Rocking Women Army Rangers

This week, we had the historic first: Two women survived Ranger training.  I’ve obviously never been to Ranger training–nor would I have wanted to–but I knew people who went through it.  Not for the faint hearted.

Of course, it comes with an awesome action photo.

In this file photo, soldiers test their physical stamina during the Ranger Course on Fort Benning, Ga., April 21, 2015. Soldiers attend the course to learn additional leadership, and technical and tactical skills in a physically and mentally demanding, combat simulated environment. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Paul Sale
In this file photo, soldiers test their physical stamina during the Ranger Course on Fort Benning, Ga., April 21, 2015. Soldiers attend the course to learn additional leadership, and technical and tactical skills in a physically and mentally demanding, combat simulated environment. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Paul Sale

My basic training was in New Jersey, starting about May (I was actually there in April, but we didn’t have enough women for a whole class).  It was typical New Jersey weather–hot and humid.  Lots of mosquitoes.  The BDUs–similar to what you see in the photo except for the camo pattern–would get soaked through with sweat.  The uniform is fine when it’s dry, but when it’s wet, it’s like wearing cardboard.

We were out on the range one day changing these big targets and soaked through with sweat.  Just so hot out.  Then it started to pour all of sudden, and we were out there, hands raised to the sky, because the rain felt so good!

Time, Military Style

The Desert Storm veterans have been discussing military time. Some still use it 25 years later. My father uses it off and on, though he was never in the military.

Military time is 24 hour time. That is, once you hit 1:00 in the afternoon, military time continues the numbers, so 1:00 becomes 1300. It’s pronounced thirteen hundred hours.

There are probably two reasons behind it:

  1. It’s easy to mix up the times. In most cases in civilian life, context is kind of obvious. If you have a doctor appointment at 10:00, it’s reasonable to assume that it’s probably in the morning. But during Desert Storm, the airwar started at 0300, so 3:00 wouldn’t have had any context.
  2. The 24 hour time further moves the soldier into the military culture and forces her to think differently than the civilian world.

When I first entered Basic Training at Fort Dix (I enlisted about now, 25 years ago), the drill sergeants immediately got us onto the 24 hour time.

It was hard for me because I was always have to add the time up in my head to translate it into 24 hour time. I had sort of landmarks, like 1600, which is 4:00 p.m. That was because I watched the TV series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, which had an episode called “The Sky’s on Fire.” In it, the submarine crew has to fire a missile at the Van Allen Radiation Belt to keep a fire from burning up the world. Guess what time they had to fire the missile?

Then there’s 2000 hours (twenty-hundred), which I’ve always associated with 10:00 p.m. because of all the zeroes I guess, but 10:00 p.m. is actually 2200 hours.

What no soldier ever wanted to hear was the phrase “Oh-dark-thirty” coming out of a first sergeant’s mouth. The first sergeant is kind of a personnel manager, but he also serves as a parent to the younger soldiers. “Oh-dark-thirty” tended to me something like, “I’d better not be coming at oh-dark-thirty to bail your ass out of jail.”

The time never really took for me in a way that stuck. It probably was because I never really wrote it down a lot, which would have etched it more solidly. But I always knew I wasn’t going to stay in the military forever, and a lot of times I was trying to get away from it when I was not on duty.

The result:

  1. On duty, I thought civilian time, mapped it in my head, and used the military time aloud. This wasn’t as hard as it sounds. We started work at 6:00 a.m. and ended worked at 5:00 p.m. Most of the harder times were after that, and I always knew that getting off work was at 1700!There are priorities.:)
  2. Off duty, I reverted to civilian time.

And when I got out, it was easy to go back to civilian time.

But times have changed. You can now go online and use a time converter!

Scariest thing that happened to me in the army

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I’ve had a few really scary things happen to me, one which was intentional on the army’s part, and the others a function of the environment.  So this is going to be the first of three posts on those scary things.

As the last part of basic training at Fort Dix, NJ, we had to do something called Paragon Trail.  It was a live fire exercise, as in real bullets and real grenades.  An Air Force colonel who did the same training noted:

The training was designed to simulate combat with live machine gun fire 40 feet above your head, with flares lighting up the night sky.

