For the last two and a half months, our training has consisted exclusively of infantry combat and tactics – hardly the material that any of us thought we’d be doing when we signed up for Signal. As our joke goes, we’re so hardcore and well-equipped now that we’re the Special Forces Signal Corps. One instructor, asking what kind of night vision devices we had, was quoted as saying “oh shit” when we told him we had the brand-new AN/PVS-14s.
The mission at the FOB was no different. Our first day was combat patrol training – in other words, walking through the woods looking for trouble. It was good training, but it was our first day doing strenuous work with our full battle rattle, and the result was predictable – twelve people became heat casualties and had to get stuck with IVs; one had to get airlifted to the hospital (though he recovered fully).
After that was checkpoint operations, convoy operations, and convoy route clearing. Throughout all of this, civilians dressed up as Arabs harassed us, begged us for food, and blew us up with simulated bombs. We even had a simulated baby born at our simulated checkpoint!
Contrary to many news reports you might have read, there’s plenty of ammo to go around – we ripped through blanks and live rounds like there was no tomorrow, at times just firing off blanks into the air, Iraqi-style, just so that we didn’t have to turn them back in.
All of this training makes me think of those who went to war during the Civil War, World War I, and even Vietnam – then, it was just “here’s a rifle and godspeed.” Now, it’s countless classes, exercises, attempts to understand the local culture, tactics and techniques to keep us alive and complete our mission. And the equipment! – we’re getting more stuff this week, believe it or not – it’s like Christmas!