JoshuasTravels — My Summer, pt. I

My Summer, pt. I

Written by . Posted at 9:27 pm on August 13th, 2006

Without getting too descriptive, the Army sent me off for 33 days of fun at what is known as Camp, LDAC, and/or Warrior Forge, depending on who you talk to, when you talk to them, and how important they think you are. About half of it is practical skills training (things like firing training rounds out of an AT-4, the Army’s modern version of a bazooka) and about half of it is leadership assessment (where Uncle Sam sizes up all the cadets). This is just an overview, but I’ll breakdown the big stuff.

The APFT (how in shape you are), Land Nav (how good you are with a compass), CWST (how comfortable you are in the water), BRM (how good you are with an M16), HGAC (how good you are with grenades). That’s what they test you on (some of it). They also constantly evaluate your ability to lead, to march and be marched around properly, and other ‘important’ stuff like that. The best part is the inordinate amount of BS you have to put up with at Camp (and, while I’m complaining about it: Life), but there’s really not much you can do about that. The crazy thing was, though, that the worst BS didn’t come from Up On High, it came from my peers – my unfavorite was the cadets with the “the rules don’t apply to me, but they apply to you” attitudes. Like I said, there’s not much more you can do about it (other than grin at the incongruousness of it all, of course).

The ironies of camp are amazing. On one hand, the Army spends a lot of time and effort and money on Warrior Forge. About 70% of next years LTs come through the WF system, so that makes sense. But we live in temporary barracks built for WWII (originally, they weren’t supposed to last more than ten years), we use rifles from Vietnam and before (I named mine Heidi (Klum) and she was an M16E1 – the E is for experimental) and the radios have been to ‘Nam and back. Between all the old equipment and the thick, fern-infested, jungle-like-forests of FT Lewis, it didn’t take much imagination to see yourself 20 klicks from the Cambodian border, surrounded by Charlie. Especially since a lot of our training was right under a major flight path bordering the base’s Drop Zone (where paratroopers land). This meant that at semi-frequently intervals during all hours of the day or night, military planes or other rotary-wing aircraft would come (loudly) screaming over our heads without warning.

When it’s too far to march (which wasn’t often) they drive us around in these Cattlecars that are too shoddy to be used for transporting real cattle. It was on the way back from somewhere, towards the end of camp, when somebody started singing Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise. Of course we all joined in, and after that, somebody started up with a bunch of old theme songs, starting with The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air. It was then, halfway through the second verse, when I realized that – for better or worse – those are the folk songs of my generation.

Camp culminated in a 10 day Field Exercise full of running around, pretending to shoot people and assault objectives, going on long walks (in full battle rattle, of course), leadership evaluations, sleeping under four hours a night, and not showering once. 10 days of suck, more or less. The Army’s got a variety of exciting tasks to pass the time, so it goes by a lot quicker than you’d think. Depending on the day, you might march all day and fight all night, or you could fight all day and march all night. Seven days in, we got to ride in a doors-open Blackhawk (a really fast helicopter) while it pulled off some crazy areal maneuvers (steep banking, treetop flying, climbing up high and then suddenly diving down, pretty much anything in the “throw up” category).

Strangely, though, the best part of the Blackhawk ride was right before we loaded up. We were all lined up, with our rucks front-loaded, ready to run up and buckle into the chopper when the CO (a fellow cadet in a leadership position) told us (in a vocal tone waaay more macho than his own) “I’ll see you on the ground.” I mean, c’mon, he might as well have added a “Remember your training. And you will make it back alive.” I guess you had to be there.

Two of my other favorite quotes from camp are: “Well, if Bravo Company jumped off a bridge, McNulty, would you?” just because it represents the mentality that Bravo Company is another single entity; I know I was starting to think that way. The other quote, though: “< big long story>….There’s nothing worse than a bunch of drunk 14 Bravos (enlisted Artillerymen).” And, just to keep things rolling, my two favorite SGTs in the Army are named SGT Sprinkle and SGT Wham. Well, that’s not true. But those are my two favorite names-I-have-personally-seen. I’ve seen cadets with name-tapes that read “Rambo” (who did fit the part) and “Charlie” (who was Vietnamese), but nothing beats out SGT Sprinkle or SGT Wham. There’s a very good chance that the protagonist of my first novel will be surnamed “Wham.”

Anyway, The average cadet walks 76 kilometers (41 miles) throughout WF, and I’d bet a full 20+ of those miles get humped during the 10 days in-country. And since I’m not trying to write a book here, I’ll just leave LDAC at that. I met a lot of people I’ll be working with in a year, I made a few good friends, I made a few new almost-enemies (if I wear a mutant, my power would be ability to quickly polarize those around me), and a learned a lot more than I ever thought I would (here’s a good for instances: while saying things like “ruck up, 2nd squad: we’ve got 90 mikes to make a 2 klick hump” can be fun, doing them isn’t quite as much fun).

I wasn’t rated as the Top Future Warrior Leader of the United States Army, but I was close enough to meet my (semi-)high standards (I don’t take it as seriously as some of the hardcore Killers). Parts of camp were great, parts sucked, but it’s over now. I’m not going to say it was “most demanding course the Army has to offer,” but I’m not going to let anyone tell me it wasn’t stressful, physically exhausting, or emotionally draining. It was all of that and then some.

I write this at FT Bragg, North Carolina, doing CTLT, which is a pseudo-internship-thing. For three weeks I’m assigned to a real unit in the real Army, giving me a chance to learn a lot of stuff I can’t learn in the Pretendland that is Cadetland. I’m with the 249th “Prime Power” Engineer Battalion, Bravo Company, a completely one of a kind unit. They are a highly mobile unit that can, in very little time, generate massive amounts of electric power for base camps, FOBs, relief from natural disasters, you name it. I’ll write more about it when it finishes up, but we get weekends and nights off, which is important for two reasons: A) you don’t get nights and weekends off at camp and B) it lets me get some traveling in. The next sendout will detail all that, though.

Josh “Cadet” Fenton

One comment.

  1. […] He’s the Medo, which means he’s in charge of all the Cav Medics. Funny story, I went to camp with his […]

Post a comment.

let's lose charley