My first week I was in Port Hueneme, CA which is right next to Oxnard. It was not incredibly busy – mostly in-processing and medical and dental and a bunch of briefs. There were interesting moments like when I got fitted for my gas mask and chem suit and got to make sure they had a good seal by doing these weird breathing and moving exercises while inside a plastic bag. There were a bunch of really nice people that I met there who all came to Ft Jackson with me, so that is nice.
Then on Saturday we all flew to South Carolina by way of Chicago during a blizzard – love that Navy planning! Eventually we did arrive here and started to get settled. A buddy from the Naval Academy is here too, so that is great. I didn’t end up getting uniforms until Tuesday – TOTALLY annoying – so I spent the first day carrying around my weapons while wearing sweats. A very hot look, let me tell you. As you can see from my photo I have been issued both a 9mm (in the thigh holster) and an M-16. Both are “go to war weapons” for me so I actually will be taking them forward and I have to qualify on both. On Tuesday I also got issued my “Battle Rattle” which is about 65 pounds of body armor, a Kevlar helmet and knee and elbow pads. VERY comfortable. We are spending lots of quality time wearing them and loving every second of it. (In case you could not tell, that is sarcasm.) My shoulders are KILLING me and I am wiped out by the end of the day.
We have been doing a lot of shooting and that has been a blast. Literally. I realized that I had actually NEVER fired an M-16 before (at the Academy we had used M-14s to qualify with rifles). It is all going really well. I grouped and zeroed in 12 rounds which is the minimum (I realize that means nothing to most of you, but my military friends will be psyched). The 9MM is going even better if possible. I got scores of 238, 238 and 239 out of 240 on the regular range. (The 239 was actually kind of cool, because the one shot that wasn't in the 5 point area was a head shot that would have been right between the eyes. Not bad for a "miss." Kind of worth only getting 4 points for it!)
At the “stress range” where we had to run between shooting positions and lay on the ground in puddles or kneel or stand while out in the pouring rain. Plus a drill sergeant is yelling numbers in your ear to tell you which targets to shoot at in which order. I got 15, 18 and 18 on each of the 3 targets out of a possible of 18 on each one. Good to know that if necessary I can put rounds on target. I still have the low-light shooting on the 9MM and a bunch of M-16 stuff to go, but I am feeling pretty good about it. The 9MM shooting has all been in battle armor and I just can’t tell you how much fun it is to run around in that stuff, lay on the ground and try to get up and not to turtle while trying to reload. Good times. Then at the end we got to police all the brass out of the puddles. In the driving rain. While wearing 65 pounds of body armor. Really. As my friend Dean said, good to know that we made the right service selection when we chose the Navy over the Army.
But really, all in all it has been a lot of fun. We spent part of one day in the HEAT trainer which was almost like an amusement park ride. It is a pretend HMMV which rolls over and you get to unbuckle your seatbelt, land on your head, figure out how to open the door and then scramble out to take a “defensive position” surrounding it. Kind of like the helo dunk tank but not in the water while blindfolded. I thought it was pretty fun and REALLY a smart thing. I hope to never have to actually use the knowledge, but it was great to know the right way to do it. Then we got to drive around in regular HMMVs splashing around in puddles. That was really fun though I can’t see ever wanting to own a HUMMER – not exactly a cushy ride. They let us sit in every position so I got to drive and also ride in the turret.
I think that I am having more fun than most folks here. Probably my Pollyanna nature. It could be MUCH, MUCH worse. The drill sergeants are pretty great. They have all actually been deployed to the places we are going and they really know what they are doing. They know we have all already done some version of the boot camp thing so they’re not messing with us, just trying to get us ready for combat. All in all, it is not bad. I keep telling everyone that lots of rich businessmen pay good money to do these sorts of things. True they are probably not policing their own brass and at the end of the day they are most likely getting a rubdown from a Swedish masseuse, but still…
Hope this finds all of you well. Sorry I am not keeping in better touch, but by the end of the day I am truly wiped out and happy to have a hot shower and crash. I’ll update when I can, but know that I am thinking of all of you and am grateful for your thoughts and prayers. They are keeping me strong.
