Heavy, Hot and Ammunition

Thursday and Friday:

Thursday was M9 Pistol qualifications for the officers. We started out at 06:30 am, lining up to get our weapons issued from the armory which is 1/2 mile away from our barracks. Half a mile is nothing until you are wearing all of your body armor with your elbow pads, knee pads, camelback full of water and your backpack which holds your MRE, gloves, ballistic glasses and any other snacks you might want to bring. After getting our weapons, we had to walk the half mile back to get on the buses to go to the range. No seems to know why the buses can’t just come pick us up at the armory, but who am I to say, being that I am just a lowly lieutenant.

After reaching the parking lot where the buses are supposed to pick us up and waiting for roughly 15 minutes, we get word that the buses were running off the wrong day’s schedule and would not be arriving for another 20 minutes. Immediately, about 40% of our group suddenly collapsed to the ground.

The M9 qualifications started with a 10 round practice shoot, then 50 rounds to shoot a various pop up targets that looked like the shape of a person cut off at the waist. We had drop and insert new magazines at certain points and shoot while walking up on the target as well. After the Daytime qualifications were done, we then had to shoot 7 rounds at 5 targets with the gas masks. You have to kneel down in place with your weapon. The announcer yells, “Gas, gas, gas!” over the intercom. You then have to stand up, remove your helmet, pull your gas mask out of the bag it’s stored in that is attached to your leg, pull it over your head (which is not easy with a big bun of hair on the back of your head), pick up your weapon and shoot. By the time I pulled the mask off, I pretty much felt like it was one of the most miserable days I have ever had. It was extremely hot and my body armor was feeling heavier than ever.

But, I was done with the hardest part. I was able to then go lie in the shade and eat my Heater Meal. Heater Meals are self-heating emergency meal kits that even you can order online if you would like to try them at http://www.heatermeals.com. They usually come with a canned juice, cookies, trail mix, apple sauce, raisins and a small container of pasta or rice with meat.

After waiting several hours for 140 people to finish shooting, we had to pack up and go to a different range for our Limited Visibility shoot once the sun set. This was the best part. We had to shoot in the Prone position (lying down on the ground) at a pop up target in very little light. We had 15 rounds total and hit the target every single shot! Only couple of us got a perfect score. It was also fun because every 4th round was a tracer round. These rounds have red tips and contain phosphorous which leaves the range looking like a scene from Star Wars with red-lighted streaks across the sky. One of my tracer rounds caught a bush on fire! Luckily it went out on its own.

Large Vehicles

Wednesday:

Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles (MRAPs) are very large armored vehicles designed to protect personnel from Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). Today, we spent 8 hours learning about the different types of MRAPS the Army uses and what their different capabilities are for transport. Most likely, most of our group will never need to ride in one of these vehicles unless they are assigned to a Forward Operating Base (FOB) outside of the wire, but the Army wants everyone trained on them. They are actually five times larger than the Humvee and weigh over 30,000 lbs!

Once we completed several hours of more power point presentations about the vehicles, we were given the opportunity to climb up into 3 different types and sizes. The smallest could transport only 5 plus the driver and the largest one could transport 13 plus a driver. The largest one is also the one that the military uses for medical transport as the seats can be removed and replaced with stretchers. We went on a little ride “around the block” just to get the experience. The newer vehicles are actually pretty nice and with air conditioning too!

Wikipedia has a good discussion about the history of MRAPS at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MRAP_(armored_vehicle)

Anniversary Chicken

My very heavy body armor

Thomas and I have been married for 8 years today and I am celebrating our anniversary learning about the M16 and M9, wearing 50+ lbs of body armor and enjoying a chicken breast patty from my MRE (Meal Ready to Eat) that tastes like my cats’ food smells! At least I was able to share a photo of the chicken patty with Thomas. For dessert I got the coveted M&Ms in my MRE pack, for which I was bombarded by a flock of hungry sailors trying to trade me things like jalapeno cheese spread, raisins or apple sauce. I don’t think so. When you get M&Ms, you savor them!

