Clearly, it wasn't a real deployment. I never left Kentucky, although Kentucky in itself is basically like being in the desert surrounded by ticks and chiggers instead of donkeys and camels. But, they sure simulated what a deployment would be like.
We rode buses all the way to this site. It felt like it took half an hour, but I'm sure it wasn't that long. We got there and fourth platoon was the only bus there. I think the other buses took a different route to go around this hill of terror our bus driver went up. We were loaded off the buses and sent to grab our gear, but before you could do anything else you heard this song that STILL gives me the chills. I'm not kidding -- when it plays, I have a tear in my eye and I am ready to raise my weapon. Knox PTSD is REAL.
Listen to it a few times. Then, imagine it playing at 02 in the morning as you're trying to sleep. This song meant that SAPA was here and usually following this song was an attack.
They played this, along with other Islamic music, as fourth platoon unloaded everyone's gear from the box trucks and it definitely got me in the mood to fight some SAPA. (SAPA is Southern Atropian People's Army. It's basically Cadetland's version of a terrorist).
Once everyone else arrived, we all loaded into the bleachers and got briefed about what we were in for. They ended the brief in a way that was really fun, but at the time it happened I was PISSED. They simulated a mortar and had us grab our rucks and run/fast ruck to where we would be staying for the week. God, it's like I'm trying to listen and learn and then all of a sudden you interrupt yourselves on purpose. I missed the last thing that Captain Catlaw had said thanks to that.
We ruck ran about a mile to our destination. Once we got there, we laid our rucks down and started the lanes. Fourth squad was OP4 (opposing force) that day and it was SO FUN. But since we were it in the beginning we didn't really get to kill anyone. Not as much as we would have, had we been OP 4 on the last day. I was in the react to contact lane and we had a cadre member named SGT Everett. He was so much fun to be around. In our downtime he asked us a lot of questions to get to know us personally. He taught us this slogan he used for the rest of training: "Train to lead - lead to train." We said the lead to train part because we are training to be second lieutenants who lead to train soldiers. He said the train to lead part because the enlisted are the ones who train a lot to lead as team leaders and squad leaders. It made a lot more sense when he explained it. But you get the point.
We went on that lane three times that day.
Since all the platoons were divided, we had a little more food to go around so we had seconds that entire week. It was nice getting to eat two plate fulls. We burned it all off anyway, so I didn't feel the least bit bad about it.
After chow we were given a long time to set up our hooches and conduct personal hygiene. It took forever to set this hooch up and myself and Destiny were together again and we laughed the whole time. It was so crazy and our first hooch was awful!! But we ended up becoming professionals by the end of the week, so it paid off.
We were finally allowed to fall asleep and were asleep for maybe two hours before the first attack happened. SAPA had found us and they were starting to fire at us from our right side. This only lasted about half an hour and then they took a chill pill. We slept the whole rest of the first night.
The next morning we had more lanes. We had moved on into recon and recon isn't bad at all. We started off kind of rough with being really loud and none of us, myself included, really tried to stay out of the way so we wouldn't be seen. We got reamed by our LT for that. He was so mad and he was going to Infantry BOLC right after Cietnam, so he wasn't thrilled that we sucked at this stuff. We ran through it two more times before we called it a day. Personally, I think we improved, because the third time we did our recon the SAPA we were watching said he didn't see or hear us at all.
That night was about to be real interesting. Our DS was the adult cadre who was staying there and, with him, it could have went either way. He could have taught us a lesson and attacked us all night long or, if we were good, he could have let us go and not done anything. We were left (mostly) alone that night. SAPA came by and blasted their song and woke everyone up, but that was basically it. I think DS was as surprised as we were, though. He came down to talk to us and he was laughing about the ridiculousness of that music. Then, Cadet Dixon had said that the song meant "initiate movement" and she swore she heard it. Never in our month of camp had I heard DS Carrillo laugh THAT hard. Dixon was so sure that's what it meant. He retold that story during first formation a few hours later. The way everyone was laughing with Dixon and about how animated Carrillo was really helped to boost morale.
He was really good at that when he wasn't smoking you. He really knew how to work a crowd. He could make you feel anyway that he wanted you to feel with the stories he told. He could be serious when we would talk about the different places we all come from and things like that. He could be funny, times like that in the field and many others. There was one time he yelled at the sun. Like, the actual sun for shining too bright. I snorted because I laughed so hard.
