposed to be going to a two-week Warrior Leadership Course so I should get a lot more opportunity to practice map reading and land navigation in the woods. Tomorrow is squad tactics. We should be out in the woods until dark or later.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Map Reading

Today we were back in the classroom for a full day on map reading and land navigation. Tomorrow we crawl over logs and racks on the land navigation course. The class had a lot of practical exercises and a more difficult test than most Army classes. But the topic is very important. Getting lost in a war zone is very bad news.
The evaluator for today's course was an Iraq veteran with more than 20 years in the Army. In fact, at the end of the day he showed us his 20-year letter. He has a laminated copy he carries with him. The 20-year letter says he has 20 years active service and is eligible for paid retirement. He said he thought about retiring but he thinks that land navigation is so important that he stayed on active duty instructing and evaluating land navigation primarily for troops getting deployed. He was in Iraq twice and wants every soldier to know how to find his way home when all the electronics fail--he told several stories about soldiers who depended too much on the electronics and what happened to them. And about one of his own missions in which a new driver hit the wrong switch and destroyed ll the electronics in their vehicle. They got home using old fashioned land navigation.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Urban Combat

Today was Urban Combat training. We jumped through windows, moved along buildings, threw grappling hooks and built firing positions in a mockup village made mostly from Conex boxes, the 8 by 8 by 20 foot containers that cross the oceans on ships. It rained most of the day, not very hard, but steady. So when we crawled, it was in the mud.
Jon Rutter, the Lancaster Sunday News reporter who wrote a story about me joining the Army last September, came to today's training with a photographer and stayed most of the day. The article should be out soon, I would guess on Memorial Day weekend. Jon had never heard the Army motto "If it ain't rainin' it ain't trainin'" but he heard it many times today. Neither Jon nor the photographer had MREs (Meal Ready to Eat) before, and had a lot of fun eating the various things that come packed in Army field rations. Follow the link to see our lunch.
Today was another long, dirty day that was a lot of fun.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Eased Restriction for Mother's Day

I was home from 530 to 10pm this evening because the commander gave many soldiers passes for Mother's Day. So the restriction to post was eased to give soldiers a chance to see their mothers and wives. We did have to fill out a two-page request for a pass that included a virtual oath to drive carefully.
In the morning we had classes on communications and then one on health and sanitation. They picked the right guy to teach the class on health and sanitation. He is quiet and could get get through the entire presentation without making a single joke. The PowerPoint presentation that accompanied his talk included graphic reminders of how a soldier could get AIDS and other diseases, but our instructor left every joke unspoken.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Still Wearing a Borrowed Steel Helmet

Today we were supposed to get new field gear--two duffle bags full of it. But the Strykers went through the deployment processing facility the week before we did and the cupboard was bare. I got one duffle bag with a scarf and a ski mask and a canteen cup. I am still using a borrowed steel helmet--no kevlar helmet yet.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Physical Today and the Square Needle in the Left Nut

I just got four vaccinations, which is the maximum, not 8 or 9 as yesterday's rumor had it. Speaking of rumors, I asked a couple of the older guys here but no one remembers the mythical vaccination of Air Force basic training I heard in 1972. The rumor at Lackland Air Force Base back then was that after the shots from the air gun on the tenth day of training we would get one more vaccination for venereal disease. The rumor was we would all get the vaccination through a square needle in our left testicle on the 19th day of training. Most everybody knew after a couple of days that the square needle was just a rumor, but there were a couple of guys who didn't sleep well the night before the 19th training day.
There is a Viet Nam memoir by a Navy veteran titled Scars of the Square Needle that has a direct reference to the "square needle in the left nut." So if that rumor never made it to the Army, it was alive and well in the Navy and the Air Force.

More paperwork

Today was paperwork all morning--wake up at 0430--and into the afternoon followed by two-hour break, then a class on promotions, dinner and medical paperwork until just after 9pm (2100).
Tomorrow is medical processing--fast tonight then 8 or 9 vaccinations tomorrow and lots of other tests.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Dramatic to Deadly Dull

After choke holds, claymore mines, and combatives today was the opposite. I spent the morning in a classroom with 250 other soldiers reviewing the combat lifesaver course and taking the written test. I know this is serious stuff, but the guy who put the title on this course does not think literally. When I hear combat lifesaver, I think I am going to get a pack of camouflage-colored round candy. Anyway, the class and exam lasted from 8 am to 1 pm. After that we had a one-hour break and then went to begin three days of pre-deployment. We begin at 0515 tomorrow morning, but today, the processing staff had to make sure we were ready to begin. We were picked up in buses at 1415 and driven to another area of the base four miles away. We then had two roll calls. Then we were done. But it was three pm and the schedule said we were supposed to eat dinner were we were and return at 1830. So we waited 2 hours to eat. I waited three because I fell asleep until 1800 (6pm). Then we waited until 630 pm and returned to our barracks. One day of excitement. One day less exciting than watching paint dry.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


