Tuesday, November 22, 2005

more fond memories

I was just thinking back to my days in a line unit. Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment. The 7th Cav is infamous as the one Custard lost at Little Big Horn and made popular again by the movie 'We Were Soldiers', based on the book We Were Soldiers Once, and Young.

Unlike the unit in Vietnam, it's no longer "Air Cav" but a mechanized Infantry unit instead, hence the Company/Battalion instead of the Troop/Squadron of an actual Cavalry unit. Only the 1st of the 7th is still listed as a Squadron, 2nd, 3rd and 4th are Battalions, 1st and 2nd in the 1st Cavalry Division in Ft. Hood, TX, 3/7 in the 3rd Infantry Division at Ft. Stewart, GA and 4/7 in 2nd Infantry I think in Korea. Don't think that's where they are all still located; units being deactivated and reactivated at new posts all the time.

Anyways, each one of the company's dismount squads had its own specialty, 3rd Platoon could breach any obstacle like a hot knife going through butter, 2nd Platoon could clear a trench line or building with an efficiency that looked like a deadly dance, me and the rest of 1st Platoon, we specialized in recon/counter recon patrol and infiltration.

This is partly where one of my nick names of "ghost" came from. A lot of it had to do with my time spent hunting deer in Southeast Alaska growing up, some of it had to do with the equipment we used. From the time I was transferred back to the dismount squad after being a Bradley driver, our Battalion commander wanted to use us in an unconventional role. We were encouraged to think and act unconventionally. Soon our gear began to reflect this order, it may have started out as regulation gear but was quickly modify to suite our individual taste and role within the squad.

We often got accused of looking like a band of gypsies, but given the nature of what we were tasked with it was required that we pack what we needed with us and heeding the costly lessons of Mogadishu brought to light in "Blackhawk Down" we all carried at least double the amount of ammunition and water then we thought we'd need.

"Coop" our single rifleman carried 4 magazine pouches on his BDU belt and more magazines in a butt pack. Myself, I carried about 1000 rounds of SAW rounds at the ready in addition to 2 M16 magazine pouches that could be fed into my M249 Squad Automatic Weapon in a pinch.

We packed 'heavy' the seven man squad had 3 automatic riflemen carrying the SAW, 3 grenadiers carrying the M16 w/M203 40mm grenade launcher and just one rifleman who carried an M16. On top of that, I carried an additional 2 quart canteen of water to the 2x1 quart water canteens that is standard. The others carried more water usually in the 'Camel Backs' which were starting to come out about that time.

In addition to the bayonet that was standard issue, each of us carried at least one other knife at the ready. Myself and 'Chief' were looking to carry additional weapons to assist in our roles of sentry stalking, he was looking to carry a machete while I looked further back to traditional Native American weaponry of the tomahawk. We also worked small bits of additional 3D camouflage into the works, if we'd been allowed, it would have been full on gullies suites like those used by snipers.

One of my biggest assets walking point were my boots, as any Infantryman can tell you, boots will make all the difference in the world. They started out as your regulation Black Jungle boot, nothing modified about it, other then before wearing them for the first time I put two liberal coats of mink oil on the leather to soften up the leather, soaked them in water and allowed them to dry around my foot.

They became so comfortable that I wore them all the time, as a result, I wore off the rubber soles. I don't remember the amount of rubber that was suppose to be on there to keep them within Army regulations, but i was way under it, the sole under the balls of my feet were at best 1/8" thick. Essentially I was wearing a leather moccasin, the rubber being so minuscule as to not even be there. This allowed me to sample the ground I was going to step on before bringing my full weight to bear on my feet.

My senses always heightened when I walked point, becoming one big antenna being the literal eyes and ears of the squad out there in front. This came from the knowledge that very often that the man walking point was the first to go, his death sounding the alarm to his squad mates to danger.

We always took our training seriously; our training became bloodless combat and fully expected warfare to be just bloody training. We carried body bags in our packs to sleep in not just for the psychological effect of accepting death they were considerably more compact and water resistant then the then issued goose down sleeping bag. We carried a set of blackened "dog tags" in our boots so that there would be a way to ID the body if our heads or feet got blown off.

