Sunday, January 2, 2011

Precision Rifle Competition Post #1

     This is my first post of 2011. Happy New Year!! (and all that stuff) This year I have resolved myself to compete in at least 3 Half Marathons (with the 3rd being the Las Vegas Marathon in December). And to shoot in as many rifle matches as I can afford. But enough about all that...
     The first match I have signed up for the Score High Rifle Challenge 2011 in Albuquerque, NM in May. This being my first rifle match, I am beyond clueless on how to train for the match. Better yet, how to use my training time to the fullest extent possible. I know that the shooting veterans that read this blog are going to say "Shoot, Shoot, Shoot some more, then Shoot again." That is all fine and good. I got that part. I fell in love with shooting the first time I held a M1 Carbine in my hand when I was 8 years old. It became an addiction when I joined the Army at 17, and now an obsession since I took the North Texas Rifle Precision course in July. I have no problem going to the range, getting square behind the rifle, and squeezing off rounds into a target. But I know to be competitive, there is more to it. There has to be or else more people would do it.
    Right now, my training consists of, 6 Days a week:
30 minutes Dry Fire from the prone supported position
30 minutes Dry Fire from the kneeling unsupported position
30 minutes Dry Fire from the kneeling supported position
30 minutes Dry Fire from the offhand position.
    The focus of the Dry Fire practice is trigger control. I ensure that I grasp the rifle with the firing hand the EXACT same way every time. Second, that my cheek weld and eye relief is the EXACT way every time. Third, my scope reticle is focused on a small point and when I break the trigger, the reticle does not move off of the point, even the smallest bit.
    Range Practice (at least 1-2 days a week) I take my backup rifle (Savage Model 10 FCP-K .308) :
Execute the Sniper's Hide Dot Drill 3x at 100, 200, 300 yards respectively. Focus is on centering the dot on each shot. The rifle is capable of .6 MOA using a Bushnell 6500 4.5-30x50mm Scope (MOA/MOA)
The second drill I run is the 36 Dot Drill. The target is 6x 1in Dots in 6 lines. I begin by shooting 1 round into each dot from the Prone Supported. Second line, 1x round into each dot from the kneeling unsupported. Then Kneeling supported, then offhand. The last two rows are for make up shots where I did not center the round from a certain shooting position.
    Within the next week I will be receiving a Shooting Chronograph. When this item arrives I will begin to develop a load for my primary competition rifle, a customized Remington Model 700 .260, in McMillan A-5 stock, with match barrel, and Badger M-5 Bottom metal that accepts Accuracy International 5 and 10 round magazines, all under a Nightforce 5.5-25x56mm NXS Scope (MIL/MIL) with Milradian Reticle. I have chosen the Lapua 139 Grain Moly Coated Scenar Bullet, Remington .260 Brass and based on a recommendation Hogdon 4350 propellant. When I get my load developed, I will dope my scope based on the Knight's Arms Bulletflight Ballistic Computer and make adjustments from there. Once I have the dope for my scope, all I have left is training, training, and more training.
    There you have it. This is the best I can do as a Noob-tastic Competitor. For those who have Practical or "Tactical" Precision Rifle experience, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, e-mail, comment, or hit me up on Facebook and give me pointers, drills, or comments. My goal is to finish better than dead last. But the higher I finish, the better I will feel, and the better I represent Team NTRP Shooters. Thank you in advance for all your help. Keep your eyes peeled for more to follow as my training progresses and I introduce more drills and techniques.


Monday, December 27, 2010

"Made in the USA"

 Recently I made a purchase from a company based here in the United States. One of the reasons I chose to give my business to this establishment is because they make their products here in the US. That usually is an attractor to me when choosing a vendor. By giving my business to a "Made in the USA" business I feel I am doing my part in helping the economy and keeping jobs within our borders.
  The competition's item was readily had near my home. But the manufacturer is based out of China. I have bought items from both vendors before and the quality is equal, for the most part. That is, until recently. In four purchases from the "Made in the USA" company I have had to send all the items back due to incorrect assembly. These missteps were not able to be bypassed or fixed to make it functional. This was a manufacturing failure that required replacement. But faithful to the "Made in the USA" promise, I gave my business to them again. That mistake was of my own volition.
   The question I have is, has our attention to detail and quality control declined so far in our industry that foreign made items are the ones to rely on? The worst part, in my mind, is the fact that the items I purchased are military in nature. This means that Soldiers, forward deployed Soldiers, who wish to augment their issued equipment could be purchasing sub-par items. I have the ability to box the items back up, drive to the post office, and mail the package back. For a GI stationed at a remote outpost in Afghanistan (a majority are in remote locations) does not have this luxury. What does he or she do then? Use the malfunctioning gear? Throw it away, along with their hard earned money? Or wait for a Postal Team to travel to their outpost, and mail it then? (Postal teams travel year round but you might see one at your location once every couple months, which is bad based on the 30 day return policy.)
    What we can do at home is start by setting a Standard. Then holding our industry to that Standard. This starts by taking a hard, detailed, look at the Quality Control, Quality Assurance personnel. They are the keepers of the standard. If a worker responsible for sewing pockets on a pair of pants routinely fails to affix the pockets in the proper place, that worker needs to be counseled. If the lack of attention to detail and adherence to the Standard continues, that worker needs to be replaced by someone who can get the job done within the standard.
    Too long, have we become accustomed to "Basic" "Better" and "Best Quality." where "Best Quality" means you finally get what you pay for... at a premium. You should get every penny out of the "Basic" model and receive exceptional increases as the level goes up! The next time you are looking at an item that says "Made in the USA" go over it with a watchful eye. If the quality seems second rate, bring it to the attention of the business manager. We should expect shoddy, second rate items from places like China, Mexico, or Paraguay. These countries work and pay their laborers like slaves. We should demand more from our industry. It has to start with us, the consumer!!


Post Script: Depending on the outcome of this transaction with this company, I will either leave this post as is or I will blast the name of the company. If the transaction fails, I will ask my readers to e-mail, write, or call the company. Not on my behalf. But on behalf of the American Soldiers they so proudly claim to support, and supply (Some of the items our GIs receive as "issue" are made by this company." DEMAND BETTER QUALITY FOR OUR SOLDIERS!!  

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Stand Your Ground, Historical Note

        In writing "Stand Your Ground" I chose the persona of one of the 2,000 replacements sent to the 110th Infantry Regiment of the, 28th Infantry Division between November and December, 1944. Most of these young, untested, GIs had just graduated High School when the Allies conducted "Operation Overlord" in June, 1944. The prospect of being a nameless face, thrust into the line a few days before Christmas had to have been one of the scariest experiences faced by a Soldier during World War II. As I stated initially, the 28th Infantry, a National Guard Division activated to serve in the Northern European Theater of Operations, had been badly mauled in the "Battle of the Hurtgen Forrest" along side the 4th Infantry and the 2nd Armored Divisions between September and November 1944.
       The named Characters in this story like PVT Leroy "Whitey" Schaller, SGT Morris Pettit, T/SGT J.J. Kuhn, and 1LT Thomas "Kit" Carson, were actually in B Company, 110th Infantry, when it became isolated in Marnach 16-17 December 1944. B Company was the center of the Regiment's line between Heinerscheid and Weiler. The position within the allied line put it directly in the path of the Wehrmacht 2nd Panzer Division when the attack began. Also, the defense of Marnach, was essential because the Regimental Headquarters was in Clerveaux. Any form of an organized reaction to the German Offensive in the center sector would come from this Headquarters. This HQ was key, not because of its location, but because of the coordination that would have to take place between elements moving to contact and the elements already in contact with the Enemy.
      On the German Side, the dogged American Defense from the outset, had thrown the key timeline off. The 2nd Panzer Division was scheduled to have Clerveaux secured by the morning of 17 December. The second order effect of the delay in the timeline was the seizure of Bastogne. The German command, having used the Ardennes as an avenue of approach in the invasion of Belgium and France in 1940, knew the few narrow roads leading west could not allow for effective maneuver of mounted forces. Bastogne was key terrain because it was the crossroads of no less than seven routes in the region. If the Allies were to establish a deliberate defense anywhere along the axis of advance these crossroads would allow forces to change mission and move to reduce said defense. Without the flexibility of maneuver, the only advantage the German Army could maintain was speed.
     As the Allied line crumbled in front of the enemy attack, remnants of units, and individual survivors of decimated elements would fall into the next line of allies. Such was the case in Clerveaux. The survivors of B Company, in small groups, exfiltrated from Marnach, and joined the defense of the Regimental Headquarters. Though the position in Clerveaux was doomed. The Allied 12th Army Group, under the command of GEN Omar Bradley, was sending new Divisions into the fray. One of those units being brought from rest areas in western France and eastern Belgium was the 101st Airborne.   The "Screaming Eagles" departed their rest camp without receiving winter equipment, ammunition basic load, or an objective. Basically it loaded trucks and drove to the sound of the guns. As the convoys moved west directions were given at crossroads. The command groups of the US 1st Army and VIIIth Corps examined maps, focusing on key terrain that was still in Allied hands. One of those locations was Bastogne. The 101st arrived as the 110th defense of Clerveaux collapsed. Paratroopers taking position around the town, encountered GIs from the 28th. Cigarettes and Ammunition were exchanged. Many veteran stories are of 28th Division Soldiers telling the 101st "the entire German Army is behind us." This was not far from the truth.
      If the units like B Company, 110th Infantry Regiment, 28th Division had not held out as long as they did, then join up with other units in defense, who knows what story history would be telling now. But the bravery and tenacity of the average GI turned what could have been the largest route since Napoleonic warfare days. The story of what happened in front of Bastogne is the key to the "Battle of the Bulge" but in my opinion the least told. I hope that a reader might see from this story what a GI might have experienced those crucial days. Maybe a reader might read this story and remember something their Grandfather told them about those desperate times and appreciate their sacrifice a little more.