Email of March 19, 2009:
Sorry that I haven't written in a while. My time at Ft Jackson came to a quick end and then I headed to Ft Bragg for a day and I got home on Friday night and haven't really taken a breath since. Let me fill you in on the end of my training. I have to say it went well. Perhaps my expectations were SOOO low that anything would have been better, but I know that the point of it all was to give us the skills that we might (but hopefully won't) need to survive combat situations and come home to our families. With that end-goal in mind, how bad could it be?
The shooting just kept getting better and better. I ended up qualifying as a Sharpshooter on Rifle and an Expert on Pistol. I would have gotten expert on rifle but when the first target came up (50m, left) I had neglected to take the weapon off of safe. Once I had remedied that situation with a few choice words the target had dropped already. And that was the difference... Oh well, perhaps another time. I would love to be able to shoot it without the body armor on. Not only do I look like a Teenage Mutant Turtle (my husband's description) but the back of the vest shoves into the Kevlar helmet forcing it over my eyes. It took a lot of adjusting plus a washcloth shoved into the top to get it wear I can see while in the prone (lying down) position. One of our drill sergeants, SGT Jenkins said, "You know, ma'am, if the Navy were smart, they'd send you to sniper school. You've got a gift, ma'am." (This was said in a crazy strong Southern accent - I believe it is a requirement to be a drill sgt - and was intended to be high praise indeed.
Frankly I could see the appeal - much better to shoot someone from 1000m while perched safely on a rooftop then at 20m with my 9mm. But I digress...) They all called me "Killer Mom" and found it very amusing that in my real life I am a homeschooling mother of 5. To be fair I find it somewhat amusing also.
One of the days we also got to shoot on the Heavy Weapons Range - an M249 SAW, an M240 and a 50cal. Very very very fun. Plus, in addition to all the regular shooting at the range we did a reflexive fire course with the M16 where you pivot left 90 degrees, right 90 degrees or 180 degrees before engaging the target. Very fun.
And we also did the stress shoot for the M16. In my last email I described our M9 stress shoot which involved running around shooting at targets while in different positions in the pouring rain and wearing our body armor. This was similar but different. We were in body armor again only it was a hot sunny day so that was different. They had us sit in a HMMWV, and then jump out, run to the range, load a magazine, run to 3 different positions and then shoot at targets while in different positions (standing, squatting, kneeling and prone). And they were yelling at us the whole time. The idea was to try to simulate some of the stress of combat. It was pretty fun and you would be surprised how fast one can move while wearing all that weight. It was so much fun that my buddy Geoff actually got in line and did it a second time. That night we did the low-light shoot with the M9. Once it got to be dusk we ran back through a target shoot with the 9mm to see how that was. Again, pretty fun.
And then the last few days went even faster. We did preparations for our convoy operations, learning about IEDs and EFPs and things of that nature. Reviewed our combat first aid training. Tuesday got a lot crammed into it because the big rotator (usually scheduled for Thursday night which takes most of our crew to Kuwait) got rescheduled for Wednesday so everything got moved around. We practiced room clearing, learned about checkpoints and played with big vehicles. Plus we did a pretend convoy which of course had every possible bad thing happen to it. Good times. I got to be a vehicle commander. I had hoped to be a gunner, but so it goes. Manning the radio and bossing people around is not actually unlike my normal life. The last day was all about weapons turn in and cleaning rooms and writing after action reports.
It is great to be here spending time with the family. It is all going much too fast. Hard to believe that I have less than two weeks now until I leave for a long time. Still, with as fast as all of that passed and as fast as this time is passing I know that the year will fly by. I really don't know how much I'll be able to write once I leave Denver. I'll do the best that I can, but in the interim know that you all are in my thoughts and prayers. Thanks for any and all replies that you have sent. I'm sorry that it is hard to find the time to respond but they always make me smile and are much appreciated. Write as much and as often as you want. If I don't write back it is because I am CRAZY busy - not because I don't care.
Lots of love to you all,