The military is really big about training. But then, the entire mission of the military is war, and the only thing soldiers can do is train until and if a war happens. The purpose is to know everything by rote so when the big scary stuff happens, the soldier doesn’t have to think about what to do because she already knows.
We’d go to training on Fort Lewis once a week. Training wasn’t like what’s in the corporate world, where you go sit in a classroom while the instructor races through PowerPoint slides. We went out to the field, which was the woods. We would have liked the classroom, since Fort Lewis could be cold and rainy, but we rarely did anything indoors. Fort Lewis has a huge expanse of woods—beautiful fir trees that look like telephone poles and smell like pine. Lush green everywhere.
Any time we requested one of the training areas, we got our training schedule back with a list of who we needed to coordinate with. There was a lot of competition for some training areas, and sometimes there was just a company nearby. We’d have to take paperwork around to all these different companies so they could sign off on it. If they didn’t, we’d have to find another place. I ended going to 1st Special Forces and 75th Rangers to get signatures. No women, so I stood out!
The main reason for the coordinations was because some of the companies used artillery to train, and we did not want to be on the business end of that.
Anyway, we’d scheduled training at the Military Operations On Urban Terrain place, or MOUT, as it was known. You can see some pictures of a MOUT site here. It had basic buildings, so we could practice war in a city environment. This particular training site was always popular, and we were sharing it with another company. We were at one end, and they were at the other.
At lunch, the cooks brought food in the back of a CUCV. It’s food straight from the mess hall. They cook it and fill metal insulated containers to keep it hot, then serve it to us. So we get hot food on paper plates and plasticware. We’re tired from the morning’s training and still have the afternoon to go, so we go off and find spots to eat.
And then suddenly our eyes and throats are burning. No! It’s not the food!
The other company used CS gas (otherwise known as tear gas). The wind was blowing it all in our direction.
One soldier sat there and continued to eat—no one was going to interrupt him!—while the rest of us tried to find a better place. Did kind of ruin the meal for us anyway.