I spent a fair amount of time in desert environments. Not like today’s soldiers, but enough. For a guy who spent 12 years in the service, I was fortunate to only have to go to the National Training Center at Ft. Irwin, CA one time. It was unpleasant. The conditions weren’t any worse than a lot of other places I’ve been. And the pace of operations was only slightly higher than usual. But the whole hassle of traveling from Ft. Carson, CO to NTC, drawing equipment, getting it ready for the field, and jumping through all the other hoops that a “high visibility” event involved were enough to take away most of the fun factor of running around the desert for two weeks and shooting at things.
By a happy coincidence, my parents were in the area during the first couple days while we were still drawing our equipment. I managed to snag a couple hours off to spend some time with them. I am still grateful I had a chance to show my folks just a small slice of what life for a grunt in the wild was like. They got to see my home away from home, which was a pup-tent. I gave them a good tour of a Bradley, showed them all the rifles and weapons we carried and fed them an MRE. Most importantly, I went with them to the commissary and bought a dozen cartons of cigarettes. Back in the day, lots of grunts smoked. And after a few days in the field, cigarettes became more valuable than cash.
Drawing the equipment and going to the field wasn’t that bad. Just sign your name and you’re the proud owner of a Bradley. But your Bradley is one of the very first ones made. It is old and tired. It has tons of broken parts and is in sad shape. Whoever had it before you didn’t take much care of it. Think of it as a rental car, but instead of a businessman using it on a sales trip, a teenager had taken it to the races. Year after year.
The other problem was that you had to turn the vehicle back in. And suddenly, all the little things that were wrong with it when you drew it? They’re your problem now. They don’t want to have to fix them, so you have to. They (civilian contractors who could give a damn about you and your problems) don’t have to take it back, but you DO have to turn it in. You’re leaving. And so many hours go into fixing what was broken when you received it. The vehicles themselves weren’t always the worst parts. Often it was the associated equipment. For instance, cleaning the main and coax guns was something of a nightmare, as we were in a dustbowl. Kinda hard to clean a weapon when mother nature was blowing in sand and grit faster than we could scrub it out.
This isn’t me in the picture, but since I’m away from home and can’t scan one of my pics from my trip there, this will have to do. It shows:
Army and Marine forward observers at the National Training Center, Ft. Irwin, Calif., scan the valley for potential targets. Official photo by Casey Bain, JFIIT, USJFCOM