Thursday, October 16, 2008

Back to The Basics of Training

This week was a trip down memory lane for us as we were placed in the hands of a small squad of Army Reserve drill sergeants from Bravo Battery 1st of the 355th, 95th Training Division, from Corpus Christi, Texas. Their job was to provide us with refresher training on some basic soldier skills and to help us all get into the mindset of thinking the Army way.

Even after 20 years in the Army I still feel that tinge of fear when I see a drill sergeant in his brown round. Just the sight of a drill sergeant with their distinctive hat, dark sunglasses and impeccable military bearing sends a shot of adrenaline into the system. It's ingrained into you from the day you enter the army as a private and stays with you till the day you retire to the old Soldiers home.

As I mentioned to the Soldiers during our final formation - it's a love hate relationship we develop with drill sergeants. On the one hand we fear even being around them and on the other hand we have a great sense of gratitude for everything they teach us. They truly are a part of who we are as Soldiers.

We reviewed some basic skills this week - things we have trained on for years, but that somehow seem a bit more poignant now, as we prepare to deploy.

We worked with our weapons, reviewed advanced first aid techniques and revisited a number of other basic Soldier skills that, together, help Soldiers pay attention to details. Attention to detail is the heart of survival for a Soldier. Everything we do as Soldiers is surrounded by details - what we see, what we hear, what we feel and ultimately what we do with the details we observe.

Most of the tasks we trained on this week, we learned in basic training, and in many cases simply reviewing the standards and steps of each training task was enough to rekindle the memories of what we already knew. In the end these training sessions helped restore the confidence we once had when we were younger Soldiers or reinforce the skills our younger Soldiers learned during their more recent basic training.

In addition to the great training we got, we made a few new memories too. On one occasion the entire unit was disciplined for not obeying a simple order to have and drink water regularly in order to protect ourselves from dehydration.

This may seem like a minor infraction, but as we are headed to a location where heat casualties are frequent, it is a simple detail that, if followed, will save lives. As punitive punishment, the drill sergeants put the entire unit in the front leaning rest position (push up position) and with a sense of pleasure had us doing slow cadence push-ups. Then they put us back up on our feet - and without skipping a beat had us back down on the ground to do slow cadence flutter kicks (laying on your back with your feet held above the ground about six inches and slowly shuffling you feet up and down in the air). When we finally got back up to the position of attention, Drill Sergeant Enriquez yelled out, "I bet your thirsty now, right?" That first cool drink after that was enough to remind us to always keep our water with us and to drink often.

When it's all said and done, the pain of the punishment reminds you of the value of attention to details and following the orders of those appointed over you.

That said, we did get a little revenge on the drill sergeants later in the week. At different times during the week the drill sergeants would drop a fake grenade in our work areas to help us put some of our training into action. On the first couple tests of how we would react to this mock exercise, we didn't do so well, but by the end of the week we were more attentive to what was going on around us and our reaction times were greatly improved.

"You have to be aware of your surroundings at all times and in all places," said the drill sergeants. In the end we helped THEM understand that we got the message loud and clear. A couple of our soldiers set booby traps for the drill sergeants on our last day together. Wouldn't you know it they didn't pass the test and they fell victim to our simulated traps. They knew they were HAD and like great sports they laughed right along with us - a great lesson was learned and a great memory was made.

This really is a slice of what Army life is like for a Soldier. We train hard, we work hard and we have a great time doing both.

Next week we ratchet up the training when we go to one of the Army's Regional Training Centers for a more intense and advanced training program. It will be in a field environment and it will be the first test of how we work as a team. We'll keep you posted.

As a token of appreciation, each of our drill sergeant trainers was presented a special coin of recognition from our commander, MAJ Daneker. Many thanks to these great American Warriors. (SSG Barajas, SSG Alfred, SSG Pepau, SSG Enriquez, SGT Botello, SSG Bertrand)

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