Thursday, November 16, 2006

War Stories....................

OK, maybe I should call this "Army Stories" as YerUnk never had to go to war in all the years I served, but War Stories sounds better. Just wanted to get that out there so everyone was on the same page. I did a combined 10 years, active and reserve and had a hell of a lot of fun for the most part and got to meet some weird and wonderful people along the way.

Let me tell ya about Sgt. Dave. He'd be included in the weird group, BTW.

Dave was an E7 (That's Sgt 1st Class, for you non-military types) and our new Platoon Sgt. You're always a little apprehensive about any new leadership change and it was no different with Sgt Dave.
Now Sgt Dave was a real, no shit by Damn, war hero. TWO Silver Stars. That's correct, Two of 'em. 3 Purple Hearts, at least 2 Bronze Stars and a host of other medals, some of them from army's, OTHER than the U.S. Yeah, a genuine stud. Now that gives a fellow automatic credibility with most GI's so we all were wanting to see how Sgt Dave was gonna run things.

Sgt Dave was also a Friggin' Genius. For real. He had the highest GT scores of anyone I had ever seen, before or since. He was probably MENSA class IQ.

He also had a first class case of OCD. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and I'm sure PTSD. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Dave had earned his decorations as a "Tunnel Rat" in 'Nam and it had tweaked his brain a bunch. Looking back in retrospect I can see He tried hard to control his OCD. He kept a daily planner with him that was filled out every morning in 15 minute increments on how he expected his day to go. Yeah, reality based.

Now all of you know that a day rarely goes as planned and Dave would get all bent out of shape if there were unexpected changes to anything he had planned in his schedule, which I took to calling, "His Wish Book".
He'd get all pissed off and would then mutter his trademark line - "That's F*cked Up, Man. We Gotta Talk."

It didn't take to long for most of us to figure out that Sgt Dave was Batshit Crazy. I tried to just do my shit and stay out of his way and most everyone else did the same thing. We did occasionally hide his daily planner from him if he was going off on some weird tangent. That would keep him occupied long enough for one of the other Sgt's to get things in order and achieve whatever mission needed to be done that day. Plus it was kinda fun f*ckn' with his head.

Then we went to NTC.

NTC is The National Training Center at Ft Irwin, Ca. It is an incredible training facility and maybe the only Laser Tag Facility in the world with a designated Satellite for keeping score.

Taking a unit to NTC is a big deal as you have to pack up all your shit, load all the tanks and such on train cars and then go spend 4 weeks in Death Valley and play war games with the home team there, known as The OPFOR. The OPFOR, back then, had vehicles mocked up to look like Soviet stuff, wore Soviet type uniforms and followed Soviet doctrine in conducting battles. It's a neat place and you got good training while getting your asses kicked.

Dave was going bugshit getting things ready to go and was a total OCD wreck, before we even left to go to NTC. He'd worried so much over all the little shit that he just about drove himself around the bend, mentally and physically.

I was glad when we left, because the plan in Sgt Dave's Wish Book, called for me to be assigned to the Artillery Battery, which pretty much assured I'd not see Sgt Dave for most of the time I was out there. OK!

When we all got to the NTC, reality on the ground changed the planning in Sgt Dave's Wish Book and bit me in the ass. I got stuck being assigned with the Headquarters Group (HQ). Shit! I was drafted to be the driver on one of the M-113 EVAC vehicles and my TC, or Track Commander, was to be Corporal Rock. Yeah, that was his name, Rock. He caught a lot of grief about it, but thank G-d he never was promoted to be, Sgt Rock. Nobody could ever deal with that name in the Army.

Rock was an OK guy and easy to team with and we did a good job through the time at NTC.

Here's what one of the M-113 we used looks like -










Yeah, they're a big Boxy armored vehicle. I didn't mind driving them and they would go most anywhere, if you weren't in a hurry.

Now the OPFOR, following Standard Soviet Doctrine, had a group of Soviet Special forces, or Spetsnaz assigned to them. These dudes would recon rear area support facilities and either lead raids, call in artillery or just generally cause havoc with support units. Like the one I was hooked up with. Over the course of the 2 weeks that we were out in the field playing war games, the OPFOR Spetsnaz group had nailed every support unit but ours. There was a lot of trash talk and money being bet between the guys at OPFOR and the senior NCO's and Officers in our unit as the days wound down to the end of the training exercise as to if they would get our ass'es.

