One of the things that I hate about the Army and find to be more than a bit mundane is going to the range and shooting. For me it seems the range is something that should be fun, but like any fun thing the Army finds a way to make it lame and dare I say boring. Sadly, I realize not all things are meant to be fun, but most Infantrymen love shooting and a lot of the ranges I have been on have taken any excitement you might think we would have and replaced it with a sterile and boring environment that sucks away any fun that could be had. Needless to say, even while deployed the Army still finds time to take us to the range. And as part of the welcome package for new units entering Iraq our battalion schedules range time. Unfortunately, my name was added to the manifest as a trainer/truck commander for the 2 hour jaunt across Baghdad to to the range.
The day started out worse than expected as I made my way to the "gun line" to find not only was no one on my crew anywhere to be found but I also had no keys to the vehicle I was assigned to. So when I tried to find out just what was going on I found no one truly knew what was going on. Luckily my Section Leader was on it and told me to go back to the tent and just chill until briefing time, he would square things away. So I made my way to chow and back to the tent to pack my "RON" (remain over night) bag and get ready for our day of fun in the sun at the range. Packing a hygiene kit, poncho liner, my trusty "combat" pillow, an iPod, and my Nintendo DS (longer battery life than my PSP), as well as my ammo and some other stuff for the mission.
Prior to the brief I finally received the keys to my vehicle. This is not something I was very thrilled with. Like a date I prefer getting to know the vehicle before I spend the night with it. But as we say in the Army I "drove on" with the mission. We loaded our gear, weapons, ammo and some water. Next we all set up our areas, I had the radios, navigation system and all the little parts of being a TC. This took a few minutes but I also found myself still not having a warm fuzzy about the unfamiliar vehicle. Because the driver and I where a little uncertain of the truck I told him to hit a switch that was in a different spot than in other trucks. We all found out with an explosion of white powder that the switch was actually the fire suppression system. Shocked and a bit upset about the situation and my bruised ego, I opened my window and made a mental note to myself about the switch. Live and learn I guess.
Other than some minor mistakes our trip to the range went pretty uneventful after the fire suppression incident. I showed them all the checkpoints and points of interest. Gave them a general idea of our job and the routes. And by the time we made it to our destination, I was ready to sleep. To my chagrin we found out that our CC (convoy commander) could not secure us tents for the short rest we would get. And although there was some room in a few tents the CC decided to play the old Army game of questioning the "manhood" of anyone who went to sleep in a tent. And stupid Sgt. Ballew being the "tough guy" he is decided to play his game back. Opening the trunk of our vehicle I moved all the equipment out of the way and took a short nap in the trunk until it was time to make our movement to the range complex.
Two hours of bad sleep and off we roll to the range. This is actually the best part of the day for me. We travel mostly at night so any chance I get to roll during the day is something I look forward to. The range is a combined range used by both Iraqi and US troops for all different types of weapons. Driving through I wave at all the IA (Iraqi Army) as they guard entrances and go about their daily work. I also admire the vastness of the desert, coming from the Midwest, this might be the last chance I get to see these sights. So I decided to take time to enjoy something I might never get an opportunity to see again. A short trip and a briefing later and we are at the range we are firing on. Thankfully, the unit we are training was the one who ran the range and although we helped them, we had much less to do than I anticipated. I also did not have to shoot on this range. And although I would not have minded firing. Unfortunately, I found out we had to wear body armor while firing. Knowing this I passed on shooting do to the fact I hate wearing body armor. And luckily the range went smoother than I expected so we made our way back to the FOB adjacent to the range, I decided to gun on the way back and give the gunner a rest and to get a better view of the desert.
Getting back to the tent area we still found no room and still playing the tough guy the CC decided to not push the tent issue. BY this time I was done with the tough guy act and was ready to get me a few good hours of sleep. So my Section leader decided to take it upon himself to have me drive him to the Mayor Cell to find somewhere for us to sleep. Sadly, even after going so far as to saying we had "Baby Jesus" in our convoy, we where turned away. The Fob was out of room and we where left to fend for ourselves. With no where to go we decided to snatch a few cots and to go sleep in an indirect fire (mortar) shelter. This was a good idea in theory, but in theory we never expected to be eaten alive by flies and gnats. So we did our best to squeeze as much sleep as possible in the shelter.
As the day turned into night we found ourselves prepping for our move out back to our Fob and the comfort of our tents. And other than a few incidents (a guy with explosive diarrhea in the back of an MRAP) things where pretty uneventful. Once again I decided to gun back. And as we all head back I think about the events of the past 2 days and laugh. In truth, I expected worse and found it to be almost enjoyable. Just more stories to tell when I get home. And even more laughs and maybe more to miss when it is all said and done.