Stay in the Fight

With the new year comes a new shooting season. This year I will be competing as much as my schedule allows. Upcoming posts will have more focus on my training, event reports, and my personal AARs. I also will be posting about friends of mine who have done well in 2010 and deserve some credit and mention. THANKS!!    

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Stand Your Ground, 17 December 1944

         The German frontal attacks continued throughout the remainder of the 16th. The enemy kept trying to push new troops into the defensive line around Marnach. They were bent on finding a seam between the American squads or platoons. The tactic of "Divide and Conquer" they had perfected from 1939-1944 was bound to work. What the German High Command had not planned for was the dogged tenacity of the average GI. The first day of the attack was filled with countless stories of American Soldiers holding out until they were out of ammunition and then fighting hand to hand against overwhelming odds.
        You had held your own, admirably. You stayed next to Leroy "Whitey" Schaller as wave after wave of Wehrmacht Infantry savagely tried to dislodge you from your hole. Ammunition for your rifle ran out a couple times. So you and "Whitey" took turns dodging bullets and explosions running to the company command post for more ammo. Occasionally Sergeant Pettit would appear at the back of your foxhole with bandoleers full of clips and crates of hand grenades. The artillery pummeling didn't stop either. The concussions, sometimes so close to your hole, would distort reality. What was up, was down, and sounds disappeared to nothing. You'd shake your head clear of the cobwebs, pull your rifle into your shoulder, and go back to keeping the enemy at bay.
       That night was the worst. The fog rolled in, in earnest, around 1600hrs (4pm), and the sun set shortly after. Then everything degraded into individual fights started by sounds heard from the perimeter.  These savage actions would flash alone in the darkness, but somehow the American position held. As these contacts faded into the night, another sound would filter through the trees. Armor. The deep grumbling of tracked vehicles could be heard. The strange thing about the tanks and armored personnel carriers was the did not join in the fight. From the direction of the sounds, the tracks were moving around your position and Marnach completely. Whitey leans over and whispers "Looks like we are a side show. If they really wanted us gone they'd hit us with anything that had Armor and a gun."
       The night suddenly erupts with a massive explosion. The foxhole that had once held the .30 Caliber Machine Gun was now smoking ruins. Whitey grabs you by the shoulder strap of your web gear and starts pulling you towards the ruins of the machine gun position. The lack of plunging fire by the enemy is disquieting. There are calls for "Medic!!" and directions to get another gun up. You and Schaller jump into the hole and start assessing the condition of the .30 Caliber. Other than being schrapnel scarred, hot, and knocked off its tripod, the machine gun was in working order. You shoulder your Garand and chamber a new round into the action of the vital machine gun. Without orders, you let loose with a 5 second burst. Just to let the enemy know the gun was still in action.
       The burp of the gun hadn't faded in your ears before you notice SGT Pettit leaning over your new position. "Pick that gun up and move it. The Krauts hit it with a Panzerschrek (Bazooka) and aren't going to hesitate to hit it again."
        Out of the foxhole, again, you climb. The weight of the .30 Caliber is surprising because it isn't a big gun like the .50 Caliber. You move as quickly as possible back to your original hole. Whitey runs behind you, ammo cans banging in the night. The old machine gun pit is quickly reoccupied by two new bodies. SGT Pettit, knowing how thin the line already was had brought up two of the cooks that survived the "Screaming Meemi" from the morning before. The defensive line was getting manned now by the non-combatants. The situation was getting dire.
       From the bell tower of the church in Marnach, LT Carson was seeing flashing lights to the company's north. This was also the place  B Company scouts had heard the German Armor stop. The assault on the town was about to enter a second, harder, phase. Without wasting a second LT Kit Carson, the Commander of the Company was on the field phone telling Sergeant Kuhn to move the anti-tank guns and a platoon of Soldiers with Bazookas to the north.
      You were just loading a new belt of ammunition into the machine gun when SGT Pettit appeared again. This time he came bearing new orders and a Bazooka. Your Platoon was moving to the north of Marnach to defend against an impending tank assault.
      As suicidal as the mission sounds, you are in the Army. You don't get to pick the missions you are given, no matter how detrimental they may be to your health. So without question you pick up the .30 Caliber and start running up the road towards the smoldering town. The clatter of boots on stone, the rattle of equipment, and the crackle of still burning fires fills the night. You see what is left of Marnach and it isn't much. The Artillery has really done a number on the once small, peaceful, town.
     When you reach the woods north of Marnach, you realize it is too late. The Germans were already on the move and crushing everything in their path. The anti-tank guns were already crushed and smoking. Apparently they didn't get a chance at a fight. Their tractors were still attached and destroyed just the same. SGT Pettit skidded to a halt and without a word started back to Marnach.
     Back in town, SGT Pettit started yelling directions to the platoon. The men spread out amongst the buildings, creating barricades to try and make things harder on the Germans. You and Whitey sprinted through the ruins of what had been a house. Part of the second story was still standing and Whitey figured an elevated position would be a good spot. It didn't take you a second to get the gun in place and ready for action.
    The Panzer attack into town seems to take forever. Since spotting the tanks you have heard the ominous rumble and grinding of their movements. You and Whitey took turns sitting behind the machinegun. When not sitting behind the .30 Cal you do everything you can to stay warm. Banging your feet together, stretching, and blowing on your hands.
     You would expect an all out Tank assault to come barreling into a town like Marnach with guns blazing and speed at the engine's maximums. But instead the Germans rolled casually into town. The vehicle commanders were standing tall in their couppelas. The supporting infantry were walking casually, rifles slung, without a care in the world. The half tracks pulled to a stop just below your position. The tanks continued moving through town. The troops in the back of the half tracks dismounted and and began talking casually. A couple Germans pulled out their mess tins and began picking at the contents.
      The sight below you is astounding. Had the enemy known there was an American threat in the town, they would be tearing the place apart looking for the hidden GIs. But these guys are acting like they don't have a care in the world. Whitey started to smile. This was the firs time you had seen him smile since you met him.
      There is an ear splitting scream and explosion, as a bazooka is fired at one of the parked half tracks. You sight in the machine gun at the nearest group of lounging infantry and let fly with a full belt of ammo. The other GIs in your platoon taking the cue from the bazooka shot opened fire. The rain of fire doesn't last long. Many of the targets are on the ground, not moving. A few are writhing in the mud. But their movement attracts fire from other positions. The targets lit by the light of the burning half tracks.
       There is a sudden growl of engines from behind. The tanks have awakened to the threat they bypassed earlier. You and Whitey don't waste a moment in getting out of the ruined building. Taking a turn to the north, SGT Pettit intercepts your move.
        "Head west, try and link up with the headquarters guys in Clervaux. Make a stand there. We gotta stop the bastards before they push us back to Parris."