After enjoying my anniversary chicken dinner, we spent from 7:30 pm until 2:45 am going over M9 and M16 Weapon Familiarization. We were instructed on how to take both weapons completely apart, clean them and then reassemble them over and over and over again. Despite the length of time it took, this was good practice because it builds muscle memory and those people that have never handled a weapon before really needed the experience. Thank you to Thomas and my previous experience taking an M16 Familiarization course back in November 2009, I remembered what to do to disassemble and reassemble both weapons.

Once everyone felt comfortable with this process we began the shooting experience on a laser range. No live fire or real ammo, but instead, simulated using lasers. By this point, it was 1:00 am and I was thoroughly exhausted from going all day long since 06:30am as well as from lugging an extra 50+ lbs around on my body. Despite all this, on the Prone supported (lying down on belly with weapon resting on sandbags) M16 shoot, my shot distance was only 0.4cm. This means that of the 3 shots we had to take, the furthest distance between any 2 shots was 0.4cm. No one in my entire group of 140 people, including those that shoot all the time, was able to beat my score!. On the Kneeling M16 shoot, my shot distance was 1.1cm. There was one person who tied me. The instructor asked me if I wanted to come be a sniper shooter for the Army and think he might have actually been serious. Despite not getting to bed until 3:30 am to turn around and get up at 17:30 for another long day, I had fun!

Prior to all of this shooting, which of course I had to brag about first, we had to go for more gasmask testing. We were bused out to another of the many warehouse-style buildings somewhere within the woods on this massive base, where we were asked to blow and suck on rubber straws attached to our gas masks to ensure that we will be able to stay hydrated. This is a big safety thing for the military; no matter where we are going or what we are doing there is always water and we are required to bring our Camelback. We did a particle test as well to ensure that we still had the appropriate sized mask.

Exceptional Team

Sunday evening, the Nurse Corps and Medical Corps met together so that each person could formally introduce themselves and talk about what type of experience they have. I was thoroughly impressed with the wealth of experience, especially among the general and orthopedic surgeons. The wealth of critical care and trauma experience among the nurses is exceptional as well. I also feel very lucky to have the leadership that we do. The Director of Nursing Services is a middle-aged southern woman with a great sense of humor. She likes to call herself The Diva! She is very friendly, extremely approachable and very down to earth.

It also sounds like there will be opportunities to learn and expand our skills in multiple areas if we so desire. The surgeons have all stated that they will have an open door policy and that the officers can come observe in the OR anytime they want to learn. The leadership is also planning to put together classes offering continuing education credit as well as advanced certification courses. These are all courses that normally cost hundreds of dollars back home. I have a feeling that when I come back, I will have so much experience in multiple areas that I could probably work anywhere I want.

Monday:

NATO Role III Military Medical Unit Kandahar Ft Dix Operational Medicine Symposium. What a mouthful. Today the Nurse and Medical Corps had a break from Army training and, instead, focused on some medical education to start putting us in the right mindset for what we will be seeing over there. We learned about Traumatic Injury, Damage Control Surgery, and the different Levels of Military Medical Care. We got to see lots of gory pictures of open wounds. It was actually pretty fascinating what they are doing over there now. The military is primarily focusing on Damage Control in country. This entails only doing the minimal amount of surgery necessary to stop bleeding and stabilize the patient enough to do a critical care transport flight to the next level of care. This means that most military patients received at the Role III hospital in Kandahar are on their way to the Role IV hospital in Landstuhl, Germany within 12-24 hours. The goal there is to do a thorough cleaning out of the wound and doing some repair, but usually leaving the wound open, and then flying the patient on to a Role V medical center in the U.S. like Walter Reed or Bethesda within 24-72 hours! Once back in the U.S., the patient will have full reconstructive and reparative surgery, then rehabilitation. The only patients that we will really be holding onto for any longer than that will be local nationals or those that can return to duty within 7 days.

Day of Relaxation

Nascar on one one TV, Lord of the Rings on another, ping pongers ponging, and three enlisted boys playing football on PlayStation. This is Sunday afternoon in my new hang-out, the Recreation Center here at Ft. Dix. Except for a couple of meetings, today is a day of relaxation. I got to sleep in until 6:45! I could have slept until 7:30, but I wanted to eat breakfast. Around here, if you don’t go get chow when the DFAC (Dining Facility) is open, then you don’t eat. It is only open for 2 hours for each meal, three meals a day. The only other place to get food in our “neck of the woods” on this 31,000 acre military base is Pizza Hut. My goal here is to get fit, not pack on the pounds, so several of us have contracted with each other not to go there.

