My story of finishing the Ironman Triathlon in Louisville, Kentucky, on Sunday, August 24, will begin with the end--or near the end. At mile three of the marathon that ends every Ironman, I jogged past a guy who saw my tattoo and said, "I was in first armored." So I slowed to a walk and started talking to Chief Warrant Officer 4 Mike Woodard, a Blackhawk helicopter pilot in the Kentucky Army Reserve.
Mike has done the Louisville Ironman for several years. He was convinced we could run-walk to a finish just before midnight, so we started walking and running together--and stayed together until mile 19. During the 16 miles we walked and ran together we got a lot of encouragement. When people on the side of the road would say, "Looking good!" I would tell them that Mike and I were 115 years of good looking. I yelled this to one group of women wearing matching t-shirts supporting another competitor at mile 5. We passed by them on mile 9 and one of them said, "Here comes that 115 years of good looks."
We agreed that at 10:30 p.m. if we were not at mile 22, we would run till we made it or cracked. At 10:30 we were at mile 19 and started running. Mike took a break a mile later. I kept running and finished six minutes before midnight. Mike finished just before midnight.
Before the last mile I was thinking of waiting for Mike at the line, but the final effort to get to the line was so painful, I lost track of everything except getting back to my car.
That half-mile walk from the finish line to my car took more than 20 painful minutes. When Annalisa and I got back to the hotel room, I told myself I should eat before going to bed. I microwaved some leftover spaghetti. I tried to eat it, but the effort of lifting my fork was too much. I went to sleep.
It turns out Mike is a writer in addition to being a pilot and an Ironman. Here is something he wrote about flying MEDEVAC in Afghanistan. Mike also flew through the base where I was stationed in Iraq, although a few years before I was there.
The night before the Ironman, we went to dinner with Pam Bleuel, a friend from Iraq who lives in Kentucky. My next trip to Kentucky, I will be visiting Pam and Mike.
Tough Mudder vs. Ironman, Part 3
Tough Mudder vs. Ironman, Part 2
Tough Mudder vs. Ironman is Here
Second Tough Mudder Report
First Tough Mudder Finish
First Tough Mudder Photos
First Tough Mudder Entry
Ironman Bucket List
Friday, August 29, 2014
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
Minutes of This
Is Followed by Hours of This. . .
And This. . .
In the Army, anything that is really exciting will require hours of drudgery before and after. Much of life is like this. Think of the hours that go into preparing a perfect meal. The most exciting moment is the first taste of the sizzling scallops or the crunch of the the perfect salad.
Add all the bureaucratic bedevilment with safety and the Army brackets each minute of real excitement with an hour of boredom before and after. This is so true of firing weapons. Before a soldier steps on the range, that soldier will have two or three hours of Primary Marksmanship Instruction. For someone like me who fires once a year, this class is a good reminder of some of the fundamentals, especially of zeroing the weapon (lining up the sights and the barrel of the weapon for the particular shooter).
But most of the class own a dozen guns, talk about gun safes at lunch, know who sells ammo cheapest, and fire on a range or hunt every month. Yet these guys have to go through the same repetitive rehash of firing procedures. If all goes well, the soldier is actually on the zeroing range firing for 10 or 15 minutes. The procedure is to fire three-round groups, adjust the sights and fire again. Once the weapon has a zero, the soldier can go to the qualification range.
At the "Qual" range, the soldier fires 40 rounds at pop-up targets from 50 to 300 meters away from the firing position. This is very exciting, especially for the once-a-year shooters like me who have not memorized the target order and have to look for and fire at the targets for the few seconds they are visible.
This year I had trouble with the battlesight, but a friend who is an armorer and an expert marksman switched out my sight. I fired six rounds to zero. All six were in the 4 cm circle at the center of the target. On the range itself, I fired the best in my life with 33 of 40 target hits. During my first enlistment, I carried a pistol so M16 marksmanship wasn't part of my Army life.
After the sight switch, I had an exciting ten minutes getting six rounds in the center of the zero target, and an exciting five minutes hitting 33 of 40 on the pop-up target range. Immediately after shooting, we carefully pick up the spent cartridges
Then it was time to clean weapons. For most of the next three hours I cleaned my weapon and started cleaning another soldier's weapon who had to go to a ceremony. So in all, 15 minutes of excitement in a ten-hour day.
But wait!!! There's more.
At the end of the next day, our brass turn-in was was 400 less than the 10% allowed for loss on the range. We needed 400 rounds of brass--the spent cartridge that is ejected from the side of the rifle. For those who have not been on a range, finding brass is a painstaking job. Most shooters from long years of habit begun in basic training carefully pick up all their brass. Some ranges require you to turn in 40 rounds of brass when you step off the range after firing 40 shots.
At 5:30 pm, the first sergeant picked a dozen of us to head to the range and find brass. We were joined by many staff officers. We kicked the grass and crawled along the edges of the firing stations combing the ground looking for spent brass. We found about a hundred rounds of brass on our range, then moved to another range, hoping the soldiers who fired there had left some brass in the grass.
An hour later, the Brigade Command Sergeant Major called a halt to the search and we headed back to the armory with the brass we could find.
I will probably never know what happened to the missing brass. The most common speculation I overheard on the range is that someone "misplaced" several hundred rounds of ammo.
In any case, I was happy. I fired the best I ever fired in my life with a rifle. My zero was as near perfect as I will ever get. And crawling in the grass looking for spent cartridges 42 years after the first time I fired on a military range was just too funny. I was smiling the whole time while most everyone else was bitching. For me this was the perfect Army end to my last session of qualification. In the Army those minutes of excitement always begin with safety briefings, long lines to draw weapons and end with hours of waiting, picking up brass and cleaning the weapon.
That missing brass let me have a full Army experience.
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
The commander of the garrison at Camp Adder, Iraq, when I was stationed there was a Lieutenant Colonel who was a Green Beret. Because I helped with some garrison events I got to talk to the colonel a few times about being a soldier. Once he said, "The difference between [Green Berets] and other soldiers is that we meet Army Standard in every area. Most soldiers are good in some areas, great in one or two and bad in many others." The applies to SEALS, Recon Marines and other elite units.
Like the children of Lake Woebegon who are all above average, elite soldiers are fully qualified on their own weapon and every other weapon in their unit. They know field medicine. They are beyond Army Fitness Standards. They can survive, escape, and evade capture.
Outside these elite units, the Army looks very different. Outside the combat arms fields--infantry, armor and artillery--soldiers tend to specialize in their job. And competence breeds contentment so some of these skilled pilots, mechanics, technicians slip into pushing basic soldiers skills and fitness onto the back burner of their lives while they become the Iron Chefs of their particular specialty.
I have been in units in which the supply sergeant was an absolute wizard of Army paperwork and could pass inspections without any worry--either to himself or to his commander. But that same guy could not even pretend to pass the annual fitness test. I know motor sergeants, weapons sergeants and instructor pilots who are beyond out-of-shape and are obese, yet are incredibly good at their jobs. And they believe their technical skill means they should be exempt from the fitness requirements of their career.
When the Army cuts the force in the coming years, they will do it the way it was done under President Clinton in the 90s. By tightening height and weight and fitness standards, many mid-career officers and NCOs will decide getting in shape and staying in shape is not the way they want to live their lives.
As you can imagine, the SEALS, the Green Berets, the Army Rangers, Army Airborne, the Marine Corps Special Operations Command and Air Force Aerospace Rescue and Recovery units will not be affected by the cutbacks. But the rest of the military will be smaller in numbers and wear a smaller size uniform once the cutbacks are complete.