Monday, December 20, 2010

One Soldier, One War, One Hero

      Tonight I am taking a break from the Historical Fiction posts here and am focusing on a real US Soldier who took part in the Battle of the Bulge. Though many characters in the 3 part "Battle..." series actually existed, were in the units depicted, and did the things I am writing about, I wanted to pause on 19 December and recognize one single GI.
      That Soldier was Sergeant Glen Mitchell of B Troop, 82nd Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Armored Division. My Grandfather. I chose 19 December to focus on him because this was the date 66 years ago that he was Wounded In Action and listed as Missing In Action. Could you imagine sitting at home, listening to the radio about this enormous German Attack, now three days old, when there is a knock at the door? Standing on your door step is a Western Union Messenger holding a message saying your son or your brother was missing "Somewhere in the European Theater of Operations"? I will try and piece SGT Mitchell's story together so you can get a glimpse of what he and his family endured in December, 1944.
     On June 9th, 1944 Sergeant Mitchell and the remainder of the 2nd Armored Division arrived on Omaha Beach. The debris of the June 6th battle still littered the sand. The infamous "Shingle" just above the high tide level was just beginning to be bulldozed to facilitate the offloading of supplies, men, and materiel into france. There was little of the famous chaos still ongoing on the beach. The 82nd Recon BN was directed to a holding area near Vierville, France. The critical objective of the 29th Infantry Division on 6 June. Now firmly in Allied hands this key terrain became the staging area for newly arrived elements coming ashore to liberate Europe from Nazi tyranny.
    Sergeant Mitchell didn't have long to wait in the holding area. His Recon Battalion was given the task to conduct a rout reconnaissance from the outskirts of the highly contested Saint Lo (where the 29th Division was engaged in delaying German Forces from linking up in the Normandy Lowlands and executing Field Marshall Erwin Rommel's plan to drive the allies back into the sea) into the Cotentin Peninsula. With the Priority Intelligence Requirement of rout classification and opposition forces in front of the desperately needed port of Cherbourg.
    In the weeks to follow SGT Mitchell was leading the 2nd Armored as the Recon vanguard into the Enemy garrison of Cherbourg. In a much recounted event when a Lieutenant Colonel Battalion Commander met face to face with the German Colonel to discuss the surrender of the defending garrison, the German asked to see the credentials of the US Officer addressing him. The American LTC pointed to a group of haggard GIs and stated "They are my credentials." SGT Glen Mitchell was one of those Soldiers.
    Being one of the largest Armored formations under the US 3rd Army, the "Spearhead" Division could not revel in their victory in the Cotentin Peninsula and capture of Cherbourg. Within the week the Division, 82nd Recon BN leading the way, was placed on the extreme western flank of what would be called "Operation Cobra." This was going to be the "End run" or flanking maneuver to reduce or force the repositioning of German forces in the Normandy Front. In the initial bombardment of enemy positions just prior to the US attack, Allied bombers dropped their deadly payload short of German Lines and inflicted heavy casualties amongst the 2nd Armored forces, as well as other units taking part in the attack. Corrections made through the ever improving air-ground coordination the bombers shifted their point of aim on their bombsights and began raining destruction on the vaunted "Panzer Lehr" Division. This would not be the last time SGT Mitchell would face the "Panzer Lehr" on the battlefield.
     During the attacks of "Operation Cobra" the German's read the tactical situation and realized that an advance on Avranches would divide the allied forces and prolong the advance deeper into France. SGT Mitchell was a part of the eastern turn facing the German Advance. History would record that the 2nd Armored blunted the attack on Avranches  and allowing the two US armies to link up and eventually push on Parris. This meeting engagement between the "Spearhead" Division and German advance would lead to a Medal of Honor being awarded to a Artillery Field Observer who kept attacking enemy Armor from gaining control of a major avenue of advance.
     With the German threat reduced (due to breakouts at Saint Lo and Caen) the door was open to Parris and the remainder of the French countryside. One of the honors given to SGT Mitchell and the 82nd Recon Battalion was to take part in the "Liberation Parade" through downtown Parris after the liberation in September 1944.
      The good times to be had in the "City of Lights" were short lived. As soon as the Free French Forces  took control of the City, the 82nd Recon was back into the fight. From the liberation of Parris in August to September 8th, Sergeant Mitchell had advanced to the Belgian Frontier conducting reconnaissance of routes and opposition for the juggernaut that was following close behind. By September 18 the 83rd Recon and SGT Mitchell had crossed the German border north of Schimmert to take up defensive positions near Geilenkirchen. 
       The fortunes of the 2nd Armored were to turn bad by October 3rd. The division received orders to join the battle to reduce the Siegfried Line from Marienburg. The action SGT Mitchell was entering would become known as the "Battle of the Hurtgen Forrest." This Battle would decimate the fighting strength of the 4th Infantry Division and 28th "Bloody Bucket" Division. SGT Mitchell fought his way through the German Defensive Position providing valuable Intelligence that led to the crossing of the Wurm River and the capture of Puffendorf on 16 November and Barmen on 28 November completing the initial goals of the Hurtgen Mission.
         17 December 1944, the 82nd Recon Battalion was manning positions along the Roer River, being given a chance to rest, receive replacements, and conduct much needed maintenance of the unit vehicles, when the mission changed drastically. The Second Armored received orders to maintain the positions along the Roer River and under no circumstances allow the enemy to cross. To ford the Roer River the Germans would be within a few short miles of it's Ardennes Objective of dividing allied forces by placing units on the Meuse River.
        B Troop was detailed to move from positions along the Roer to conduct a reconnaissance into the Enemy Spearhead to provide Intelligence, Disposition, and Intent of the attacking Germans. The objective of the Troop was to travel as far as St. Vith. Driving into the teeth of the German onslaught N, Troop, 82nd Recon made it to St. Vith. The situation had deteriorated drastically. Countless times the light armored vehicles had to seek cover and concealment to avoid the lead elements and hardcore combat formations of the 1st SS "Liebstandarte" Division and Kampfgruppe Peiper (of the Malmedy Conspiracy) before even seeing the spires of St. Vith. Once in St. Vith the Troop was reduced into Recon Sections tasked with pinpointing German Avenues of approach and numbers of elements streaming in to Belgium. This was a monumental task. Facing the 6-10 Recon GIs was the 6th SS Panzer Army and the 5th Wehrmach Panzer Army. This equaled over 16,000 combat tested, bloodied, violent enemy Soldiers. SGT Mitchell and his Soldiers were executing a no success probability mission. But part of a Reconnaissance Soldier's mission it to find the enemy, even if it means getting holes shot into you. Having the bad guys shoot at you tells the good guys where the action is.
        Direct accounts of what occurred outside Setz, Belgium become sketchy. From what I have been able to research SGT Mitchell was leading a Reconnaissance  of the route between St. Vith and Setz, in order to develop an Intelligence Operating Picture to be passed to the incoming 82nd Airborne Division that would be taking up positions near Werbormont, Belgium. Directly he was reporting to the 7th Armored Division and occasionally to the ill fated 106th Division. Without a unified command and single point to send reports SGT Mitchell continued his mission, sending back information regarding he 18th Volks Grenadier Division, attacking from both the northeast and south east towards St. Vith.
       During the period of time he was conducting Reconnaissance on the converging enemy axis of advance SGT Mitchell's vehicle was destroyed and he was blown into a ditch. This was 19 December 1944. Wounded but still in control of his facilities, Glen evaded the roving patrols of German Infantry. The enemy was clearing the terrain along their routes to round up stragglers from the 422nd Infantry Regiment that had fragmented and was decimated on 16-17 1944. SGT Mitchell was able to make it to a Farm near where his vehicle had been hit. Being blessed to have lived through 7 months of almost constant contact, Glen found the family in the farm to be concerned with his condition and willing to hide him from the patrols that passed more and more frequently as the situation in front of St. Vith became more dire. The situation would become so dire that the 106th Division surrendered to the Germans on 19 December, 1944. This was the largest surrender of American Troops in history. Over 7000 Soldiers were taken into captivity and moved east to Stalags situated close to the front lines. Somehow Glen Mitchell survived. Most of the credit goes to the family that risked execution if found to be harboring an American Soldier.
        SGT Mitchell's stay with the family was not lengthy. The family was tied into the underground and he was moved several times to maintain his safety. It was not until late December/early January that SGT Glen Mitchell would be returned to US Army units. His well taken care of wounds were given a once over by Army Doctors and he was returned to duty with B Troop, 82nd Reconnaissance Battalion. From his return to May 8th 1944, Glen recrossed into Germany as the ground element tasked with linking up with the 17th Airborne's drop in Operation Rehinland. He spent the remaining days of the war continuing to provide maneuver time and space to whatever command he found himself under.
     SGT Glen Mitchell was awarded the Bronze Star, Combat Infantry Man's Badge, European Campaign Medal with 3 Stars, and countless other decorations to include the French Forragere, Belgian Forragere, Distinguished Unit Citation, Valorous Unit Citation, and the Presidential Unit Citation.
      This is just one story, of one Soldier, in one war, that in my eyes and heart became a Hero. Everyday the generation that survived these horrific scenes becomes smaller. If you get the opportunity, stop and talk to one of those veterans. It doesn't have to be just a World War II Veteran, it can be a Korean War Veteran, a Vietnam Veteran, a Grenada Veteran, Panama, Operation Desert Storm, Somalia, Iraq or Afghanistan Vets. A kind word, or giving them a chance to convey the sacrifice they have laid at the alter to the country so freely is the least we can do.
     To SGT Glen Mitchell, thank you for what you sacrificed for our country and our freedom. I am sure the reward you got in heaven is a little bit better because you experienced hell on earth. Thank you for coming home and making a family. Especially your son David Glen Mitchell. I think you would be proud of the family that has grown. You are sorely missed.

