Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Back from the Desert

We just returned from three days of convoy training. We learn to identify, avoid and react to IEDs, hostile fire and the other hazards of driving on Iraqi roads. We had a full week of the same training in Oklahoma and some of our guys had more convoy training in Pennsylvania before we left.

So the training itself was not new, but in the US we had to pretend to be in the desert. Here the biggest training aid was miles of sand in every direction that occasionally blew up into a a sideways sandstorm, not to mention the clear, blue sky and the sun that here travels east to west near vertical. At noon here (actually 1pm because of Daylight Savings Time) my shadow is so small the fatter sand beetles can't get shade unless they crawl right next to my boot. With a mid-afternoon high temperature just over 100 and wearing full battle rattle (We wear a a 35-pound body armor vest, 4-pound helmet, uniform with long sleeves, heavy boots, a 9-pound rifle, and 15 pounds of ammo, knives, and other stuff. Plus a pound or two of scum from not showering.) we stay warm. Nothing in the states prepares us for the sun and wind of open desert.

Another plus of training here is we our drivers get realistic practice for the first time. In the states going off road means wrecking some local habitat so we pretend to go off road to set up Medevac sites or avoid hostile fire. Here we drive on sand tracks and when we need to we jump the berms and head off road. We also had real up-armored Humvees to train in instead of the light models we trained on in the states. The armor changes the handling. My driver had us bouncing through ditches and sliding sideways. they told us to keep it real and he was only too happy to oblige.

Another realistic element of training that never happens in the states (at least in my experience) is the all the vehicle crews in each group sleep in the same tent. After waking up before 5am we all sleep on the floor of the tent at around 10 at night. There are no special facilities for the female soldiers out on the road, so we all have to deal with that.

We had one hot meal in three days, the rest was MREs. On the bus on the way back the first 50 jokes were about constipation remedies we would need from three days of eating no fiber and lots of greasy meat and crackers from vinyl bags. But I have said quite enough on this subject already.