Monday, January 31, 2011

At The Crucible

I, along with 15 other deployers, got a very packed week of instruction at the Crucible Training Center in Fredericksburg, VA. Each day would have been worthy of a full blog entry, but they ran us hard, and all I wanted to do after getting back to the motel was play the slacker.

We started with a full day of classroom work … “Death by PowerPoint.” A lot of the instruction focused on situational awareness, surveillance detection, and related topics. Much to our surprise, after wrapping up classwork at around 5PM, we were sent out for a practical, driving pre-planned routes in the Fredericksburg area to see if we could detect any mobile surveillance. Conducted, of course, by Crucible staff in their POVs. Monday night, we got a nice little tour of historic Old Town Fredericksburg. We drove around for an hour, spotted some likely surveillance vehicles, wrote up our observations, then headed back to our respective lodging, and dinner. Sushi snob that I am, I was pleasantly surprised to find decent sushi down there. Nothing great, nothing exotic, but all the basics, very fresh and nicely presented.

Tuesday was 9mm day. A morning of instruction, then we spent the afternoon on the range, pumping out rounds like nobody’s business. A major testosterone high was had by all … all the male students, at least. I was pleasantly surprised (again), this time with the realization that, although I’ve had very limited time with firearms, I was shooting pretty respectably. Although my grip and stance needed a lot of work, and still do, I was pretty much hitting what I aimed at.

After shooting, we got sent out on another night-time surveillance detection run. Talk about buzzkill. Dinner that night at a Thai restaurant. I’ve had much better.

Wednesday was the day for defensive driving. HOLY CRAP, what a rush! All the things we’re prohibited from doing while behind the wheel in polite society, they taught us how to do. They took us out to Sumerduck Dragway, a local race track, and turned us loose. They started with the basics, skills we can use in everyday life, such as controlling a car when braking hard and the wheels lock up. Or recovering from a spin-out. The first really cool thing was learning right-side driving. Imagine you’re tooling down the road in the passenger seat when, all of a sudden, the driver slumps over. What do you do? Grab the wheel, undo our seat belt, kick the driver’s feet away from the pedals, swing your left leg into the driver’s side, and work the pedals with your left foot, all the while bracing yourself with the right foot and holding the driver’s body back against the seat. By the grace of God, I did it without crashing the car. Gotta remember to hold the steering wheel steady, not to use it for support when hauling myself across the car.

By the middle of the afternoon, the weather had turned massively shitty, cold and sleeting. Snow wasn’t far behind. In other words, a great time to start learning about and practicing PIT – Precision Interdiction Technique – and barrier ramming. We were required to wear helmets for both of those drills. If you’re ever watched Cops on TV, you’ve seen a PIT … matching another car’s speed, leaning your fender into his quarter panel, then accelerating to spin him around the front of your car and put him on a reverse heading. Major rush, both on the giving and receiving ends. Then we learned how to ram a stationary vehicle which might be used as part of a barricade in the street. When to do it, when not to do it. Helmet and neck brace in place, I lined up my Crown Vic, put her in first, then held the shifter down as I accelerated into the target. Smashed it out of the way and kept going. Adrenaline and testosterone, what a magic cocktail!

By now, snow was coming down, so we called it a day and headed back to the training compound. The snow was coming down heavy, in big wet flakes, and covering the road surface. So it should be no surprise that it took me about an hour to drive from the training center to my hotel, all of 8 miles.

Thursday morning, after fervently praying that Black Beauty’s diesel engine would start in reasonably short order, I swung into class, where we focused on negotiating checkpoints. A morning of lecture, then an afternoon driving around the compound, doing exercises with Crucible staff and roleplayers putting us through the paces of negotiating checkpoints … some benign, some hostile. When to go with the flow, when to bolt and run, how to deal with anti-American sentiment in delicate situation. We were originally scheduled to do a night driving exercise, but the condition of the roads precluded that, so we got a lecture about driving at night, with emphasis on the physiology of the eye. Interesting stuff.

Friday, after a morning full of lectures, we got to hit the range after lunch. First, we learned about some other shooting techniques, including one-handed firing. Finally, about 2:30 PM, we started the 9mm qualifications. We fired from 25, 15, 7 and 3 yards. I suck at 25 yards … very consistently. Closer in, I’m lethal. Long story short, I qualified at the first opportunity on the M-11 Sig Sauer weapon at about 4:30. With the sun sinking ever lower in the sky, we got a quick cram course on the M-9 Beretta pistol, then went out to shoot. By 5:30, in serious twilight, I completed the second pistol qualification.

After wrapping up some last-minute admin, I was out the door and on the road by 6. After a very long day, I cruised the nearly 100 miles back to Annapolis. With this training out of the way, now I can focus on all the other little details I need to tie up before deploying. More on those in the coming days.

More Training and Preps

Yeah, I know, I’m a slacker … should have been writing a lot more and a lot more often.

But I’ve been busy, very busy, with all sorts of pre-deployment preps.

First off, on the job, I finally got a relief designated. On the plus side, she’s smart and diligent, and works well with Harold, my contractor support. On the down side (or, should I say, depressing side), she’s a year younger than my daughter. Talk about feeling old.

The week before last, the fun stuff started. I did my M-4 qualifications. The deployment managers had a mix-up on the dates, so I ended up showing up a day early, only to be told of the current schedule, Thursday and Friday. Thursday was split between classroom time, learning about the weapon, proper use, breakdown and such. The afternoon was in the simulator – FATS, or FireArm Training Simulator. It used compressed air in the magazines to simulate shooting at targets, with a realistic level of recoil.

Friday morning was all about shooting for qualification, in an indoor range behind the DLOC … two trailers connected end-to-end. My accuracy at 100 yards sucked at first, during the practice rounds. But after one of the instructors suggested taking off my glasses and using only the clear protective eyewear, I was spot on. Turns out my progressive lenses played havoc with my efforts to align the front and rear sights on the M-4. First time out after losing the glasses, I shot a 265 out of 300, enough for qualification. I took it and ran … after cleaning the weapon, which turned out to take longer than the actual qualification shooting.

Next, a hectic weekend trip to New York, where I indulged in a Beefsteak Dinner at my old high school, then Sunday I was cruising south in the Benz for a week of Individual Protective Measures Training … IPMT for short. We’ll cover IPMT in my next entry.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Saga Continues

Well, for those of you who are interested, the Christmas prime rib came out to perfection. I remain amazed at the damage that six people did to a 14 pound standing rib roast.

Back to work last week, and back to pre-deployment preps. I got in to see my sleep specialist, who informed me I couldn't just waltz in and get a new CPAP machine, I'd need another titration test, spending the night at a sleep center hooked up to a machine and a variety of masks. More processes, more delays. Oh joy.

We appear to have leaped over a major domestic hurdle regarding acceptance of my upcoming deployment. CINCHOUSE was at a meeting at Eastport Yacht Club this past weekend and, in discussing my deployment, found out about another member who was deployed to Djibouti. "Djibouti," she derisively snorted, "our guys aren't even getting shot at THERE. Not like Afghanistan." Acceptance is a good thing. I felt a weight lift from my shoulders as she related the story.

Tonight, I do my sleep study to get checked out for a new CPAP machine. Actually, the doctor is talking about a BIPAP, a bi-level machine with different air pressures for inhaling and exhaling. This will remove another roadblock on the path to deployment.

Looks like I have a departure date ... very early on 10 February. I have to arrive at BWI airport the evening of 9 February, then fly off in the wee hours. Gotta go draw all my gear and get serious about packing up. I also need to get serious about learning to pack light, something I've never been good at.