This Writing is for you....

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Stand Your Ground, 16 December 1944

         0530hrs, 16 December 1944, near the Our River, Luxembourg. The sudden barrage you and PVT Leroy "Whitey" Schaller witnessed is the opening salvos of what will become known as "The Battle of the Bulge." This is the largest offensive launched against Allied Forces since the Normandy Invasion 7 months before. The German High Command has stripped almost every combat element on the western front of fuel, ammunition, man power, and armor, for this last ditch effort to halt the advance into Germany. Hitler hedged his bets that a quick attack to Antwerp would divide the Allies and force a wedge between the strained relations between the United States and the United Kingdom. The secondary effect of this attack would be to capture the vast supplies being stockpiled behind the front lines. These vital supplies could sustain the spearhead elements setting the conditions for further attacks into the Netherlands or France itself. Massed along the "Seigfried Line," German General Hasso von Manteuffel had the vaunted 6th SS Panzer Army, the experienced Wermacht Fifth Panzer Army, and Seventh Army, between Butgenbach, Belgium and Echternacht, Luxembourg.
          Average GIs that made up Baker Company, 110th Infantry, 28th Infantry Division, billeted near Marnach, Luxembourg, like you, didn't even know what country they were in. The men on your right and left were either bloodied, exhausted, veterans of the Battle of the Hurtgen Forrest or new replacements from the states. Your Division has been placed here to give it a rest from the hard fought campaigns to the north, but not take it far from the front to give experience to the new leaders and Soldiers.
         The music you heard playing around 4 am was, as reported, a diversion to cover the advance of the 2nd Panzer Division's lead elements on the Dasburg Bridge. The strange lights that came on at 0530hrs was an ingenious method by the German Army to light the proper path for the tanks and armored personnel carriers through the confusing tree lined and fog covered routes of the Ardennes Forrest. This gave the effect of street lights to the onslaught. But the APCs and Tanks were the least of your worries. Before the music began, Infantry units, broken down into Storm Trooper elements, had infiltrated behind the thinly spread outposts over watching the Our River. The mission of the 2nd Panzer Division was to penetrate the front lines of the American 28th Infantry Division, surround and destroy the individual strong points, to allow follow on forces to advance on the vital crossroad town of Bastogne, Belgium. You are in the middle of a classic pincer move of "Blitzkrieg" or "Lightning War." Your only hope of surviving is to move through the Infantry Squads swarming your rear and get to Marnach, where your company is poised in a deliberate defense. Now you have to get there....
         Chaos. You are surrounded by total confusion. The 1st squad outpost to your south, the ones who reported infantry to their rear earlier, didn't put up much of a fight. Their field phone call, cut short, and a few distinctive shots from M1s was the last you heard from them. To your west you see the flashes of German artillery pummeling the positions of your 110th Infantry Regiment. In the east, the spotlights of the Luftwaffe shine against the clouds and fog, lighting a wooded lane to your south. Whitey is off in a dash. His M1 Garand held high, ready to spit bullets if any Kraut squads had gotten behind you. You copy his movement but from 10 yards behind. If Whitey gets hit there's no sense in you getting it to. Plus you can cover him incase someone tries to get at him from behind.
         You do have some luck in all of this. The German indirect fire is falling towards "Skyline Drive" The vital north-south route that connects all of the units of the US 1st Army. This means you just have to keep a sharp eye out for Infantry. The Germans don't want to hit their own Soldiers with Mortars and Artillery.
         "Keep your eyes open, Mac. And watch where you step. The engineers planted mines around here a few days ago." Whitey said over his shoulder as he ran.
         Off to your left, you see something, something moving. In the mist you can't quite make out what it is. You slow your pace and look harder. There, not 100 yards from you are ghost like images, dark heads bent low in their march. The Germans are wearing white sheets and smocks giving them the appearance of apparitions. Their dark helmets and boots give their true identity away. This appearance of the enemy makes you quicken your pace.
         In front of you Whitey jumps into a shallow depression in the ground. You follow him in, almost landing on top of his prone body. "Did you see them Krauts over to the south??" Out of breath you knod. "Well welcome to the war, Junior. That's the enemy and we're gonna kill 'em. Or at least slow 'em a little."  Rolling over onto your belly you bring your rifle up to your shoulder. This M-1 you have carried since basic training back in the states suddenly seems foreign. The front sight looks like it is a mile away as you squint through the rear peep sight.
         Without warning Whitey opens fire. The spent rounds banging off your steel helmet. This throws off your concentration and adds to the chaos of the moment. "Fire that shootin' iron, Mac!!" He screams as he continues pulling the trigger. Focused again, you ease your woolen gloved finger on to the trigger. Letting out a foggy breath you squeeze. Expecting a belch of flame and a hearty kick, you flinch. But nothing happens. Is your rifle broken? Was the bullet bad and misfired? You look dumbly at the rifle's bolt. Whitey's weapon pings in your ear. The metal block that holds the eight rounds of .30-06 smacks the side of your helmet distracting you again. "Safety, you moron! Take the safety off." Looking down you realize you haven't pushed the safety catch forward in the trigger housing.
        This realization comes none too soon. The four ghost like Germans, initially taken by surprise by Whitey's shooting, have heard the pinging of his M block are now standing up and starting to advance on you and your hole. Without a second thought or hesitation you snap the safety forward and start pulling the trigger with all your might. The cough of the Garand drowns out the sound of the German bullets snapping above your head and hitting the ground around you. Your eyes are shut and you don't see one of the white clad figures fall stiffly onto the forrest floor.
       An explosion to your front awakens you from the darkness of your tightly closed eyes. "Whitey! Did you toss a grenade?"
       "Nope, sure didn't. Them there are the mines I told you about." Schaller shouts as he slams another clip of ammo into the open action of his rifle. Without another word Whitey taps you on the shoulder and takes off at a sprint. Again, you follow. The ground gradually rising up in front of you makes the sprint feel like a slow walk. You aren't on any trail or path, it is just forrest, clear on the ground but thick 20 or so feet above you. Whitey turns and starts towards a deep walled draw. He slows as you catch up.
