Long ago, back when I was a private my unit was tasked to play OP4 (play bad guys) for one of our sister units. Of the four platoons in my company, one was tasked to be civilians, one was tasked to be insurgents hiding in the civ. population, the 3rd was tasked with 'floating' (moving from location to location changing roles from one situation to another). My platoon was given the role of rural gorilla warfare.
Any other unit would have found a nice little spot in the woods, set up some tents, built a bon fire and have a grand time camping, playing bad guys. Any other unit did not have my platoon sergeant. The man still scares me to death to this day. He's a crusty old ranger NCO who was as hard and demanding as... hell I don't know anything or anyone to compare him to. We all had visions of this great eleven day long camping trip, bon fires and roasted hot dogs. He had something else in mind.
With this vision of fun times ahead, I figured that if I bought band new boots that it would be a GREAT way to break them in. Any of you with infantry experience are going "Oh my gawd" right now. Like I said, I was a private and new and had no clue what was going to happen.
So two days before the operation was even supposed to begin we packed up and headed out into the swamps of Ft. Bragg. It was the hottest wettest part of the summer and we made a bee line for the deepest, murkiest, most leach infested patch of soggy ground in the middle of the mother of all swamps. When he stopped the ground was sloshing up and down under our feet. He looked around, smiled and declared it our "first patrol base".
This was no civilized camping spot. The weeds and bamboo came up to my chin and we had to kill 3 snakes to setup our hooches (primitive tents, really a one man poncho stretched between trees or in this case two clumps of reeds). We carried in our food for the exercise, and buried it about 50 meters away. Next we built fighting positions and bunkers around our position and set in observation points farther out. If you take a bayonet and push it into a tree, then wrap a 550 cord (para-shoot cord) around the metal part of the handle, then soak the entire thing in CLP (our version of gun oil) and then wrap the 550 cord around the port of your radio the tree acts as a weak antenna.
Because we were playing insurgents we had to wear civilian clothes, but we weren't stupid about it. Everyone wore something "earth" toned and smeared mud and dirt into make it more like cammo.
Once all was well in the patrol base the Plt Sgt came to my squad leader to issue our first mission. My squad was to re-con a potential ambush site over 7 kicks (7 kilometers or 4.2 miles) away. At the time I was a SAW gunner. So there I was soaked from head to toe carrying a full combat load, wearing brand new boots.
It was a brutal experience to say the least. When I got back to the camp I went strait to the medic. The skin on the bottoms of my feet had detached. I have a picture of my medic using moleskin and duct tape to secure the bottom of each foot back where it was supposed to be.
The next day we did more re-con patrols out of our base. About mid day the Plt Sgt discovered a even more remote spot deeper in the swamps, so we carefully wiped out our base and moved deeper. That night it was a different squad's turn to patrol so I racked out in my hooch planing on sleeping until it was my turn for guard shift.
I woke up at about 0100 (that's 1 A.M. for you civilian guys and gals) because something was gently bumping into me. I unzipped my sleeping bag to find out that the warmest hottest part of the summer had some how turned into a windy rainy 35 degree hell on earth. The head of my poncho had filled up with icy water and was hanging down in the middle of my hooch, bumping into me. I had the great idea to just push it up and out in order to let the water run out and away from me.
What I failed to realize was that the 'face' opening of my poncho was facing me. So as I pushed up on the bundle of water, 35 degree water suddenly ran down my arm, into my sleeping bag hitting me right in the chest. When 35 degree water hits your nerves they don't believe it. It takes them a good three seconds to finally realize that "No shit" we just got hit with ice.
I tried to scream, I really did, but my body refused to move. After what seemed like forever I finally began to breath again. Everything was soaked and I would have taken a kick in the neither regions for a ride out of there. There was no going back to sleep after that so I decided to get dressed in some dry clothes to try to stay warm. I turned to where my ruck sack was and what did I find? Not my equipment... no I found a team leader from the other squad. The one who had been out on patrol that evening. Apparently they didn't have time to setup their hooches so they just jumped into ours when they got back.
I found my ruck about 3 meters away, sitting out in the rain. The army claims that they water proof bags are water proof. I beg to differ. There was nothing water proof about anything inside my ruck. The only dry clothing I had to my name were the duct tape bandages around my feet and one set of socks.