Uh oh! A tornado warning for this county! The sky has suddenly darkened and the air feels thick and extra muggy. I miss Seattle weather . . . even the rain. Everyone who was outside was asked to come inside, so the Rec Center was just inundated with about 15 more people. These old Army buildings were supposedly built as Fallout Shelters, so we are considered to be protected if a tornado rips through here!

Well, the air conditioning is down again. It seems to go down every day around 2 pm and a room full of about 58 people with no AC is not pleasant. I think I will sign off, go back to my room and label my gear so no one tries to steal anything. Physical Training shirts have been disappearing from the dryers because we were told to only bring two sets and two sets is not enough, the way we are all sweating so much. And, because we are on an Army base, we can’t buy additional shirts.

Viper 01, this is Alpha 30. Radio check, over.

Me with Red!

Friday:

I am now qualified to use a Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (SINGARS). Notthat I am going to be using a SINGARS in the ICU, but at this point I am open to learning any new skills the military is willing to teach me. I am beginning to realize that there are only a select few out of our entire country’s population who get an opportunity like what I have at this point in my life. So, I may never need to operate a SINGARS, but I love expanding my knowledge base. And, maybe even a small part of what I learn in one area can translate into something else. For example, now I will understand how radio is crucial to being able to communicate and this will be important when we are driving around during our Hummer Vehicle training. The manual, if anyone is interested, can be viewed at http://permanent.access.gpo.gov/lps45127/072738.pdf

Saturday:

Today we had an MACP familiarization course. MACP stands for Modern Army Combatives Program. For this training we were bused out to an isolated building out in the woods. Inside was a large room with walls painted yellow-gold and the entire floor covered by a matt the same size as the entire room. MACP is painted over the yellow-gold in large bold, black letters. It is almost as hot inside this building as it is outside, which by the way was 100 degrees with about 80% humidity. We spent 2 ½ hours raining sweat under our long-sleeve uniforms while we learned how to do Side Control, Guard and Mounted positions in the attempt to gain control of an attacker. We also learned several different choke holds and arm benders. Despite it feeling like and oven and having to have close content with other sweaty bodies, this training was really fun! The first several minutes of this video shows the various holds and positions that we learned: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=1462151077277855734#

The rest of the day I spent in the Recreation Center with broken air-conditioning, sweating some more while I tried to get online. I was briefly able to video Skype with Thomas before I lost connectivity. At least we were able to see each other for a minute so we could remember what each other looks like! Now I’m sitting in the Day Room in our barracks where there is a TV, watching The Holiday with Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz while I type up my blog. The funny thing is, this movie is a romantic, girly movie and I am the only woman in here with five guys. It’s kind of nice to watch something light-hearted though and it’s better than being in my barracks with the horrible florescent lighting.

Home Away from Home

Thursday:

Today was spent getting our body armor, also referred to as “Battle Rattle;” another lengthy process of waiting in lines. Then we had to assembly most everything ourselves. Leave it to the Army to make us put together our equipment we have never even seen before. All levels of sailors, from the brand new apprentices up to the Captain who will be in charge of all of Navy Medicine throughout all of southern region Afghanistan, sat on the ground flipping through instruction booklets, trying to decipher small and scarcely labeled pictures. I’m sure the Army would have laughed at how ridiculous we all we looked! While I was completing my nursing school education, I never thought that one day I would be assembling combat helmets.

Since the rest of the day was spent in misery watching more power point presentations (yesterday we spent 13 hours total in power point presentations), I thought I would post some pictures of my living quarters. We are residing in old, dirty Army barracks where 20 women have to share 2 shower stalls, 2 sinks, 2 mirrors, and 2 bathroom stalls. The officers of my rank and the two levels of me sleep with 4 people to a room, two on top bunks. The highest level officers get 2 to a room. The lower level officers and the enlisted sleep 10-12 in a room full off bunk beds and lockers! Glad I’m a Lieutenant!

My Room