And Sgt Dave was getting crazy as a Shithouse Rat about it.

NTC is a very intense and physically demanding training environment. You generally don't receive more than 2-4 hours sleep a night for the entire time you're out there and they keep you humping and jumping. It's a deliberate thing to teach you what to expect in a real battle situation.

So Sgt Dave was getting more exhausted by the minute. With the stress of being in charge of all the shit he was in charge of, coupled with the Spetsnaz threat, he was a basket case. You could hear him coming as he walked around muttering to himself, "That's F*cked up, Man. We gotta talk". All the time, everywhere he went.

It came down to the last 24 hours of the actual field problem and the bad guys hadn't gotten to our unit yet. I thought Dave was gonna blow a gasket just standing in place. He was totally fixated on us not being nailed by the Spetsnaz. We didn't stay in the same place for more than 1 hour the whole day and as soon as night fell, we moved again. After about the 3rd move it was 12 or 1 am and the officer in charge finally said that was it.

Sgt Dave wasn't happy about that, but being the good soldier he was, he followed orders and had us set up in a real nice low waddi, or low area, in our usual "Hedgehog" position. That's where all the vehicles form a circle facing out for maximum defensive purposes. Sgt Dave was bound and determined that, even if they found us, they weren't going to overrun our asses. So his big idea was for every single man to be on guard at all times till morning.

Yeah right. Everyone was dog ass tired after 2 weeks of nonstop battles and wargames and we knew it was back into post the next day for a few days of fix up, clean up and load up. And a shower!

So nobody gave a shit if the bad guys found us or not. We were parked on a little slope facing up and I crawled under the track with my rifle and E-tool, that's the Army folding shovel, and set up to provide covering fire if the bad guys did find us. I told Corporal Rock to leave the radio on and keep his ear peeled, but take a nap and I'd keep watch. Now, it was about 2 or 3 in the morning by this time and I figured we were home free.

No sucj luck. Here came Sgt Dave. He was going around to every vehicle and checking if everyone was awake and alert. I could tell from his muttering that he was not happy and a bunch of folks had been asleep. He was wearing a Tee shirt, Boxers and flipflops and he came flapping up to my track talking to himself and bitching about not seeing anyone on guard.

As he walked past the front of the track, without saying a word, I reached out and grabbed his ankle.

And all hell broke loose. He jumped so high and so fast, I damn near broke my wrist by hitting it on the underside of the track. He had jumped so fast, I hadn't been able to turn loose quick enough.

Simultaneously, he let out the most blood curdling scream I've ever heard. eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And then he went totally unhinged. He totally came apart and went totally friggin' crazy. He must've forgot about the bad guys who were looking for us, because he started running around the track screaming at me to come out. All the while saying he was going to kill me. I just scooted in a little farther, so he couldn't reach me with out crawling in after me. I figured I'd bash his head in with the butt of the rifle or the E-tool if need be, but there was no way I was coming out from under that track.

This went on for a few minutes till the Chief warrant Officer came over to see WTF was going on. He was totally unable to get Sgt Dave calmed down and told me to stay put till he had Sgt Dave in hand. That took a big shot of Valium to accomplish and about 20 minutes later came back and chewed my ass for "Driving my Platoon Sgt F*ckn' Nuts"!

And he really was, F*ckn' Nuts. And stayed that way. We convoyed back to the base in the morning as planned and began the process of clean up, pack up and load up. That takes about a week.

However, there were still things going on out in the field that required medics to be available. And Spc Rock and I were now the go to guys. We had brought the track we were using with us from Ft Bliss and were free from the clean up and maintenance required of those who had gotten tracked vehicles issued to them from the NTC stock. So we were it for anything that needed medics or transport.

Two days after returning into post from the official field problem, Rock got a call on the radio from Sgt Dave. Someone had gotten hurt and needed transport. We met up with Sgt Dave and he gave us the map grid coordinants of where we should go to pickup the injured GI. He never even looked at me or acted like anything had ever happened a couple of nights before. I was cool with that as I had never intended to totally launch him into the Twilight Zone he ended up in.

