Postcards from Tradocia

The BCT Special Olympics

My view at the zero range

My view at the zero range

If the battalion NCO of the year board was a glorified trivia contest, then the brigade NCO of the year competition was the Army special olympics.

Like me, most of the contestants – in two categories, soldier (E-4 and below) and NCO (E-5 and E-6) – were “volun-told” for the competition and so had varying levels of enthusiasm for the event. The overall mood was surprisingly uncompetitive, too – indeed, there was nary a trace of rivalry, but rather more of a sense of shared resignation at our common fate.

I reported to the barracks on Thursday night to find many of the candidates studying frantically – three-ring binders and common task manuals spread on their racks, checking out facts at the last minute. Since my goal was essentially to fail gracefully, there would be no last-minute studying for me. I had no intention of winning the competition, since winning would mostly mean more stress and more work. This attitude was also based on a frank assessment of my capabilities: these competitions are almost universally won by infantrymen, since the activities consist entirely of bread-and-butter infantry tasks. It’s all a signal puke like me can to do just get up to basic proficiency with some of these things, let alone beat the grunts at their own game.

My non-winning attitude did little to relieve the anxiety about the competition; I went to bed with my stomach knotted in fear about the next day’s events. There were only two, and both of them standard items: PT test and rifle qualification.

As it turned out, the majority of my anxiety for the whole weekend was focused on the PT test. I passed, though in my usual mediocre fashion; this alone likely was enough to put me out of contention for winning the competition and I was counting on that fact. Of course, it was a lovely 15 degrees Fahrenheit Friday morning, and we ran the two-mile course outdoors, running the last 1-mile leg into a 10-15 mile-per-hour headwind.

Later, we headed to the rifle range, to shoot our company’s new M4 carbines for the first time. Many of us (myself included) had never fired an M4; while it’s mostly similar to the M16, it has several key differences. Most notably – and most detrimental, when talking about a shooting game, which is basically what the rifle qualification is – is the shorter sight radius and lower muzzle velocity. A shorter sight radius (distance between the front and rear sights) magnifies the effect of shooter instability, making sighting errors larger. A lower muzzle velocity means a higher bullet trajectory at middle ranges to impact at the same zero range (in our case, three hundred meters), and also means a longer flight time, and more susceptibility to wind drift.

Also, as is the standard now, we were wearing body armor (with rifle plates), which makes shouldering a rifle almost impossible. As it turned out, I had to put the butt of the rifle basically in my armpit to hold it steady. This was made more difficult by the fact that I had a small ballistic vest but had been issued medium rifle plates – this made the plate ride up my chest while kneeling, driving the top edge of the plate into my throat.

Despite these difficulties – and others, including the cold weather and occasional snow – I shot well, scoring 35 out of 40. This put me in good position for a “good but not great” finish to the whole thing.

Saturday I woke in good spirits – the hardest parts of the competition were behind me, I thought, and I was pretty firmly on track to succeed in not winning. In that, I was quite accurate – though I didn’t figure on my failure being quite so spectacular.

The first event of the day was the land navigation course, where you’re handed a map, compass, and a list of grid coordinates. You have to plot the points on the map, calculate distance and direction, and hump around the course to find the points. As it turned out, I’m retarded, basically forgot what I was doing, and totally fucked up the initial plotting. Once I realized my mistake, I was behind on time and was flustered by my sudden stupidity. I totally bombed the course, though as I tromped through the snowy woods, following the turkey and coyote tracks, I figured that it didn’t much matter, since I wasn’t trying to win anyway. I was right, but that didn’t ease my wounded pride. The brigade sergeant major also made a veiled (but fairly jovial) threat about reducing me in rank because of my stupidity.

This did have the effect of totally relieving me of stress, however – after that performance, I was in absolutely no danger of winning anything, so my step was light going into the second part of the day – the Army warrior task competition. There were seven stations; at each one, you were evaluated on your ability to perform one core soldier task, like assemble and disassemble a weapon. There were no surprises here – I knew that there would be a couple failures awaiting me on the course. I knew that there would be an M2 .50 caliber machine gun, and I had never touched one in my life. My personal goal was simply to get the bolt out of the receiver during disassembly – no more. As it turned out, I was able to completely assemble and disassemble the weapon within the time limit (which was not the entire task), which felt like a fairly significant achievement, considering my ignorance.

That night was the night land navigation course, on which I fared better than the day version. I finished with plenty of time to spare, and as I waited in the van with the other candidates, I heard one of the most infamous of all Army mythologies (which, amazingly, I haven’t written about before): “I heard that just the passing shockwave of a .50 caliber round can kill a man!” I almost couldn’t believe my ears – here was a van-ful of seasoned infantrymen (indeed, the best our brigade had to offer), discussing the possibility of killing someone with the shockwave of a projectile a half-inch in diameter and a couple of inches long, traveling 3000 feet per second at the muzzle. I turned around and addressed the stupidity, asking them if they thought that you could get killed standing next to the muzzle of the M2 while it was firing. They thought for a moment, and I think the realization dawned upon them that if it was really that dangerous, we’d have giant warning flags all over every machine gun barrel ever used, since every range would be a veritable shockwave deathtrap!  They then proceeded to discuss whether the 25mm main gun of the M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle would kill with the shockwave. I let them have that discussion.

We went to be late – after midnight – and the next day began with my favorite Army activity: packing to leave. That day would be the appearance board – with us wearing our Class A dress uniforms – and I felt calm, calmer than I ever had before a board. Mainly, I knew I was totally out of the running at that point, so all that was on the line was my pride. I acquitted myself fairly well, though not as well as I would’ve liked (for pride’s sake). (Question: how many types of NCOERs are there, and what are they? Answer: LOL wut?)

I can say that I learned some things at the event, and I did have some fun, but it’s not something I’d like to repeat in my career…


  1. jumi

    the question is… did you do poorly enough to not be volunteered again?

  2. Mrs. Melobi

    You forgot to write about how well you did at packing. You are a primo tactical packer.

    I’m thrilled that you lost. I’d like to see you again some weekend day in the future.

  3. Aaron

    Its over – a good thing. Glad to hear that you did wonderously(sp?) mediocre. :-)

  4. grandpa

    we’re still proud of you. love

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