But after we all had that good laugh, it was time for day three of lanes. Our next was the ambush lane. This lane was the worst because the terrain was terrible. It was straight down a hill, then straight up a hill and then 93,857,025 meters past the hill. I died twice that day. Captain Catlaw killed me off within the first five seconds each time. I felt so bad for my battles for carrying me up and down and around that hill. After almost a month of eating nothing but MRE's and having all this gear on, I probably weighed a ton.
Later that day, things got a little rainy --and by a little, I mean we had to go to this LPA (lightening protection area) across the street and stay there for a while. Then, after maybe an hour, we were sent to go pack up everything. We ran, like legit ran with our rucksacks, back to where the buses picked us up at to be rushed back to the barracks. Apparently there was a tornado or something that was coming through.
I was THRILLED we were going back. I hadn't talked to my boyfriend in days because my phone was dead. I wanted a shower. I wanted a normal bed . . .
Rumor had it around Cadetland that we would be staying because we only had a couple days left of the field and then we were done training. I was so excited. More than excited. We got back to the barracks and I wanted to cry once I could finally text Bradley and sleep in a bed. I kept telling myself it was all over . . .
NOPE. WE WERE TOLD AT 2200 WE HAD TO BE PACKED AND READY TO GO BY 05 THE NEXT DAY.
I didn't even get to shower because we didn't get our civilian bags.
The next day we were bused back to the middle of nowhere Kentucky and started our last day of lanes. Fourth Squad had react to contact which was the lane we were Op4 for. We all felt pretty confident because we knew what was going to happen -- not. We were slaughtered. Every single time. The best time, though, was when Destiny was Squad Leader and I was her RTO and we killed ALL the SAPA. It was amazing. We lost some people too, but we killed everyone. Her mission went perfectly. SGT McGlaughlin was so impressed with her, as was I. She did incredibly well.
Since this was our last day of lanes, we weren't given a lot of down time because we had A LOT to do for the Platoon Operation the next day. It got to be really stressful. Kirsten, Destiny and I hardly had time to build our final hooch. Thank God for Tua because he helped us. It took him five seconds to put his together. He came over and helped us dig holes and put sticks in the ground so we could tie our bungee cords to them. Without him, I think we would have been without shelter for the night.
Later that evening was the worst attack we had. It started around 2300 and WENT ON FOR THE REST OF THE NIGHT. We all had to take sleeping shifts because the fire didn't stop. What made it worse, for me at least, was that it was my birthday. I turned 21 years old laying in the dirt sober as crap.
Destiny made it a lot better, though. She was the first person to wish me a happy birthday in person. It was so cute. She reminded me of a little sister to be honest and I'm really happy that she was there. After she said it, though, we were all killed. I was dead, laying up by the water buffalo along with Tua and Johnson. It was totally my fault they died, too. I didn't think SAPA was still here because it was quiet for a while so I started talking to them and then we were all shot.
After that we had a short AAR with the cadre who killed us and they explained the things we did wrong and how we could fix it. And then we were allowed to go back to bed and we were killed again later that night. Joy.
Finally, it was breakfast time and almost time to pack up and go back to the barracks. We ate and then started on our platoon mission immediately.
But -- right as we are about to step off, half of our platoon is killed to be Op4. There is so much panic. I was a team leader and ALL of my specialty teams were dead. Cadet Inserra and I had to move everyone around and then our specialty teams had two people tops on each one, and I was on two of them myself.
Right after that chaos happened, fourth squad was sent on our own to flank SAPA. I swear we had to go an extra two miles out of our way. Once we got close, I was leading and I low crawled through mud and probably animal crap and ticks and spiders... I'm surprised I didn't get bit. We got to the road we were supposed to be on and as we were crossing we were bombarded by SAPA. I was shot, Cadet Richard was shot, Cadet Inserra, Cadet McNiel -- almost all of fourth squad was dead.
Some of third squad came about to help carry us to the causality collection point. And Tua, I am so incredibly sorry you had to carry me THAT far. We went probably a quarter mile and it doesn't sound like much, but with a 127lb girl who has a full camelback, a flick with all it's components, and a Kevlar on... He was carrying a lot.