I would not have said that was 40 feet.  It felt a lot closer!  But it was dangerous, and things could happen.  A male soldier from another cycle had been hit by shrapnel from one of the explosions.  We could get hurt!

And I nearly did.

I think the drill sergeants planned for it to be a new moon that night.  It was so dark out, in a way that you only get out in the middle of isolation.  We were a crowd of some 90 women, and yet, it seemed like each of us was alone in that field.  The night’s blackness was solid, impenetrable.

Our task was to cross Paragon Trail in full gear — helmet, equipment belt, gas mask, and rifle.  As part of it, we had to go under an obstacle of concertina wire.  This is a razor wire.  If you’ve ever driven by a prison, that’s what you see at the top of the walls.  It’s meant to stop human beings.  Humans can get over regular barbed wire.

Danger everywhere!

Then it was my turn to go and I ran, faster than I’ve run in all my life.  Flat feet didn’t stop me here.  The rifle banged and klunked against my legs. I heard the staccato of the machine gun bullets above and the booms of the grenades all around.

My brain screamed, “I’m going to get shot!  I’m going to die!”

Fear seized me, propelling me forward, faster and faster.  Everything shut down except that one goal: The end of the field.  I didn’t breathe, I didn’t think — I just reacted.

The concertina?  I dropped to the ground, rolled over, put my rifle across my stomach, and slid underneath.  The tracer rounds streaked above me as I scraped along the ground.  At last I was free of the concertina.

By then, though,  I was sweating so much that it just poured down my face in a river.  Think Robert Hayes from Airplane when he’s trying to land.  I think I was worse.  It got onto my glasses, and I could not see anything.  So I took them off, but the sweat poured into my eyes, stinging them.  Between the dark and the sweat, I couldn’t see much.

But I still ran because I had to keep moving.  I had to get to safety!

Then suddenly a shape jumps out at me, screaming, and drags me in another direction.  It’s the drill sergeant, and I’d scared him (you can fill in your own colorful phrase here).  I’d gotten to the end of the course and had almost run into the concertina wire!

Reading about action is fun.  Being in it … well, not so much.

Next up will be “Tent fire in desert storm” so tune in, same military channel, same military time tomorrow.

hauling soldiers in a Cattle Car (video)

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If we couldn’t march somewhere in Basic Training because it was too far, we used a cattle car. Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Here’s a video, though we did not moo:

The drill sergeants put 87 women on the one we used in Basic Training.  One time we were in the green rain ponchos (if you’ve seen Private Benjamin, those are it), and it was a sea of blackness inside the cattle car with all of us jammed together.

We also used the cattle car on my first duty station at Fort Lewis, but they never took the cattle cars off post.  They’re illegal!

Next up will be “Drill and ceremonies, or all that marching,” so tune in, same military channel, same military time tomorrow.

The first day of Basic training (Video)

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First, Army Basic Training is not called Boot Camp. I think it’s a term that was originally used, but the Army moved away from it.  From what I understand, the Marine Corps still call it that.  To the Army, it’s Basic Training and is the soldier’s introduction to the military.

My basic training was at Fort Dix, New Jersey.  We were an entire class of women.  Most were 18 years old or so, and there were a few of us like me who were older.  Because I had college, I came in as a Private First Class instead of a Private (which largely means more pay, but you still are treated the same way).

When I first arrived, I ended up at Reception Station for two weeks while they got enough women to fill our Basic Training company.  That was about 90 women, so thirty per platoon.

Nothing can really prepare you for Basic Training. I can write all the details here about what it is was like, and it’d still be like being thrown into icy water in utter blackness. It is an experience beyond imagination. This is a video I ran across for Day Zero of Basic Training — are thrown into that water.

If you can only watch a few minutes of it, I won’t be offended. It was as bad as it looks, and worse, and very frightening. I had trouble watching all of it because I know what these guys are going through.

Next up will be “hauling soldiers in a Cattle Car,” so tune in, same military channel, same military time tomorrow.