     "Not to worry, Mac. this draw will lead us up to flat ground and Marnach. Those mines will keep the Krauts busy. Plus, with this durned fog they are about as confused as we are. They'll hesitate to shoot at forms in the distance."
      You stay on Whitey's heels for what seems like hours. He was right. The terrain led up to what looked almost like a plateau. To your front you see the trees starting to thin and light filtering through the boughs. This is "Skyline Drive." No vehicles are moving down it. Could the Germans have pushed tanks or halftracks this far so soon? Your mind wonders. Surely, other units are throwing everything they have at the advance and slowing their move, right? More unanswered questions. After a quick stop at the edge of the road, you and Whitey cross. You keep your eyes to the south, Whitey's to the north. You don't see anything.
      Another dirt trail crosses in front of you. This is the road to Marnach. You can tell by the white and black road sign tilting in the mud. Whitey slows to a walk. His posture doesn't relax and neither does yours. When approaching a friendly position it can be as dangerous as approaching an enemy one. All it takes is one skittish sentry with a lose trigger finger and you have bought the farm.
      "Texas" comes a call out of the mist.
       "Leaguer" Whitey shouts. "Come on, Mac. We're inside our lines now. We gotta go find Sergeant Kuhn or Cap'n Carson and let them know what's going on."
        Marnach, as you see, after a short walk down the dirt road, is a small town. A couple of stone buildings make up the town square. The remaining eight or nine buildings are wooden and aged. There is evidence that a few artillery rounds have impacted around the buildings. There is a deep rumbling to the west. Looks like the Germans are focusing on Clervaux for the time being. Whitey heads down the cobblestone street to one of the stone buildings. A wooden ration crate lid leans against the stairs stating this was the company command post.
       "Go grab some chow over at the field kitchen. I'll report to the Sergeant and CO." Whitey says as he claps you on the shoulder.
        You can see the smoke of the field kitchen just down the street. Your stomach reminds you that it hasn't been filled in days. On the wind you smell the food. There is a line of four GIs standing outside the olive drab tent. Their mess tins shining in the early dawn light. You haven't taken more than a dozen steps before you hear an ear splitting shrieking. On instinct you duck your head. In front of your eyes you see a blinding flash. Where the four hungry Soldiers had been standing now was a conflagration of searing flame. The other explosions come fast. The sounds seem like they are at the end of a long tunnel. You can't take your eyes off the smoking crater that moments before had been the chow line.
       From behind someone grabs you. Whitey spins you around and shoves you back down the road you had just come. The world is a heaving, firey, blast. Every concussion knocks you to your knees. Your rifle, slung on your shoulder, keeps falling onto the stones. The town around you is being taken apart impact by impact.
      The Germans are using one of their worst tools of war "Screaming Meemis" or Nebelwerfer Rockets. This 82 millimeter rocket packed with high explosives and incendiary chemicals is both a kinetic and psychological weapon. When the electric plunger is triggered, a scream erupts from the rocket motors and continues until detonation. Many a seasoned combat Soldier on both the eastern and western front have lost their nerve during a barrage by these rockets.
     The "Front" is collapsing. The 110th Infantry Regiment, led by Colonel Hurley Fuller, is manning a twenty-two mile front. This extended distance is usually a Division level front. But the orders were given  and the 110th saluted and moved out. Now, the once contiguous line running from Leiler to Hosingen, had fragmented into three tiny strongholds in Heinerscheid, Marnach, and Hosingen. No one from the lowest Private to GEN Omar Bradley had a clue what was going on, or the fragile situation along the Forward Line Of Troops.
      You are in another Foxhole. Your third in less than 24 hours. Whitey pulled you through the storm of fire and schrapnel that was Marnach, into the defensive position just outside of town. As your hearing returns the deep rumble you were feeling in the bottoms of your boots now becomes audible. It is an engine and tracks. TANKS!!! Every bone in your body tells you to ditch your heavy gear and run away. But Whitey is standing firm in the same hole as you and he isn't moving.
     A quick look over the lip of the dirt hole shows you that the tracked vehicle noise you were hearing wasn't a German Panzer looking to grind you into pulp, but the tractors of a US towed tank destroyer unit depositing it's fierce guns along the road from Dasburg to Marnach. The sight is a relief to every GI in the tiny defensive position. They might not stop an Armored Battalion of Krauts, but it will make them think twice about continuing down that road.
    The shelling of Marnach has not stopped since you were in the middle of it. The German Infantry was bound to be following close behind the barrage. But where were they? In ones and twos, disheveled GIs come from the east. Men belonging to the 112th Infantry and 109th Field Artillery caught in the torrent of rockets and artillery, escapees from cutoff outposts, trickled in to the stronghold of Marnach.
    Sergeant Pettit somehow found some field phones and wire and rigged a line of communication to the squads manning the perimeter. The tank destroyer guys got a phone, too. Now there was a chance at coordinating the fight that was bound to happen. Through the fog and mist, morning light was getting stronger. Visibility outside your foxhole increased to maybe 20 or 30 feet. A German was more likely to fall into an American hole than he was to be shot by a GI inside one.
     Nature doesn't work off of man's timetable. You feel your bladder start to strain. So you climb out of your position and pick a nice big fur tree to stand behind. The pressing business at hand hasn't even started when the crack of a 75 millimeter anti-tank gun sounded. The fight was on. Your feet don't touch the ground from the chosen fir tree you were about to water back to your foxhole.
    There to your front you can see, however faintly, a line of advancing Germans. The anti-tank gunners are not wasting any time finding the range to the advancing enemy. From the report of the guns to the explosions amongst the Germans is almost instant. The flash and flying mud from the shell's impact tear through the enemy. But they keep coming. To your right a .30 caliber machine gun starts to fire. The staccatto rhythm adds to the cacophony of sound. Whitey glances at you and nods. You nod back and pull the M-1 Garand into your shoulder....                          

