Saturday, January 29th

The course started on Tuesday night in the middle of the woods somewhere. After work that afternoon we were loaded up in a delivery van and drove for a few hours. It was dark inside and there were no seats or straps and the ride was disorienting as each turn would send you into a slide across the floor. Toward the end of the trip I could tell that we turned onto a very bumpy dirt road. The left strap on my pack came undone when the van came to an abrupt stop.

The back doors opened up and revealed a blinding white light broken up by two dark figures. I heard something drop onto the floor of the van. The doors slammed shut and we were once again in total darkness. I began to fiddle with my strap when I heard a small hissing noise. My eyes filled with tears and my face began to burn. Each breath was like inhaling heartburn and the smell was unforgettable. I must admit that a pepper bomb is one of the most horrible things I have ever experienced.

CQS Turner tried to open the doors, but they were locked from the outside. He and CQS Yarbanks began kicking the doors as hard as they could. The van began moving again. The bomb had just run out of juice when we stopped again. We all tried to keep composure while waiting for the doors to open. I didn't think that the pain could get any worse; that is until I stepped outside and let the blistering cold wind smash me in the face. Wind just seemed to compound the burning sensation rather than make it better.
A voice came from out of the darkness, "form up!"

We all staggered into formation and did our best to stand at attention. The area was quiet for a couple of minutes. I began to get worried that we had been left alone. My vision slowly came back and I could make out the shapes of trees all around us. Suddenly the area was lit up by a dozen flood lights. Two guys stood in front of our formation. Both were wearing desert combat boots, tan cargo pants, black short-sleeve shirt, tactical vest, and a black hat. They stood tall with their arms crossed and glared at us. We were instructed on where to sleep by one of them. Home was a large canvas tent lined with metal frame bunk beds that the instructors called 'racks'. This was the beginning of a very unforgettable week.

Wednesday morning we all woke up to tear gas canisters popping in our tent. I guessed that something like that would happen so I had pulled out my gas mask the night before. Quickly I secured the mask to my face. I was first to make it out of the tent. The others came running out soon after. One of the instructors walked up to me and began to fire off questions.

"Why did you put your gas mask on?"
"Uh... I wanted to avoid the gas, sir."
"Don't call me sir damnit! Don't you see the insignia on my cover?" He pointed to gold sergeant stripes sewn into the front of his hat.
"I'm sorry sergeant!"
His chest puffed out and he pointed his finger in my face, "I know you are! Now apologize!"
"I um... I apol..."
He interrupted me, "I don't give a shit! Apologize to your team dumbass! Because of you the rest of them are in pain right now."
"But I didn't do anything to them."
"Oh really? When did you decide to that you might need your gas mask huh?"
"Last night, sergeant."
"And you didn't think that it could possibly be some good information to share with everyone else?"
"Well I wasn't really thinking of..."
"Exactly! You were only thinking of yourself. To hell with the rest of them right?"
That question made me angry and I made sure to emphasize it in my voice, "No! I just didn't think about it is all!"
"You know what happens when you don't think about shit like that? Huh? Do you?" He bumped my forehead with his hat as he brought his face closer to mine, "people die. Right now the blood of everyone in this squad could be on your hands. The small details count, son. Remember that."

I could tell he was being sincere in his own twisted way so I backed down and nodded my head. I knew he was right. He drilled the point home by making me carry anyone that 'died' that day during our exercises. We went over IED (improvised explosive device) identification during the day and land navigation at night. The classes were very interesting, but I don't think I will ever use the information we learned. After our night training session he pulled me aside and talked to me. He told me that the weight of a dead friend on my conscious was far greater than the physical weight of carrying them out of battle. Then he told me that when I get ideas on defensive strategies, such as the gas mask this morning, I should share it with the rest of the squad.

Thursday was the most fun day of training. We learned some advanced weapons techniques during the day. The classes showed us how to use our weapons more efficiently in certain situations. That night we practiced firing at targets from an assortment of moving vehicles. I bet the outcome of more battles could be in our favor if we had some of those neat toys!

Friday was the last and most grueling day of training. We put on all of our gear and walked ten miles to a special training area. It was a simulated urban environment complete with buildings and vehicles. Our weapons were fitted with some sort of gear that would allow us to play some real war games. We fired blanks at OPFOR on the course. If someone was hit the gear attached to their helmet and vest would start to beep. If you were hit you had to fall down and act dead. Of course the instructors had fun with it a few times and told someone that they were just injured and needed to scream like hell until SM Magley showed up. When it got dark we started torture resistance training. It was a course on how NOT to talk when being tortured in different ways. I don't want to talk or think about that class anymore.

Saturday morning we were given a training metal and certificate. There was an open question and answer session with the instructors during breakfast. We found out that one was a retired Colonel and the other a retired Sergeant Major. Both were Delta Operators for the military. The stories these guys told were insane! I'm sure the stories they couldn't tell were even better!

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