I knew that if I got my feet warm that I would feel 110% better so I found one boot, put on sock on, almost passed out as I put the boot on. Then I started my search for my other boot. It wasn't were I put it when I went to sleep, my roommate had taken care of that, but I had no idea where it had gotten kicked to. I quickly and quietly pulled down my hooch, wrapped it around my waist like some sort o kilt and left him to soak up the rain. I had one foot still in my sleeping bag and was dragging it around the swamp searching for my long lost boot. I had almost reached the point of despair when I realized there was something caught under neath my sleeping bag. It was, of course, my long lost boot. I had been dragging it around the swamp along with my sleeping bag.
I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. Mostly I just wanted to be warm and dry but finding my boot improved my mood considerably. I didn't get back to sleep that night and when morning came the sun found me huddled with my battle buddy in a fox hole. I had 3 MRE heaters pressed to my body and I was shivering violently. Even the experienced soldiers of the platoon had all had just as bad a night. We probably had several cases of hypothermia.
The battalion Command Sergeant Major arrived to see how we were doing. He had spent the night in his own bed after a warm shower and when he saw me huddled in my fox hole shivering, he made a face and mocked me. He put his arms around himself and made little sniveling sounds while looking disgusted. If I they had given me a live round I would have shot that *** ** * ***** in the ******* face right then and there. He wasn't infantry and I'm not sure how he became our CSM. Anyway that's a different story, he left pretty quickly (not a moment too soon) it was too cold for him or something. Later that year he was fired and we got a much better CSM. Sorry about that tangent.
For the rest of the operation we ran ambushes, patrols, raids and all kinda of trouble for the good guys. The day before the end of the operation the Plt Sgt pulled the squad leaders in to huddle. After about 15 minutes the squad leaders began their brief. They were sending out a single team on a suicide patrol right into the good guys base. They were going to be carrying maps with detailed locations of our base. The rest of the platoon would dig into our bunkers and wait in ambush for whatever the good guys sent our way.
We broke out all the ammo, double combat load for everyone. Bunkers were touched up, reinforced. The patrol left and we waited. Nothing happened that day, but at first light we heard the whoop whoop whoop of helicopters coming low and fast over the tree tops. Three little birds came in screaming over the swamp, kicking up leaves and debris. The pilots pin pointed our location and started circling to make sure we didn't try to run. An hour passed, then OC's showed up. They are the Observation and Control teams. They decide who lives and dies, who wins, who looses, etc etc.
"Alright, you guys just took 45 minutes of heavy artillery. Only three of you survived."
The Plt Sgt spit. "SAW GUNNERS! GET IN HERE NOW!"
In case you don't know the M-249 SAW is a light machine gun. For its size it is a deadly weapon.
I grabbed all the ammo out of my bunker and ran to the Plt Sgt.
"Listen up Pups," he always called us 'pups', "Their gonna come in here and its gonna be heavy. Damn OC's say we can't all play, you men give 'em hell. If you don't take out at least 5 each I'll PT you until you die! Now get up on that hill top, they'll expect you to stay in a bunker."
We hunkered down on a raised pile of dead vegetation the Plt Sgt had called "the hill" and waited. An hour later we heard their trucks. We were so deep in they couldn't bring the gun trucks in to us. The dismounted and waded into our turf. They sent a full company of line infantry against us. We counted three full platoons. We waited until we could see the whites of their eyes then opened up. I took out one of their Platoon Sergeant and his Medic before they got me. I don't remember how the other two gunners faired, we got separated during the chaos.
The good guys won, we were defeated but that night we had a bon fire, and someone had their wives bring us hot dogs and marshmallows. We stayed up that night laughing and telling jokes and stories, warm and happy.
Later we found out the other platoons had A/C and BBQ the entire time. Pizza had been delivered and they lived in actual builds. But my platoon... we were legends. It has been almost 4 years and soldiers STILL talk about us and all the grief we caused. That platoon spawned some of the greatest NCO's the company has seen. Many of us have gone on to become legends in our own rights.
Shakespeare's Henry V, 1598Shakespeare's Henry V, 1598:
"This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day."