[written January 11, 2003]
17 June 02: Mom, Dad, et al: Half an hour to write tonight. We get a lot more time now and we're faster in our routines so this happens more often.
I forgot to mention in the last letter that we spent one day learning "U.S. Weapons". What it is is getting to fire weapons other than the M16A2. We fired AT4s, although they only had tracer rounds inside. AT4s are big bazooka-like things that only fire once and cost $1k each, I hear. They take out tanks, bunkers, etc. They're pretty light and the kick wasn't too bad, but then again we didn't use RPGs or anything. We also got to fire the grenade launcher addition to the M16A2. We only got to use smoke rounds. We aimed at tank targets and painted them orange with our rounds. The thoonk noise the grenade launcher makes is sweet. We got to see claymores go off but we didn't set any ourselves. We learned how to, at least... Lots of testing on the equipment and tucking wires under sandbags and tying them to poles. And don't touch the blasting cap or it'll explode and take your hand off! By far the best thing of the day was firing the SAW. The SAW is a Squad Automatic Weapon. It's that bigass gun you lay down with a shoulder support and a tripod supporting the barrel. It fires the same 5.56mm rounds as the M16A2. You load up a big chain of bullets and slam them in, then get comfy, and slam off 5-7 round bursts at the tank targets. The weapon is a loud motherfucker even with earplugs. It was so much fun pelting the tank with 50 rounds. My ears hurt a bit and carbon was thick in the air. But you also see rounds (used rounds = brass) and chain links flying out the side while you fire. After everyone fired, the ground next to the SAW had a big hole where all the brass flew down hard onto.
Today was wild. We threw grenades! We practiced with fused grenades which basically just explode a blasting cap. Dangerous, but only if your fingers cover up the hole underneath. The sergeant on the range blew one of them up in his hand -- scared the shit out of us when he flicked off the spoon (the curved lever you squeeze with your hand while holding it) -- we were like, "What the FUCK?" but it was safe. Then after some practice, we went to the live grenade bunker. We sat inside while D.S. Conn moved each person out to the throwing bay. We held those suckers tight. I was of course not scared of the grenade but of messing up in front of D.S. "tough as woodpecker lips" Conn. They told us they'd make one good attempt to push us out of harm's way should anything go wrong. D.S. Conn said he'd throw us on the grenade! More money spent on his training than on a little old private. So I threw my grenade fine, squatted down behind the bunker, and heard the huge BOOM that you can hear from a long way away. It kicked major ass. It'll kill anyone within 5 meters. The explosions (seen inside the bunker as you never watch your own grenade) are flat and smoky, unlike movies, but powerful for a little ball you wrap your hand around. Lane, my friend from 43rd (Reception) who is going to DLI almost threw his grenade but thought he heard the sergeant say something else so he held it back. The sergeant flipped (I saw from the window) out and grabbed his arm, dropping the grenade over the side. It detonated just on the other side and Lane got yelled at hard. Otherwise a safe day. After lunch, MREs (pineapple, alfredo noodles, granola bar, fruit bar (I wanted Skittles in my MRE like some got, dammit)) we did the grenade qualification course where you throw at different targets at different distances in different positions. I did well and qualified as First Class, 6 out of 7. The top is Expert. (Oh yeah, Lopez got to fire a real AT4 at the tank because he shot expert in BRM but he aimed too high and missed!) I think we get a badge for grenades but it doesn't mean much because you only qualify in basic training. Our platoon would get a grenades banner on our flag but one male who is lazy and has a stress fracture in his leg and won't likely graduate with us couldn't throw today. We hope he'll leave soon so our PT score will go up and we get the banner. The D.S.s are cutting people out now as graduation nears.
18 June 02: Today we ran through the maneuver course using live rounds. What we do is run from log to log, falling to the ground and firing from the prone while a partner lays down supporting fire and you alternate to the end. We were all worried we might get shot but nothing happened. Just put your weapon on safe before you run! All morning the Alpha run group (all males) got to go on a detail where we went to the ceremonial field to put up state flags and red/white/blue banners for a change of command event. It was fun because we got to eat chow before everyone else (Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Golden Grahams, scrambled eggs, sausage, kiwi/strawberry juice, potatoes, pineapples, pancakes with butter and syrup. Yeee-ehhh as D.S. Conn would yell with adrenaline as he watched the live grenades go off. We got to watch the ceremony. The marching formations were very crisp (our D.S.s marched) and the officers attending it talked to us like real people while we handed out pamphlets. All the officers I've talked to have been cool. Unlike the sergeants.... I'd like to do officer school but the 6-8 year term is tough. We'll see how much I like things after AIT. Our company commander, Captain Treadway, is awesome. He runs all the events with us and never gets tired. Motivates us. Is young and is sensitive to our issues. Drives a new Camry. The new battalion commander is Lieutenant Colonel Prosser, replacing LTC Moore. LTC Prosser has degrees and masters up the wazoo. George Mason and military colelges, Ranger and Combat patches, medals, all sorts of shit. A badass mofo indeed.
19 June 02: Today was confidence course. Balancing on elevated logs, falling from ropes, jumping over moving logs, climbing up plank ladders (like in Full Metal Jacket), monkey bars, climbing up high platforms using only people as support. Lots of height, lots of muscle tenderization from logs, lots of fun. One female did the event where you swing on a rope and land on a high log, but she didn't lift her legs and got nailed in the chest. Not the only one to do it but she got hurt bad! Females got wrecked today because many were too short to do the obstacles easily. We got our grenade banner because our crippled male is leaving. 11 males left. My security clearance interview is on the 27th. I assume it means I'm all clear because another male didn't get called and he was living in Korea so they're probably still investigating. We can eat fat cakes now!