5 military things about me

Linda Adams in desert camo uniform against a backdrop of other soldiers

1.  I was in the Army Reserve, the Army, and the Army National Guard.

Those are three different services.  I started out with the Reserve because it helped me make the decision and decided to enlist in the regular Army after Basic Training.  The National Guard was a big mistake, and I was glad to be finished with it.

2. I was the least likely soldier to be in the military.

I have “Adams Feet,” or flat feet.  The whole family on my father’s side has them.  In my case, I have high arches and they drop.  It makes me a terrible runner, and I can’t march well either.  They debated about me, then decided to let me in.  The debate happened again during Basic Training, and then again at my first duty station.  No one ever told me I had flat feet!

3. I went to war.

It was Desert Storm, when the thought of women deploying was strange and new and different.  The photo above was taken when President Bush visited us for Thanksgiving.

4. I was enlisted.

With the way everyone talks about the military in movies and film, you would think that everyone is an officer.  They make up only a small percentage of the military.  Enlisted are the bulk of the service.  Because I had a degree from a community college, I came in as a Private First Class (still a private) and left the military as a Specialist.  I’m afraid I didn’t aspire much to come up in the ranks!

5. My Basic Training was at Fort Dix, NJ.

I went during the summer.  Hot, really humid.  Imagine a heavy cotton jacket soaked with sweat, and that was what it was like for us.  Most alarming though were the signs posted on the words warning us about ticks.  Yikes!

More military stuff to see:

Getting Shot At on Paragon Trail

This post was inspired by Reetta Raitanen, who was interested in several gun articles that I mentioned I’d read.  I started thinking about when I was in the army, because it’s still a little unusual for women to handle guns.  Then I started thinking about when I had gotten shot at.  It was military training, and not war.  But that didn’t make it any less terrifying.

As part of the last few weeks of basic training, we went on Paragon Trail at Fort Dix, New Jersey.  It was a live fire exercise with real bullets flying overhead and grenades going off.  While it was controlled, it was still dangerous.  A soldier from the last cycle had been struck by grenade shrapnel.  We could get hurt!

And I nearly did.

It was so dark out when we went on the trail that it was hard to see anything. But we heard everything, from the staccato of the bullets and the booms of explosions. It was all around us, and we had to get across, while in full gear — helmet, equipment belt, gas mask, and rifle — navigating around various obstacles.

I remember bits and pieces of it. It was like my whole world narrowed to getting across the trail and away from the danger. It’s one thing to hear bullets on TV. It’s another thing to have them firing over my head, and the only thing I’m thinking is, “I’m going to get shot! I’m going to die!”

It was my turn to go, and I ran, faster than I’ve run in my life, the rifle clunking against my legs.  I didn’t breathe, I didn’t think — I just reacted.  There were flashes of light from the tracer rounds above my head, and the gunfire. That’s what I remember the most, because sound punctuated how close those bullets really were.

A video of tracer rounds from a machine gun.:

Part of the trail was getting through an obstacle of concertina wire.

Soldier uses gloves to unroll concertina wireIt’s nasty stuff, with lots of pointy parts.  We had a soldier fall into several years later, and it took the fire department two hours to get him out.  And I had to crawl under it on my back?!  I had to lay the rifle on my stomach, and I kept envisioning that my hands would get cut up by it.   The tracers were still streaking through the sky above me as I scraped along the ground.  At last I was free of the concertina and bolting toward the end of the trail.

By then, I was sweating so much that it was pouring down my face like Robert Hayes on Airplane!  I needed windshield washers for my glasses, because I could not see anything.  I took them off, but now the sweat was getting into my eyes.  My eyes stung, and between the dark and the sweat, I couldn’t see much.  But  I’m still running, because I have to keep moving.  I had to get to safety now!

I’m almost there.  And then this shape darted at me, and it’s screaming.  The words didn’t make any sense.  The shape grabs me and drags me in another direction.  It’s the drill sergeant, and I scared him.  I’d almost run into the concertina wire!

Reading about action is fun.  Being in it … well, not so much.