We finally got to the CCP and he dropped me, and of course, the medivac had already ccme for the other bodies. So, myself and six others had to be carried back to the Alpha Alpha. LIKE A MILE AWAY. I was passed in between three different people because that's a long way to fireman's carry a dead body.
Finally Cadre had enough of us all carrying (and real life dying of heat), so they sat us down and we conducted the after action review. That took a solid thirty minutes because we were the closest regiment to accomplish the mission, but we had a little mix up and our detainee got away. Once we were done we were told to go to wherever we shot from and police our brass. I didn't shoot at all because I was killed instantly so I didn't have anything to bring back. Afterwards, we all walked to the AA, emptied our mags, and started our ruck back to where the buses were. It felt SO GOOD to be done. But for some reason, I don't know if it was exhaustion or if I was overwhelmed but I cried the whole ruck back and cried when we were in formation and just cried. I just wanted to be done and we still had all these talks to go through and all I could think about was how it was midday my birthday, I haven't talked to my parents, I still have a week left of camp, I can't see my boyfriend for another 8 days --I just wanted it all to end.
Finally, we were taken back to the barracks and all got our civilian bags. I did laundry immediately. I was in the laundry room and I just cried. I called my dad and cried and cried. I never have wanted to leave some place as bad as I wanted to leave Kentucky. My dad and I talked for a while and then I called my mom and cried even harder. I just wanted that plane. I didn't want anymore MRE's, no more Drill Sergeants. I wanted civilian clothes and a blanket for when I slept.
The next week was fairly easy. We had a week of recovery which basically meant scrubbing your gear, weapons and selves as good as you can get them. I brought all my stuff from school, so while everyone was cleaning their CIF stuff, I was sleeping or texting Bradley.
We took the OPAT one day and let me tell you, I would rather take an APFT. The OPAT sucked. I couldn't deadlift to save my life, nor could I sit with my back straight and throw a medicine ball very far. I was so annoyed. I honestly think that test is a waste of time. How can you tell me my upper body strength sucks when I can max out my push-ups with 50? Okay . . .
We were allowed to go to the mini PX a LOT during recovery week and I can't tell you how many boxes of strawberry Pop-Tarts Anna and I devoured. I became so hooked on them that I bought a huge box when I came home.
Finally, family day had arrived the day before we were to go home. My mom had told me a week before that she was coming down to see me graduate and I have never been happier to see her. I couldn't really show it because you're really not supposed to hug and stuff in uniform but God, was I so glad to see her. When she left me that night I cried again. And then cried on the bus to the plane. I wanna cry now thinking about how happy I was and how amazing it was to spend that time with her.
That Saturday was off to a rough start. We were told to stay awake so we could clean the barracks and our side was SPOTLESS but the other platoon's sides weren't yet so fourth kept getting into trouble for sleeping. But there's 14 girls in fourth alone and three brooms and one mop. What are we supposed to do? We got maybe an hour of sleep that night but none of us really cared because we were finally going home. HOME. LIKE ON A PLANE OUT OF KENTUCKY. PRAISE JESUS.
We got to Graduation rehearsal two hours early and marched around until we got it perfect. Finally, it was time to kiss Cietnam goodbye. After we were done, we were allowed to go change into civilian clothing for the plane, say goodbye to our family and then we were bused an hour to the airport.
Once we got to the airport we had a final safety brief and we were told to go grab our bags from the box truck. My mom had taken my bags with her so I only had my carry on and it was SO easy. Thank God. I was struggling with all of that stuff. Once we were all checked in and ready we said goodbye to each other (Shoutout Anna, I miss YOUUUUU! But we text a lot, so it's kind of like we never left) and we all went our separate ways until our flights.
I boarded my plane thinking of the entire experience -- the amazing friends I made, the training I wasn't ready for, the muscle I had lost and the weight I had gained in my belly from the MRE's. I contemplated it all. It was an amazing experience, as much as I hated it. But I learned like any other obsession you have, the Army is a love/hate relationship. I keep saying that if you had to make me go back I wouldn't and that would be the end of ROTC for me, but in reality, if you told me to go back with Anna, Destiny, Michelle, Katie, Rasun, Kirsten, Christina, Sarah, and Catie -- I would in a heartbeat.