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Belgium 15 December 1944

             You stumble your way down the narrow wooded trail to a darkened knoll. Standing there in the misting rain you wonder if you had taken the wrong foot path. Out of the corner of your eye you detect the slightest movement just below the top of the low hill. There is no sound other than the slightest hiss of the falling rain. You move toward the movement you had just seen.
              The distinct click of an M1 Garand safety catch being released stops you in your tracks. "Texas" comes a horse croak from the darkness. You wrack your mind trying to remember the password you heard earlier in the night. The memory doesn't come. You know for sure a thirty caliber bullet is about to find its way into the soft unarmored flesh of your body.
              "Leaguer!" You suddenly shout. How you remembered the all important password, you have no idea. But the relieving sound of the safety of the rifle being reengaged bring the air back into your lungs. You crouch and start feeling with your foot for the edge of the fox hole you know has to be near. In the black of night your sense of touch has fled your frozen, soaked feet, and you fall into the hole amid curses and collapsing mud.
            "Way to go Cherry. Not only did I almost shoot you, but you nearly broke your neck falling. You are going to be bad luck, Mac." Came a horse whisper from the corner of the hole. You shake the stars from your eyes and try to focus on the barely visible shape. Thus far you have been bounced across a continent before the sea sickness of an ocean voyage could wear off. You have been dropped at nearly a hundred camps that you never got to spend more than a couple hours in, no food, little water with a fetid chemical taste. And dropped into the middle of a war with little more than the clothes on your back.
           "Sorry." It's all you can mumble as you untangle the knot that is your webgear, rifle, helmet, and bandoleers.
           "Sorry ain't gonna cut it out here. All that will get you is a Kraut Marksmanship Ribbon and me a wooden cross, Mac."
           In the distance a flare streaks into the darkness. The erie light reflects off the clouds as it pops to life. The usual blinding illumination is dampened as the phosphorus and magnesium mixes with the mist and fog. With the little light provided you gather your meager belongings and try to make heads or tails of your surroundings. The other GI in the foxhole with you has the pallor of a corpse. His stare shakes you to your soul. It is without life, spark, or emotion. It is like he is looking through you. But the glance doesn't last long, he returns to staring at the dirt between his muddy double buckle boots.
           "Schaller, grab your new buddy and get to the outpost." Came a voice from somewhere in the night. So the GI next to you is named Schaller. This is the first name you have heard since the Port of Embarkation in New Jersey, before you shipped over. It seems nothing runs on names any more. Identity has been stripped of everything. You are now Government Issue, Infantry Type, Olive Drab in color. A self propelled rifle, until you become a number marked on a Graves Registration Map or a tag around your neck, either way you would no longer have a use in the machine.
           "Grab your gear, Mac. We're headed to the Listening Post on the Our River."
           "What is the Our River?" You question innocently, having never even heard of it.
           "It's the Belgian-German Border, Mac. But don't worry the Krauts and us have an agreement. We leave them alone, and they'll leave us alone. We send a Recon Patrol, they sit tight in their holes. They send a patrol, we act like we don't see it." This isn't comforting. What happens when one dark foggy night the Germans decide that the agreement is no longer valid and come looking for GIs to kill? Stow the thought, Schaller is climbing out of the hole.
             The walk is long and less than scenic. You don't dare take your eyes off the hells of Schaller's boots as he plods ahead of you. A quick glance at your watch, a present for your high school graduation last summer, tells you it is almost midnight. You haven't even started your first day on "the line." If things keep going the way they have been, the chances of surviving to see your second day are nil.
              Schaller stops near a clump of bushes barely discernible in the pitch. "Sergeant Pettit, we're here." Schaller whispers into the dark. Slowly and deliberately two forms morph out of the black foliage and in a stooped shuffle move towards you.
             "It took you long enough, Whitey. We about thought you rag bags had gotten lost." That must have been Sergeant Pettit. The second man knelt on one knee beside the phantom speaker, looking blankly into the night. "Nothing's moving tonight. That flare an hour ago came from first squad. They called over the field phone saying they thought they saw some Krauts messing around the Dasburg Bridge. Guess it turned out to be nothing."
               Without any further fanfare or talk Sergeant Pettit and his silent companion turned and walked back down the path you had just taken. "They're miffed we're half an hour late. Comp'ny is having hot chow back in Marnach for all the Joes not on LP/OP duty. But don't get any ideas. When we come off this Listening Post in the morning, we will crawl back into our hole we just came from and maintain perimeter security of the strong point."
               What little excitement you had at hearing the words "hot chow" faded into the fog and cold. Schaller grabs your collar and pulls you into a crouch. He turns and starts into the bushes. You stay stooped and follow obediently.
                 You are on the front now. No one in front of you is friendly. On the other side of the silver streak known as the Our River is Hitler's Germany. This is the end of the line. You have no more camps, depots, or jarring truck rides. From here on out, your view of the world will be brought to you by your boots. This is also the place you can get shot. If some homesick German gets bored or hears a sound, he just might let fly with an 8mm bullet. That bullet might just find its way to you. Or that enemy guard could call his Sergeant and they send a mortar round in your direction. The worst part is you'd die without a soul within a thousand miles that even knows your name.
               Another hole and another stumble to the bottom greets you as you arrive at the listening post. This time there is no response from "Whitey" Schaller. He just drops in and leans against the back of the hole like he had done this routine a thousand times. You watch as he pulls two pineapple shaped grenades out of his field jacket pockets and places them on the rim of the hole. You do the same.
               Now begins the hardest part of Soldiering, waiting. You try and find something to occupy your mind. Thoughts of home are best left behind. It only makes your heart ache and the desire to just walk away grow by the minute. You don't stare too long in to the darkness. After about a minute every shape starts to move and every sound gets amplified. Not a good thing when you are supposed to be listening for bad guys looking to cut your throat or worse.
               "You're taking the first watch, Mac. If you hear anything, pull out a flare from the box behind you and let it fly. Then get on the field phone to let the platoon know what you heard and what you are seeing. Don't fall asleep or I will kill you myself." Whitey just slides down the edge of the hole and is snoring before you can shift your weight into the stock of your rifle.
                How long have you been on watch? The sleep monster keeps pulling at your eye lids. Nothing is happening. The only thing you hear are rain drops falling from the trees around you, the gurgling of the Our to your front, and the soft snoring of Whitey in the muddy bottom of the hole. You've sung, in your head, every song you can remember. Maybe you'll try and name the kids you graduated school with.
                In the distance you hear something. It sounds like music. Who would be playing music in the middle of the night. You think your mind is playing tricks on you. Maybe this is your brain's defense mechanism against going mad with boredom. It's 4 am, you are at the end of your watch. You nudge Whitey from his sleep.
              "Whitey, Whitey, wake up. I think I hear music."
              "Who told you you could call me Whitey? And the music you hear are the Krauts. They play records over loud speakers when they move vehicles. It's nothing, Mac."
              "Ok, well, it's your watch. Get up." Whitey doesn't even stir. What can you do. This guy has been on the line a while judging by the mud, stubble on his weathered face, the tattered collar and cuffs of his GI shirt, the holes in his trousers. You turn back to the river and just stare back at nothing.
               The music keeps getting louder. Something is going on. You pick up the field phone and crank the handle. The Soldier manning the Platoon Command Post answers. You explain the music you have been hearing for an hour and that it is getting louder. The Soldier on the other end of the line is less than impressed. He explains in a quiet but angry voice that the music is being played to cover the sound of the Kraut trucks bringing up the new guard shift and chow to the old shift. Without regard for procedure the line goes dead. "I guess this happens all the time." You tell yourself.
               No sooner than you hang up the field phone the horizon lights up. The mist and fog reflecting the yellowish light. If it was the sun, for sure it would have been blue first, right? But this light seems to be moving. It looks like the search lights you saw in the movies from the London Blitz. Could the Germans be looking for planes in this weather?
               The answer comes in the ripping sound in the sky above your position. As you look into the clouds above you, the world behind you rips into explosions. The flashes illuminate the forrest around you. In the din of the barrage you feel the field phone next to you shaking. The voice on the other end of the line is screaming. "KRAUTS!!! KRAUTS ARE EVERYWHERE!!! THEY ALREADY HAVE HALFTRACKS ON THE DASBURG BRIDGE!!! INFANTRY ARE BEHIND US!!" The line goes dead.
               Whitey is on his feet grabbing the grenades off the lip of the foxhole. "Come on, Mac. We gotta shake a leg and get back to Marnach. This is for real."
                You had barely gotten out of the hole as the barrage begins a new. The strange lights you saw are now illuminating the road leading out of the Dasburg Bridge. You have entered hell incarnate....    