Today we had three classes. The first was hand grenades. For that class, I was the left-handed demonstrator. The third was claymore mines. For that I was the instructor. The second, in the middle of the day was Army Combatives. In that course I was just another soldier in a choke hold in the mud. It was great.
The 2.5-hour course was instruction in six choke holds and several methods of breaking free or flipping your opponent while fighting hand to hand on the ground. We practiced the drills in pairs. We really flipped each other over and pushed the choke holds till the soldier in the choke hold tapped to say "That's enough." Once I waited to long and saw stars. After two hours of practicing on damp ground we were forty muddy soldiers. The instructors lined us up in a long row and paired us up for one-minute fights, four fights at a time, each with one of the class instructors keeping time and making sure no one got seriously hurt. We were not allowed to kick or punch, but the point of the drill is to get the other soldier into a choke hold or one of the arm, breaking holds we learned.
We started on the ground. I got paired up with a 21-year-old soldier who a little taller than I am. If we were scored on points he won, but I managed to break the choke holds before he could actually get me in one of the holds. At the end I had a cut lip and was really jazzed.
The fights I watched were fast and fierce. This was just phase one. Later this year or next year we will be doing more. I ran three miles slow after the final formation of today. I am expecting to be very sore tomorrow.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Recovering Remains

Today we had a short class on recovering remains from a crash site or other place where American soldiers were killed. We have a procedure for everything.

Through the middle of the day I had a three-hour on-line course on Survival, Escape and Evasion. It was interesting, but it also shows how much better the live classes are.

From late in the day through 9 pm (2100 hours) we practiced more for tomorrow's class.

Detainee Handling Training

Today we were out in a field between tree lines learning how to search prisoners and how to stop hostile civilians, armed and unarmed at our perimeter. We really got into this perimeter defense training. In groups of a half-dozen or so, the same guys I was joking with five minutes before lined up in combat gear and rifles and "hostiles" (other soldiers in civilian clothes acting) coming up to them with hidden weapons. The squad leader yelled Halt, the hostiles kept coming. The rifles had muzzle covers but when a half-dozen battle clad soldiers raise their rifles and start picking targets, the scene has real drama.
We also practiced searching prisoners both standing and on the ground. It was another long day out I the sun and after it was over five of us stayed out till dark practicing for a class on hand grenades, claymore mines and some battle drills. There is a lot to practice and we are spending a lot of time doing on the range practicing. In addition to teaching the claymore mine, I am the left-handed grenade throwing demonstrator--it's different than right handed. Lefties have to hold the grenade upside down to keep the safety lever pointed toward the throwers chest.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Combat Lifesaver Training

In this three-week cycle of pre-deployment training if you asked most soldiers what they were worried about more: Iraq or Combat Lifesaver Training (CLS), CLS wins by a landslide. Today we spent the morning in this very important course. In CLS we learn how to save lives of terribly injured soldiers through rapid treatment on site of the worst wounds. The course is taught for three days in total. The first day, today, was all classroom instruction--which the Army calls "Death by PowerPoint." Nobody was worried about this class, or the next one. It's the third class, near the end of the three weeks. In that class we will all start an IV in another soldier, and (drum roll please) another soldier will start an IV in each of US!! That's what most everyone is worried about. That we will all be pin cushions for someone learning to start an IV.
Worries aside, it is a really good course just for the information they have assembled. I think the hands-on part will be really good.

The Deuce and a Half

Every soldier who has been in the Army since the Korean War has ridden in the back of an M35 2-1/2 ton truck known as the "Deuce and a Half." This three-axle, all-terrain, multi-fuel vehicle seats 20 soldiers in the open air or under a canvas tarp and is the main mode of transportation for troops moving anywhere in training and in war. My first ride in a deuce and a half was in tank training in 1975 at Fort Knox. We were riding to a firing range, sitting sideways on wooden benches, bouncing along in the dark oblivion of green-clad men under a canvas cover. We sat still a lot an drove slowly. The conversation occured in bursts. No one said anything, then we would slow and someone would fart and for five minutes afterward came jokes about the whether something had died inside the guy who had just fouled the air, the state of his undergarments, and what sort of moral failing promotes this activity.
When I rode in Deuce and a Halfs in Colorado then Germany then Pennsylvania over the nine years after that first ride, new groups recycled the same jokes. This morning, in a Deuce and a Half full of guys not born when I had my first ride in one, made the same jokes I remembered from three decades before--almost verbatim!

55th Birthday, Part 2

Today at final formation, one of the senior sergeants whispered to our first sergeant that "yesterday was Gussman's 55th birthday." So he led Echo company in happy birthday. They don't usually sing happy birthday, but since most of the people in the formation are three decades younger than I am, they thought 55 was worth singing about. No cake though.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Claymore Mine Training

After our initial briefings, I was put in charge of training our company how to use an M18A1 Claymore Mine. The class is next Tuesday so the two of us who will be teaching the course will be able to practice each day. The Claymore is not what most people would think of as a mine. It as more like a one-shot shotgun--a very big shotgun. It is 4 by 8 by 2 inches, stands on small legs facing the enemy and blasts 700 shotgun pellets over a wide area. There are 8 pages of instructions in the Soldiers Manual on how to use it correctly. It should be an interesting class.

55th Birthday

I celebrated my 55th birthday today (May 2) with the briefings that begin three weeks of Annual Training. We are confined to base for the three weeks, but this first day was actually our May drill so there was leeway for people who forgot things--like me. I left my dogtags in my dresser and did not bring any bedding.

Military Pilots Really Have "The Right Stuff"

Tammie Jo Shults, F-18 Fighter Pilot Today I listened to the audio of pilot Tammie Jo Shults calmly speakin...