We flew, as a Batallion, into Las Vegas Nevada in mid June on a commercial airliner. Wearing our battle dress uniforms as we stood in formation on the tarmac, we stood in awe of the night time lights of “Sin City”. I had never been to Vegas and had only seen pictures of the city in movies and books. The smell of jet fuel, sweat and Army canvas bags holding our personal effects mixed with the cool desert air. We knew we wouldn’t be entering the airport itself, let alone the city. We were heading to N.T.C. (The National Training Center) for 30 plus days of combat training. We were waiting for school buses to convoy us to Ft. Irwin, the base connected to N.T.C. three hours away.
Located in the Calico Mountains in northern San Bernardino County California, Ft. Irwin sits in the “Death Valley” sector of the Mojave Desert. Due to the intense training and numerous “live fire” ranges, airspace over N.T.C. is restricted to military use only. Isolated from densely populated areas, the closest civilian city, Barstow, CA., is 37 miles to the southwest. N.T.C., the training area, covered over 1000 square miles of desert terrain. It’s main focus of training involved continuous counter insurgency operations reflecting an ongoing and rapidly changing battlefield.
Included in our Standard Operating Procedures for combat, we were to practice “noise and light” discipline (silence and stealth) at all times, follow strict chain of command regimen and not jerk off in the open air at night. We were shown, in the star filled sky, the moving satellites that were monitoring our every move for training and evaluation purposes.
“Any swinging dick beating his swinging dick will be photographed and disciplined! That means if I have to watch a 30 second tape of you choking your little chicken on my time, I will have your MOTHERFUCKING ass cleaning my latrines at Ft. Benning for a goddamned year! Understood?” A loud Batallion wide “Hoah sir!” was our response.
Two days later I tested the luminous warning then expected to be called by the Battalion Commander. No call ever came.
Our training was intense. We had similated combat patrols, maneuvers and live fire training every day. No showers, hot meals or phone contact with the outside world for 30 days. We would do this twice a year, with a 3 week additional tour as “OPFOR” where we trained with Soviet equipment and weapons as the Opposing Force.
After the 30 day tour we had one night off in Ft. Irwin to shower, drink and spend our money. We then convoyed back to the Las Vegas airport and flew back to Ft. Benning.
We were a well oiled machine.
During my tour I had my first practical experience being an Infantry Medic. I treated fractures, two rattle snake bites requiring evacuation, plenty of dehydrated troops and a soldier who found out his wife left him and drained their bank account. On our last day of maneuvers, in an ambush scenario, an infantryman flipped his Bradley Fighting Vehicle in a camouflaged tank ditch set up by OPFOR. He narrowly evaded decapitation by reacting quickly, however he was pinned down in the sand by the weight of the vehicle. His squad leader pulled him out of the situation by pulling him out by his neck.
For lack of proper training in moving an injured soldier the Medic platoon was now in the hot seat. The soldier was fine outside of minor lacerations, however Alpha Company would now have weekly “combat lifesaving” training taught to them by the second highest ranking Medic in the company. That Medic was me. Sgt. Walker, my squad leader was a firm believer in delegation of duties. He taught C.P.R. and I covered everything else.
The timing of our return to Ft. Benning left us with three days until the E.F.M.B. test. I spent those three days paying off the engagement ring, buying my round trip ticket to Germany, calling Annetta to make sure I was still welcome to visit her and sleeping; lots and lots of sleeping.