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

15 December 1944

        Belgium, 15 December 1944...
        The weather had turned sour. Low dark clouds filled the sky preventing the protective blanket of air cover that had been enjoyed by the allied forces since their landings in Northern France over 6 months before. Men of the bloodied 28th Division had been moved from actions in the Hurtgen Forrest only a few short days before. The senior commanders of VIII Corps had decided that the quiet sector between Lutzkumpen and Weiler would be a good place for the division to lick its wounds and receive new replacements fresh from RPLDPL (Replacement Depots) in the First Army rear area. Many of those new replacements had been in the United States only a few short weeks ago. They had read the accounts of the fierce fighting in the Bocage region of France, the stunning breakout of St. Lo, and the flanking move of the allies during Operation Cobra. Many of these new Soldiers quietly thanked the Army G-1 (Personnel Management) in sending them to the Northern European Theater. Other Allied Forces had become bogged down in Italy north of Rome. And now seemed to be fighting a war of attrition in the muddy, mountainous reaches of Mussolini's failed Empire.
        Imagine how it felt. You have taken a nail biting ride across roads still pitted with bomb craters in the back of drafty "Red Ball Express" 2 1/2 ton trucks. Most of the people you had gotten to know in the boat ride across the Atlantic had been sent to other places. The only person you knew was the voice inside your head. You haven't slept in over 3 days, unless you call dozing on and off against a duffel bag in the back of a truck with busted shocks, sleep. The kidney bursting ride comes to an end at a camp, of sorts, in the middle of a sea of green army tents. A gruff Sergeant calls your number. A number given to you as you stepped off the landing craft on Omaha Beach nearly three days ago. You grab your meager belongings and follow the NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer) to an nondescript tent sitting along a muddy, well traveled road. Without an introduction or even an idea of what to do the Sergeant points towards the door as he quickly walks away. Everything here seems to be temporary and anything not standing still is in a massive hurry.
        You enter the tent to see it is almost filled to capacity. There is only one cot left open and it is closest to the tent flap. This is the worst place to be bunking. The drafty air never seems to let up and with people constantly coming and going you will almost always catch a tie down rope in the head. You look around at the bored, solemn faces of the other Soldiers. There aren't any smiles, greetings, or even acknowledgement of your arrival. Again it is a sea of faces that are as unfamiliar to you as the land you have found yourself in. You stow your gear quickly and decide to take a look around your new home (or as much of a home as you have had over the past month.)
        A short walk down the muddy lane brings the sounds of revving engines and grinding breaks. The smell hits you first. It is a copper, almost sweet scent, that pervades everything around. You see the red crosses that cover the top of the large tent. Field ambulances are rushing in and out and blood stained nurses and orderlies hurry to the blanket covered stretchers left on the ground. It is a field hospital, but not like the ones you had read about in Life Magazine back in the states. Here the groans of the wounded are as loud as the ambulances that brought them from the battle lines. Where was the sterile conditions that graced the pages of newspapers? Sitting outside a flap to the hospital tent are several wounded Soldiers, smoking in silence. They are all covered in mud, their shoes held on by shreds of laces. Gone are the leggings issued by the quartermasters. All of them wear bandages that stand out starkly from their tattered, filthy, appearance. None of the Soldiers seemed to have shaved in weeks. None of them talk, like other groups of Soldiers with nothing to do. They just sit and stare into nothing with blank expressions. An orderly notices you staring at the group and mentions that they are the lucky ones, the walking wounded. After a brief stay in the hospital they will be given an opportunity to shower, get issues new uniforms, and be returned to their units. He goes on to say that you are even more lucky, this sector of the front is quiet. The only real actions are reconnaissance patrols and occasional shifts in position.
        The news from the orderly doesn't quite calm your fears of the unknown. So you return to your tent to be alone with your thoughts... your only source of comfort. Night is falling and the cold is setting in earnest now. You consider pulling out your field jacket or maybe unrolling your thin sleeping bag. But before your rear end hits the canvas of the cot, the hard bitten Sergeant from before enters and barks out a list of numbers. Yours is the second one called. You have five minutes to pack your gear, grab your rifle, and helmet, and be at the truck ready to be taken to the front. The realization sets in that you don't even know where you are. Are you in France? Belgium? Germany? Forget what town is close by, you don't even know what country you are in.
       The five minutes is up and you are standing next to a worn, mud spattered, schrapnel scarred truck. Without any direction or hint of your destination the tailgate is dropped with a clank and the other Soldiers begin to climb on. Feeling like a sheep you follow your new flock. A voice from the front of the truck bed asks if everyone should load their rifles. You look down and remember you haven't been issued any ammunition. Add that to your ever sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach.
       You endure another severely rough ride that twists and turns through pine filled forrest dotted with clearings churned up by battle. The hills and streams you pass could be pictures from a post card in the dying light. By the time night has truly fallen the truck picks up speed and starts taking the twists and turns at bone jarring angles. You have lost any and all sense of direction. The clouds blank out the stars and the moon, if there was one. A slight rain begins to fall. The shreded canvas tarp covering the bed leaks like a sieve. A trickle of frigid water runs down your neck and along your spine adding to your exhausted misery.
       By the time you are completely drenched in freezing rain the truck screeches to a sudden stop in the middle of a copse of pine trees. The lack of ambient light keeps you disoriented as a shape calls out your number. You grab your barracks bag and rifle and climb off the battered truck. You land in a heap at the bottom of the tailgate. You haven't even regained your sense before the truck speeds away throwing mud in your face. You collect yourself and stand in the middle of two torn tracks that is passing for a road. There is nothing and no one around. It seems you have been dropped off in the middle of nowhere to fend for yourself. You don't have any rations, your last bit of food had been your breakfast... two days before. You have become the embodiment of lost and abandoned. And you are close to the front lines.
      A voice brings you out of your bout with self pity. It isn't a loud shout, almost a whisper. You move to the sound of the voice. Beneath a low hanging pine bough you see a shape half sitting, half laying in the needless. The voice asks your number and begins to rise. In a moment of clear night vision you see the man addressing you. He is as disheveled as the wounded Soldiers you saw in camp. He isn't wearing any web gear and the netting on his helmet is torn to the point of being almost non existent. Without direction the owner of the voice begins to walk deeper into the trees. You stumble over fallen branches, unseen holes, and discarded ration and ammo boxes as you try and keep up.
     After a few minutes walking you see a light up ahead. It is faint and only is visible for a short minute. You focus on where the light had been and hope the Soldier you are following heads that way. Another voice out of the darkness suddenly asks who you are. You stop in your tracks and try to find the source of the question. After a moment of trying to remember your name, you respond. They only reply you get is a brusk "Welcome to Baker Company, 110th Infantry." Someone grabs you by the arm and takes you to a pile of boxes. You are handed four bandoleers of ammunition, two hand grenades, and two boxes of rations. Your barracks bag is taken from you and thrown into a pile of others. The Soldier that gave you your ammo and rations, motions for you to follow him. Another 10 minute walk ensues. You try and get the lay of the land but one hill looks like another, and a low spot in a field might look deep at night won't look that way during the day. The rain starts again and your boots gradually become soaked and pick up a pound of mud each.
      The little energy you have conserved over the trek across France and into whatever muddy, forrest you you are in now, has faded into nothing. You feel you can't go on. But a new voice in the night challenges with a whispered word. The guy you are following replies with a single word and you are directed to continue on the trail. Not even 10 steps beyond the challenge you see a helmeted head in a foxhole. For the first time in over a month you hear a name. "I'm Sergeant Drake, your new squad leader. Your hole is 50 yards down the trail you are walking. Keep your feet dry and don't do anything stupid and get someone killed."
     You have "entered the line." Freedom and Democracy ends at the heels of your boots. To your front is the enemy. An enemy that has been fighting since 1939 and knew his business well. His only desire is to kill you and go home. But you are "Lucky" you have landed yourself in an inactive sector... or so everyone thinks.    