He spread a map out on the hood of his vehicle and showed us the most direct route to our injured GI and where the battalion Aid Station was set up at.

Sgt Dave had met us at the intersection of 2 trails, one of which just happened to be the one to take us to our GI. I figured his OCD wanted to make sure we were able to find our way without getting lost and he had met us there for that reason. Trails on Military maps are very deceiving at times. Sometimes they are easy to follow and sometimes they were a trail back in 1955 or some shit and there is absolutely no sign of a trail to follow. This one was easy to see as it led directly up over a 20 or 30 foot berm and headed due East. He even said a compass heading od due East would get us where we wanted to go. We split up and Rock and I headed out to get our injured Soldier.

The trail going up the Berm was pretty steep and it was pretty slow going at first till we reached the top and started back down.

Remember back a paragraph or so ago where I mentioned - "However, there were still things going on out in the field that required medics to be available for." Remember that? Guess what one of those things happened to be? Tank Gunnery.

Tank Gunnery, is target practice. Real tanks. Using real ammo. Shooting at painted plywood targets. Targets that look, amazingly enough, just like an M-113. Yep, just like Rock and I were driving.

And that Sonsabitch, Sgt Dave, had given us a route that led directly into and across an active Tank Gunnery Range. I had almost made it to the bottom of the slope when, "Pop" Up pops a target no more than 100 feet to my left front. Followed within seconds by a 120MM Sabot round perforating it. and a few seconds later by the noise of the muzzle blast that launched the round. Tank target practice is not an up close thing, but several thousand yards, so it takes a second or two to hear the initial firing noise. (Here's a little info on Tank Rounds so you'll know what I'm talking about here).

Rock and I both realized at the same time what the hell was going on and we both screamed, OH SHIT. THAT MOTHERF***** TRIED TO KILL US!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! To say the least, we were not happy.

The M-113 is a great vehicle but it will not go up a steep grade in reverse. That berm I was talking about? It was a man made thing for the Gunnery Range used to keep dumbass GI's from doing just what we were doing. Driving right into our death on a live fire range. I said the hell with it and hit the gas and flew down the slope and made a U-turn as fast as I could and hauled ass out of there with a head of steam up.

We found an alternate route to where we were supposed to go and pick up our injured GI. Yeah, you guessed it. No injured GI. We made a couple of radio calls just to make sure, and nobody knew of or had heard of any injured soldiers. We radioed back to the Chief Warrant Officer, who was the medical officer and told him we were coming back without a patient.

Just as we were arriving back at our unit area, Sgt Dave came in from the opposite direction. He hopped out of his truck and started walking toward the Battalion Aid Station.

YES!!!

I drew a bead on that Bastard and hit the gas. Now, I couldn't just run over him if he made it into the Aid Station Tent as I would for sure kill some innocent folks in the process of ridding us of Sgt Dave. Sgt Dave came to that same conclusion, when he was 30 or 40 feet from the entrance of the tent and I was 40 or 50 feet from him. He was on foot and I was in a 12 ton Armored Track going 25 or 30 MPH and accelerating. Odds favoring a Track vehicle usually, but that bastard ran like a damn Jackrabbit.

It was close, but the Bastard made it. Unfortunately, I did a serious brushback on a Captain who was just walking around the corner of the Aid Station, so I kept on going and hoped he didn't see the ID number on the rear of the Track as he was diving out of the way.

As luck would have it, he didn't take time to look and we stayed gone for 2 or 3 hours, claiming we got lost out in the desert.

After that, Sgt Dave stayed in his little tent, except to eat and use the can. He didn't even take a shower until the Chief ordered him to. You could walk past his tent at any hour of the night and he'd be in there sitting up watching out from the shadows. He had gone completely over the edge and then some.

He went home on the first bus back to El Paso and we never saw him again.

The Chief figured out what had happened pretty quick. Between the rumors and the whole, non-existent injured soldier routine, he pretty well knew what had gone down. He called me over after chow one night and asked me about it and I told him the whole story straight up. There was no use lying to him as he was like G-D and would've known if I was BS'ing him anyway. He just nodded his head a few times and mumbled -

"That's F*cked up, Man. We Gotta Talk."

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