Originally, this was going to be titled “Westbound And Bored,” as in, we moved west and spent a lot of time doing things that even at the time seemed boring. Thinking back, I would be doing a serious disservice to the use of the word “boring,” however true it might feel, in this context. Having later worked jobs that involved a significant amount of boring—especially working as an EMT and then a Paramedic, believe it or not—what we were doing during our screen line mission really wasn’t boring, just routine … until it wasn’t.
As I alluded to at the end of my previous post, this “real” continued to get more real as time went on, even as there were significant stretches that were monotonous and even repetitious. In living our “crazy life” on the screen line, we found some refuge in that repetition, in music (more on that in another post), and in the occasional bursts of insanity (yet another coming post) that punctuated our otherwise tedious existence. Indulge me, if you please, in the following diary-style posts about that time. Some of the events that occurred during that time I have already discussed in my book, so I won’t go into a lot about those here. What follows (in this and the next few posts) is a date-and-time–approximate selection of how things on the screen line looked, at least to me. Hopefully, it will make it more understandable to readers unfamiliar with military living, especially in combat deployments.
09 FEB 1991 at 04:45 local
My first conscious thought was it’s still dark!—of course it is. “I’m awake,” I grunted at SGT Planter, the gunner on my tank Can’t Touch ‘Dis, as he poked at me in my fart sack atop the turret next to my loader’s hatch. It wasn’t even 5, and it’s still the tail end of winter in north-central Saudi Arabia. It won’t be not-dark for probably another hour yet, at the BMNT—Beginning of Morning Nautical Twilight.
Fortunately, even though the night air is still frigid, my sleeping bag has been quite adept at keeping me comfortably warm even sleeping on the top of the turret. Unfortunately, that means that I now need to get my toasty ass out of it and get started on my morning duties. Some of my platoon mates are already up and on their way to getting set at REDCON-1, as I can hear them shuffling around, opening and closing hatches, and stowing gear. Unlike some, I sleep with my boots and Nomex® CVC coveralls inside my sleeping bag, because I abhor putting on cold clothing and especially boots. No doubt, my experience with cold boots is exacerbated by a cold-weather injury I’d suffered on guard duty in Germany in 1989—guarding an empty ammo point, with an M16A1 rifle with no ammo, from 02:00-04:00, in a concrete guard shack with no heat in late January (Arrrrrrrmy training sir!)—but even without that experience donning cold clothing onto a warm body is a suck I’d rather not endure if I don’t have to.
What I can’t do is go back to sleep. As it happens, last night I was not tasked with a guard shift (as it was scheduled, there was always one more soldier than shifts necessary to man, and so each tanker got one night off every 15 days; that night it had been my night to miss that duty), so I did actually get a full night’s sleep, and am not really as groggy as I often am when first roused. Time to brave the day. Slip on the CVC coveralls, which is reasonably easy to do even in the cramped confines of the US Army Intermediate Cold Weather sleeping bag. Once on, slide one foot at a time into the best pair of boots the Army has ever allowed soldiers to wear, tanker boots:
At the most “normal” of temperatures, gloves on a tank are still essential, and especially in the very cold and very hot. They stay in the pockets of my coveralls until I am ready to exit my cocoon of comfy-cozy, when I have to brave the brumal and buckle up my boots.
Now, the day can begin …
… with me stuffing my sleeping bag back into my rucksack, greeting SGT Planter and the LT who are both in the process of putting away their own gear. Chilly it remains, so after I cinch up my rucksack and replace the tarp that we use to line and cover the equipment in the bustle rack, I reach down and grab my Nomex® CVC jacket from inside the turret, hop onto the back deck and do a visual once-over to make sure everything there is closed, latched, and in its proper place. Lean over the sides and back to make sure that nothing (and no-one) has fallen off or is otherwise endangered when we have to start the engine, and if we have to move immediately.
Time for a breathing break—despite the sharpness of the pre-dawn dark (probably about 45° F, 7.2° C) and the slight breeze smacking it against my cheeks, it helps to finish the waking process by stopping for a bare moment and filling my lungs deeply. In through the nose, slowly, feeling that fridge-temp air all the way down into my belly button, and then out through the mouth. No puff of cloud to speak of, because despite the cold air it’s very, very dry. A shame, that; one of the few things I enjoy about cold weather is making clouds with my very own breath, as if I were a 5′ 7″ tall Zeus creating weather for a tiny world. Ah well.
“Sarn’t Planter, I’ma hop down and walk the track.” He grunts an acknowledgment, and I crawl from the back deck to the left sprocket and then to the ground, looking around to make sure no equipment is lying around and the track and skirts are all intact. I circle a 360 around the tank, then climb back up make sure the two turret sponson boxes are secured, the smoke grenade launchers are still loaded, both my and the LT’s machine guns are loaded appropriately, and the crosswind sensor is erected and uncovered. Everything is a-okay.
I take a second to double-check to make sure that I actually finished putting away my crap*. Once satisfied, I slide into the loader’s hatch, pop the ready ammo door and visually inspect everything, then check the radio to make sure I have the right frequencies programmed.
Maybe ten minutes have elapsed since my gunner woke me up, and everyone is easing into their stations. I pull out my pocket reference for tank operation just to make sure I haven’t skipped anything*.
Sometimes, to be a smart-ass, I will verbatim repeat information from my checklist to the rest of the crew so that they know I am being by-the-book*. This is not one of those times.
“Warren, did you put some water out?” SGT Planter asked.
No. No, I hadn’t done that, because of course I forgot. “On it,” I reply, and grab an empty .50 cal ammo can out of the turret sponson, one of two we saved specifically for heating water in. I fill it about 3/4 full of water from the jerry can, then carry it to the back deck of the tank where I set it at the top of the grille in the path of the engine exhaust—as we go through the final steps for REDCON-1, all of our vehicles will start their engines, and we’ll use that glorious M1A1HA engine exhaust to have hot water for later.
With the tank fully prepared and all crew members in their stations, we wait. At the appropriate time, the entire troop achieves REDCON-1, and when the CO is satisfied that we are not going to be rolling out to combat right this second, we are stood down to a lower REDCON level, 3 or 4 depending on the situation around us. Today, we stand down to REDCON-4, and the platoon starts to take turns doing their morning routines: shaving, brushing teeth, making coffee, scrubbing stinky body parts with soap and water (not in that order, necessarily), and so forth. Breakfast comes in via mermites, scrambled eggs and sausage patties with soggy toast. I actually don’t care much, food is food for the most part. What there is also, however, is hot coffee that isn’t “taster’s nasty” from the MRE accessory packet.
… To be continued …
*: As I’d noted in an earlier post, with my ADHD (that I didn’t know I had, and because of which had to create myriad adaptations just to survive) these are critical steps for me—some, that I would perform over, and over, and over again, because one of my major symptoms is that I have a ridiculously small working memory, and I will literally forget from the time I looked at the bustle rack to the time I turn around whether or not I secured the tarp. So I have to look again, and will have forgotten again by the time I turn around. The checklist, above, was an absolute life-saver for me, because I could create a routine around reading through it, reading parts of it aloud (as I said, sometimes to be a smart-ass, but really covering up for the fact that I had created an adaptation for my poor working memory), and then I could be sure that I had done the things.