Monday, December 13, 2010

Road to Recovery

        First off, I am not going to bitch about my current predicament. I have daily reminders that there are MUCH worse things that can happen. And those things are often permanent and life altering. What I am going to mildly complain about is genetics. How is it that you can be a healthy, motivated, independent individual one day and the next be told "Oops guess not." You cannot pick your parents, just like they didn't get to pick you (with a few special exceptions).
        Last December I competed in my first Half Marathon in Las Vegas, NV. I had a total blast. For those of you who have known me longer than a year are aware I HATE TO RUN. I do it because my job requires it. But there my list of why I do it ended. A friend of mine convinced me that the Half Marathon was a good idea in train up for my quest of reaching a 300 APFT score. So I agreed and started training. I can't say every workout was a thrill and I loved every minute of it. I didn't. There were times I asked myself "Why on earth are you doing this?" But I gutted it out and hit my goal distances and times.
       When the day came for the race, I felt 100% ready and was excited to be there. That positive attitude carried me through all 13.1 miles. When I crossed the finish line I felt like I was on top of the world. The swag they handed out was great too. Never before had I gotten anything for a physical effort. Well unless you count being able to keep my job as a reward. We had not even left the Strip in Vegas before I was pressing the race directors of the next race.
      I lucked out and the next race was the inaugural Dallas Half Marathon. The training was easier and my times increased. So when I hit the starting line in Downtown Dallas I knew the race was in the bag. I wasn't focused on finishing, but beating my last race time. Again I felt like there was nothing that I couldn't do.
      Like the Vegas race, I was looking towards another challenge before I even left the race site. I set my sights on the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C. Several of my VMI Brother Rats were going to compete and were asking me to participate. I had to transition my training from a 13.1 mile distance to 26.2 miles. I had no worries about this and was getting more and more excited by the day.
      As my recovery period from the Dallas Half Marathon ended and the Full Marathon training began things started happening. My times were increasing and my distances were decreasing. I figured it was fatigue, or maybe the difference in altitude were to blame. I had an extended field training exercise in August and September, but I still attempted to train. My left leg felt like dead weight as I hobbled through a run. I thought "this is nothing, its probably a boo-boo, or overtraining." When the FTX was complete and I returned home I started having spells where my left leg would go numb. When it wasn't numb, it hurt like the dickens to walk on it. Again I chalked it up to a nagging boo-boo. My wife didn't think so.
     Begrudgingly (because I know what it takes to get the wife off my case) I made an appointment with my Primary Care Manager. A sonogram and an ambulance ride later, I was diagnosed with a walnut sized blood clot in my pelvis. This little bugger was blocking the majority of the blood into my left leg. The muscle had atrophied a bit, which would explain the weakness. I was not thrilled with this turn of events to say the least. I had been getting recruitment calls from several very desirable organizations that were interested in me, and were offering positions that would put me back behind a rifle. The key element was, I had to be able to pass their physical fitness tests. I still smoke the upper body portions of the tests. But the runs.... yeah I would have sucked.
     Through further testing at Beaumont Army Hospital the Doctors have pinpointed the cause of this malady, wonderful genetics. It already sucks that I have to lug around the name "Gray" but being kin to those people gives me a jacked up set of genes. But I digress.
     So now I begin the road to recovery. My first step in this process is to start walking between 2-3 miles a day. Once I feel the pain go away and the loss of sensation ceases, I will begin running. 1 minute run, 2 minute walk and so forth. As the strength returns I will increase the run times and distances until I am back to my peak performance level. Who knows, maybe this will open some doors that I have really tried to pry open since I was a young man.
     As things stand right now I am not being allowed to travel home for Christmas Leave. This is a major disappointment to my family. We had many plans that now are having to be changed. But it is change, no matter how sudden or disappointing, that adds variety to life. I will keep everyone abreast of my status. But I am declaring my new goal. By March 2011, I will run in the 2nd Annual Dallas Half Marathon and set a Personal Best. Until Later....

Stay in the Fight!!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

North Texas Rifle Precision

         In July, I completed North Texas Rifle Precision Reloading and Long Range Rifle 1 Course. And I have to say that it was beyond what I imagined. I started by getting to know Jay (Josh) Ruby (Captain Kick Ass, on Sniper's Hide) and if you have a pulse, you will like him immediately. His outgoing and gregarious personality will put you at ease the second you shake his hand. Unfortunately this is a trait that gets more and more rare in today's society. Jay makes you feel like you are the only one that matters and your success is his goal. He graciously allowed my family to come and meet him for dinner on Day 0. He brought along his Wife, Molly, who is also an NTRP Shooter. We could not help but feel like they were immediately part of the family. 
        Day 1 began by Jay giving the standard Safety Briefing and his personal do's and don'ts. After that I pulled out my notebook and began scribbling furiously as he started giving the layout of an effective Hand Loading Station. If you take one of NTRP's courses have a notebook, tape recorder, and memory ready because the information will come quickly. The speed of instruction is not a bad thing. We covered ground that was a refresher for me. He slowed down when we started crossing into the processes I was less familiar with. Though I set the new worlds record for the slowest reloading, Jay didn't rush me or take over as often happens when learning from someone that is a World Class Shooter and Hand Loader often does when dealing with someone who is not. I finished the Reloading Course with 200 rounds of .308 caliber ammunition and confident that I could go home and replicate what I learned on any caliber I may need. I have to give a special note to Mrs. Ruby for preparing an AMAZING meal for us after the day of reloading was done. That night Jay checked my rifle, scope, and gear for Day 2. This is not probably part of the usual training Method of Instruction. but Jay is unrelenting when it comes to setting the student up for success.
          Precision Rifle I, began by confirming my 100 yard Zero. I was using a Factory Remington Model 700 rifle in .308 (7.62x51) caliber with a IOR 4-14x50mm Mil/Mil scope. I had never fired match grade ammo before and my groups started as large as I was used to. Which is to say "all over an 8x11 sheet of paper. Jay focused on my position behind the rifle. Then moved on to my position in relation to the barrel, which effects the path of recoil, and thus the impact of the bullet. Last he adjusted my grip on the weapon and my trigger control. The next 5 round group was AMAZINGLY small (for me.) At this point Jay started showing me how to work up a load based on the ammo I made the night before. With chronograph set and targets hung, I started learning how the process works. I saw the the chronograph numbers that were best and discussed the bell curve of velocity, pressure, and what was optimum for my rifle. Based on that information a specific combination became MY load. Knowing what the bullet will do as the primer is struck, travels down the barrel, and into the target, makes a major difference, all the difference in building confidence in your equipment. We (Jay and I) moved back to the firing line (300-780 yard berm) and started the fun. 
         My next block of instruction was in wind reading. The environmental conditions that day were not bad, but they weren't good either. But, how often do you hunt or compete in optimal conditions. There was a steady 10mph cross wind and it rained on and off throughout the day. To me, this was another outstanding aspect of the training. How often do you shoot in PERFECT conditions? Probably not often. Within 3 shots I knew the effects the wind had on MY bullet and could still engage the target, even as the wind gusted. From there I started engaging Steel Reactive Targets (produced by Outback Welding in Weatherford, TX) from 300 yards to 500 yards. This developed more confidence in myself, equipment, and ammunition. Jay was there every shot coaching, mentoring, and teaching. And.... reminding me to breathe. By the time I was on my second box of 100 rounds I was hitting a 6 inch target at 780 yards. We took a break at this point and started playing with a pair of Bushnell's Fusion LRFs. I was throughly impressed. Jay often has new equipment and will give a student the opportunity to put the equipment into operation in order to judge its applicability to the type of shooting the student wants to focus on. Jay takes the data from the new shooter and passes it along to other shooters, vendors, or files it away in the vast hard drive that is Jay's mind.
         At the end of the break I was introduced to positional shooting. I figured I would have been good at this, having done it for years in my current line of work. But there is a DIFFERENCE in positional shooting with an M16A2/M4 and a Remington M700, IOR Scope, and Harris Bipod. But the method, tips, and tricks Jay taught had me hitting steel again, repeatedly. There was never a range, position, or condition that Jay did not shoot first to show me that it could be done, on my rifle, with my scope zeroed for me. I never second guessed his method because it worked. We finished the 100 round box with only a hand full of fliers/missed rounds. I feel bad for Jay in this because I took my time with every shot and he called them all through the 2 hours it took. We were able to pack up and get headed back to McKinney, Texas before a MASSIVE rain storm hit.
         My final thoughts on this NTRP course is, if you are looking for the BEST 1 on 1 instruction don't look any further. After the classes were done, I would have gladly paid twice what NTRP charges for the quality, focus, and attention of the instruction I was given. Not once did I ever feel like I was anything but the center of attention of NTRP. I also don't feel that there were any "Secrets" that were not imparted, and no special methods about hand loading or shooting he didn't teach. I know that NTRP taught everything he could. Forget the distance you may have to travel, forget the time at work you might miss, go to and get signed up for a class. YOU WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED. Chances are you will be like me and already be signing up for Long Range II. On a personal note, Jay and Mrs. Ruby are the nicest, most sincere people you will ever meet. If you don't walk away with two new friends that treat you like family, you probably need to have your heart examined, because it isn't beating.

         Since taking NTRP's Precision Rifle 1, I have bagged 4 whitetail deer (including 1 Trophy Buck) at various ranges and conditions. Before the class, I would have passed on several of the shots. But the confidence in my my ability to engage the target and hit with first round accuracy are attributable to Jay's teaching. Also, I have purchased a Custom Rifle, developed a load that gives me optimal performance, and have begun training for my first competition. I know that when I put my reticle on a target that I know where that round is going before I ever squeeze the trigger. I look forward to my next NTRP Course and making shooting a family hobby!

Stay in the Fight!

5 GOLD STARS. I will use NTRP again and again, or until Jay tells me to go away.