Knowing my responsibility and the danger of walking point, my hearing became very acute. It was often said I could hear a mouse peeing on cotton at 100 meters and blow his pecker off at twice that distance. My sense of smell heighten that i could smell sweat about 50 meters and the distinctive smell of burning tobacco at over 500 meters, one of many health reasons the Army urged people to quit smoking.

Every step I'd make it'd take my mind and senses microseconds to determine what i was stepping on, if it could support my body weight and if it'd make noise when fully stepped on. I also knew to listen to nature, what kind of sounds were natural, what a bush slapping against artificial materials sounded like, what it meant when all sounds went dead in a forest or how to mask our sound signature with a gurgling of a flowing brook.

This kind of patrol work would be so demanding on my senses that every hour the point position was switched out between me and my "battle buddy" who happened to be a Navaho/Apache American Indian, while myself being Tlingit Alaskan Native. The really interesting part of this pairing up of the 'natives' was our compliment to one another.

At night with no reference points a person will drift either to the left or right as they walk, eventually turning a large circle. Part of our way to counter this was the switching positions every hour, and we always kept independent bearing and pace counts to make sure the other didn't stray too much.

The other compliment we had, the man we called 'chief' had a tendency to drift to the right during night patrols, I have a tendency to drift left, and being almost exactly the same height, our drift was nearly identical and canceled one another out so in the end we would be right on course. We were checked against a GPS one night, after nearly 12 hours of patrol we were off the final coordinates by 15 meters and if it would have been lighter when we stopped I could have triangulated our position off a couple land marks to correct our error.

We were constantly finding new ways to test ourselves, pushing things to the limit and were often tasked the mission of "OPFOR" or Opposing Force/ Red Team during training. After I'd been transferred out of Delta into Headquarters, I found out the squad I left behind pulled off a mission that embarrassed a lot of people. They'd been tasked with infiltrating a fully prepared Battalion headquarters compound, built by one of the Engineers units. It had three rings of security around the center were the "TOC" or Tactical Operations Center was located along with the high command of the unit they were playing Red Team.

With unabashed relish they recounted how they slipped through all three layers of security without being seen, using techniques I'd been teaching them about how to move quickly and quietly, got into not only the main communications tent, stole the log book but left some rather 'colorful' records behind to prove they'd been there in addition to slipping into that unit's Battalion Commander's personal tent and removed a few items which were returned at the debriefing. At least they didn't "Z" out the radios, which means throwing the switch on the CINGARS radio to "Z" which will instantly dump the encryption from the radio in event they should fall into enemy hands, while no harm in training tends to be annoying to the individual having to track down someone from Commo to get the encryption reloaded to the radio.

I'd wished I was there with them. I also remember one of our hair brained ideas to really test our skills, when mentioned to our Lt. was quickly shot down. We thought it was just his idea of denying us some fun, but I don't think he wanted the headache of trying to explain to either the Border Patrol why a squad of American soldiers were trying infiltrate into American across the Mexican border or to the State Department why the Federalies had the same said group of crazy gringos locked up in a jail.

After that, our Lt decided we needed new things to keep ourselves occupied, so he took half the squad and began to learn repelling with the goal of eventually teaching all of us how to "fast rope" out of helicopters. I was given the task of training the other members of the squad how to survive a drop into the water from a height in full gear and how to make flotation devises out of the gear we already had so that we could eventually learn to deploy using a 'helo cast' which would entail a helicopter flying low over a lake or bay etc while we jumped from it and swam to shore. These techniques are very similar to what I learned as part of water survival growing up, how to be dumped into the frigid Alaskan water in full fishing gear and keep from being pulled under by the weight.

Considering what all we were teaching ourselves to do, it's no surprise now that people very often thought I was a "Green Beret". Two of my mentors were Green Berets, one fought at Ka-Sahn, he was apart of the relief force sent in to help out the besieged Marines. The other, well he wouldn't talk about it openly, but from what I've been able to piece together, I think he was a part of the botched "Desert One" that was to rescue the hostages from the Iranian Embassy.

With memories like these, I sure do miss being in the Infantry.


Blogger E-E said...

so, what are you doing in Alaska?
I'm curious...

Come say hi sometime...
-emerald eyes


6:04 PM AKST  
Blogger gus said...

I'll answer that in another post sometime soon.

12:25 AM AKST  

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