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.

You Never Forget War

We’re time traveling today, going back to Desert Storm, when the war was about to start, and then to a few years ago on the left coast of the U.S.

It was tough during the days leading into the war in December of 1989 and January of 1990.  We knew what was coming.  The problem was that we didn’t know when or how.  Aside from the AM/FM radios we had, we were pretty isolated.  No internet, no phone, no contact with the outside world.

All we know was that the war deadline was fast approaching and neither side was blinking.  We thought The Enemy would come over the horizon and attack us, and it wasn’t helped when they actually fired scuds at us.  We were parked near a Patriot missile battery, so we were actually a target.

Every sound became a possibility of attack as we grew more paranoid.  A backfire of a truck sent soldiers running for cover.  The long blast of a horn from a company leaving had us wondering if we were being gassed.  The thud of a 40 foot steel shipping container being dropped had us thinking a bomb had gone off.  It was very easy to be paranoid.

It was almost a relief when the ground war started and we knew where the shooting actually was.

Fast forwarding to a few years ago.  I went on a vacation to Las Vegas.

Up angle of the Luxor Hotel, palm trees out front.
I stayed at the Luxor, which is a hotel shaped like an Egyptian pyramid.

I didn’t go there to gamble, but to see the adult attractions like the Titanic Exhibit at the Luxor and the Mob Museum at the Tropicana.  In searching for the link, I discovered that the museum moved late last year.  There are some awesome photos with the article to check out.

Like most everything in Las Vegas, the museum was very interactive.  I walked through, talking with characters in mob clothing from the 1920s.  It was a lot of fun.  Then I got to the last leg of the museum.

A blast of machine gunfire goes off.

Instantly, I’m trying to find cover.   Then I realized it was part of the museum, but it was quite alarming! I wished they’d put a warning at the entrance about the gunfire.
The reaction was shocking for me because it was over twenty years later.

You never forget.