Semi Random Desert Thoughts

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

11 thoughts on “Semi Random Desert Thoughts”

  1. Many of the units I served with approached NTC rotations with four phases, all of which were “evalutated” and used for the report cards. Phase 1 was draw week. Phase 2 was live fire week. Phase 3 was force on force. Phase 4 was turn in. While phase 2 and 3 were good soldier stuff, phase 1 and 4 were just painful processes everyone planned to endure endless BOHCA.

    Some brigades spent months developing draw and turn in SOPs just to deal with the system. For one unit, that SOP paid off grandly during emergency deployments to Kuwait with Ro-Ro ship equipment. Under the gun, draw was complete in 2 days. Turn in was not as swift, but done without a lot of snags, so we could catch that big plane home.

  2. two rotations, back in the mid-1980s, both of them Thanksgiving until just before Christmas….

    froze my butt off both times.

    my unit was the only one using the M60A1s that were still there. turn in was a flaming pain, replacing entire sides of tracks on three out of four in my platoon, and second time was 7 out of 14 in my company. but that was a better option than chunking it out, three blocks at a time….

  3. Heh. Poseurs.

    53 rotations, 42 of them as an O/C. Which, incidentally, was bar none the best job I ever had. A HMMWV, 1000 square miles of desert to drive it in, and the Toad to play with. And someone else buying the diesel and parts, and 4 day weekends in Las Vegas.

    Sweeeeeeeet.

  4. I tried to get a job there (with the OPFOR) but found myself recruiting instead. But yeah, it always looked like a good gig.

    But 11 regular rotations, thanks, but no thanks.

  5. Never went there. Too busy keeping the atheistic hordes of godless Communism from overrunning the Free World while you guys were trying to figure ways to steal a God Gun.

  6. Only two rotations myself. Back in ’88 as Blufor, which sucked as we were locked down in the Dustbowl. 10 years later I went as Opfor Augmentation after I’d gotten out and transferred to the Guard. In general much more fun the second time around. Very interesting to to watch the Opfor orders process and stuff. Practice does make perfect!
    But still commanding a Brad for the first time, and racking up a lot of kills, while only dying once was the highpoint of my active duty time. (We were the first deployment to bring a divisional cav troop with the brigade to the NTC, and the Opfor was way too used to dominating and winning the recon-counter recon fight, so much so that we were able to deny them info and sucker them into our kill sack.)

  7. so there i was, high atop Airplane Hill, mounted on my trusty M60A1 loaner beast, the lone vehicle that had succeeded in making any displacement towards the subsequent battle position, facing down the horde streaming across the northern flank….

    target rich environment, fire commands were fast and furious, laser tag slinging sons-of-guns we were, when appeared in front a cluster of vehicles with multiple antennae..

    my fire command devolved to: “SHOOT THE ONE WITH THE MOST ANTENNAE”, followed by “NOW SHOOT THE VEHICLE THAT BASTARD JUST JUMPED TO..”

    tagged the OPFOR Regimental Cdr that day. my gunner got an impact ARCOM.

  8. Can’t say I got that quite beat, but this is no shit:
    My track was the sole survivor of my platoon after the recon/counter-recon fight (I never actually engaged anyone as I was too close to the one T-72 that I saw kill my PL’s track to use my TOW) So I get called over to pick up my PL who’d survived the encounter and we wander around Hill 928? (southside of the Central Corridor well east of Barstow Road) trying to get an overwatch position where we can observe the rest of the Central Corridor in some safety. We find a wadi and sit there for a while calling in spot reports as the Advance Guard motors on by. We’re denied permission to engage as the Brigade CO still want us to monitor the Main Body. Suddenly we get overflown by a Hind at about 200 feet; we run for better cover, passing by sunbathing members of the OPFOR Combat Reconnaissance Patrol, who we fired up in passing. Apparently we weren’t spotted, and soon see another Hind overfly our hill, descending. We decide to see what was going on and move in the same direction, slowly, as not to put up a big dust cloud. After a klick or so what do I espy, but two Hinds, sitting on the ground, crewmembers talking with each other, at about 400 meters. I’m turret down, with only my ISU above the Inter-Vis Line. I get the driver to move forward about a track pad at a time so as not to alarm my prey. Finally I get my gun in a position to fire and engage the Hinds. I’m so close that all I can do is get their Miles lights to whoop a couple of times with near misses even though I can actually see the individual sensors at low power through my sight. Even aiming directly at them does nothing so I say, “Fuck this, TOW up!”. I fired a missile each at the Hinds and stuck my head out of the hatch to the O/C who was watching all this and asked him if a TOW was good enough for a kill even though I couldn’t get their kill lights to stay on because most of the sensors were on the bottom of the birds and masked from my fire. He called it into Mission Control and explains the situation to them, fielding several requests for amplification, and then gives me a thumbs up, drives over to the Hinds and tells them they’re dead.

    For an encore we decided to return to our original wadi as we were getting increasingly urgent commands to find out what the OPFOR Main Body was doing. We called in the first two battalions as they passed us, but were a little taken aback when most of the third stopped at the base of our hill to await developments. We called that in, as well as the commander’s conference being held at the base of our wadi, but decided to take the initiative and fire them up, solely to help our brothers in the line battalions, mind you. I got all thirteen visible without moving from our wadi, but decided to beat feet anyways, after taking a photo of my own to prove my victories, standing on top of my turret to avoid being spotted, to avoid any possible unpleasantness from the rest of the battalion. We moved further east along the military crest of the hill and watched the next battalion go from battalion column to column of companies and then platoons in anticipation of combat just on the other side of the hill since Third Battalion was showing signs of abuse. That was actually pretty awesome to watch from my position, but we requested permission to leave our OP once the OPFOR Regimental trains began to pass us. Lacking Miles gear of their own, there wasn’t anything we could do to them, but we sure wanted to join their convoy and see what combat vehicles we could shoot up from the rear. But the Brigade Commander still wanted us in position, even though I had eyes on the Regimental AA and could tell that it was empty. Party pooper!

    Got an impact AAM for it, which was probably downgraded from an ARCOM because I wasn’t real popular with my platoon leadership for my surly attitude and all that kind of stuff. The O/C gave my LT one of those screen shots showing all of my kills. Man did I want that photo for even more proof!

    The one time I was killed during that rotation it was by the Regimental Commander himself. Does that count? After I’d gotten lost and was maneuvering wildly in front of his battle positions, throwing up a serious dust cloud to avoid dying, he followed me carefully into my temporary shelter, as I was trying to figure out how to get back to friendly lines and blasted me with his main gun while I futilely bounced 25mm shots off him, and watched him duck behind obstacles to avoid the 30 seconds of exposure need to get a TOW kill on him. Can’t say I didn’t deserve it as dust clouds are pretty bad at preventing platoon and company volleys from hitting you in reality. But, man, was I having fun, we were maneuvering so hard that the 5 gallon can of oil strapped next to my driver’s position was thrown off, despite being strapped around the can proper and another one through the handle.

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