Day 90: Saturday 06 May (Florida Day Zero)
Had our last blueberry pancake breakfast today. Thank God. I've had enough. Cleaned the barracks out, said our goodbyes to people being recycled, and sat around waiting for that beautiful bus to Florida. Around 1115 it showed up and those of us on our 3rd tour in the mountains--some people were on their 4th, 5th, and even 6th--couldn't stop smiling. "Dude. Seth. We're on a bus. We're on THE bus!!!" My buddy Seth Freo and I have been doing this Ranger School thing since PRC in January and it's about time we made some forward progress. The RI in charge of our bus brought some DVDs for the 7+ hour trip, but most people racked out. Got to Cam Rudder around 1830 and went through the normal shakedown and ruck-packing we've gone through before at the other camps. About that time I realized something terrible. I had left my binder with all my notes and journal entries from Mountains on the bus. I was rather unhappy and so were a few people around me who have been looking forward to reading that thing when we finally get out of here. I definitely screwed up the first of Roger's Standing Orders. "Don't forget nothing." Damn. I sure hope that bus driver takes care of me on this one. On top of this, I missed the window of time to talk to Erika on Friday during our 2 hour pass. She was in the simulators and couldn't answer her phone and I wasn't allowed to call later that night so... no dice. It's gonna be ok. It's gonna be ok. It's gonna be ok. 18 more days and this ridiculousness will be over. "If you have a strong enough WHY you can withstand any HOW."
Day 91: Sunday 07 May (Florida Day One)
Now that's a good breakfast. B-fast burritos, real sausage, French Toast with whipped cream topping, blueberry muffin, etc. Good stuff. We talked over and then practiced room-clearing procedures for UO (urban operations) all morning and despite a lightning lockdown just before our trip to a small MOUT site on Eglin we got quite a bit accomplished. I talked to an RI about my notebooks and journal and he said he would look into it. After we got back to Camp Rudder we had a pretty sweet class/show on reptiles and got to see live examples of every snake and alligator they talked about. Really cool stuff. So far this camp is by far the best. Tonight my buddy Shumaker and I got to talking again about Boy Scouts and experiences we've had in the past like going to Philmont to go backpacking or what we did for our Eagle Projects. Those were some good times. It's a good thing my parents got me involved in that and also a great thing how my dad was so active in it with me.
Day 92: Monday 08 May (Floriday Day Two)
Had to go to sick call for poison ivy again this morning. I thought I had managed to escape the Chattahoochee unscathed, but no such luck. Had some classes on the Floriday way to do patrol bases, movement to contact, how to occupy an ORP, etc. Around 1430 a storm kicked up and we were put in lightning lockdown. Hey, no problem. I'd be more than happy to break off into groups of 3 away from our equipment and rack out under a tree until the storm passes. If it does this every day we'll be taking a lot of siestas. Almost 2 hours later it passed by us and we started practical exercises. That went until around 2015 when ANOTHER ginormous storm rolled in and we had to run almost 2km back to the barracks. Normally that would not be a problem, but we've been rather thoroughly "broke off" by Ranger School and our running skills are pretty much non-existant now. Getting back in shape so I can keep up with my platoon of Cav Scouts is gonna be LOTS of fun. No problem.
Day 93: Tuesday 09 May (Floriday Day Three)
More classes on how to do a raid and CASEVAC. Got to see what an actual Air Medevac operations looks like complete with Huey helicopter, hoist, and a "jungle penetrator." I couldn't help but smile knowing that in a few short months Erika will be doing that very thing but in real life. So far Florida has been surprisingly educational. I've learned quite a few things worth knowing in the future. This morning we had mail call and while I didn't get anything from people I know I did get 3 letters from some 4th graders in NY. Pretty much everyone in the platoon did. They were rather entertaining, but made us realize there's a lot more riding on our success than we think. These kids I don't even know all told me "Thank you for defending our country and keeping me safe." Pretty humbling.
Day 94: Wednesday 10 May (Florida Day Four)
LATE night last night. Everyone is moving slowly and getting cranky because of the limited sleep we've gotten. Had a class on how to do an ambush and then did a few practical exercises in the immediate area. Around 1500 or so we moved out to do one as an actual mission meaning that the CoC was given an OPORD and we planned it all out followed by our execution. Everything was going fine until our assault across the kill zone after initiation of the ambush. Eric Perkinds tripped on some thick "wait-a-minute" vines and fell right behind me. As he fell his left thigh landed on a small fallen tree and about a half an inch of a broken branch went through his BDU pants and into his leg. We got him cleaned up, called the real-life medics, and they carted him out on the "meatwagon". It looked a lot worse than it really was, but he still had to go to the hospital to get it bandaged. He joined us again when we got back from our night iteration of the ambush. Speaking of getting back... I have never seen such an upclose and personal display of lightning that made me both absolutely terrified and completely in awe of a storm. Too bad we were walking/running 3 kms to get back to the barracks while it was going on. This "lightning lockdown" is retarded. I understand the safety aspect of it, but come on... We finally made it back to the barracks completely soaked and a bit electrified from the near-miss lightning strikes, but it's all good. 3 kms in Florida is nothing to us because of how beautifully flat it is here at Camp Rudder.
Day 95: Thursday 11 May (Florida Day Five)
Each morning we wake up here is worse than the day prior as far as how sleepy and exhausted we are to start off the day. Stepped off at 0330 for the waterborne operations site where we were put back into lightning lockdown upon arrival. We didn't get to eat dinner last night because of the retarded lockdown at the time so this morning I ate half of last night's MRE along with my breakfast one. Soon enough we were in the bleachers learning about Zodiac assault boats and how to load them and all that. We broke down into our separate platoons afterward and did 1-rope bridge crossings in the water for awhile. I need to add a trash bag inside my waterproof bag because some of the stuff in my ruck got wet when I was going across. The "bridge" isn't really so much a bridge as it is a rope to hang onto as you swim across the river with all your gear, your ruck, and your weapon. We loaded the Zodiacs and paddled downriver for awhile. Seth Freo was the front right guy in the boat anf for having never been on water of any kind, ever, he did a great job setting the pace. Marcus Morgan did a good job as the coxswain and we finally got where we were going. After loading up on trucks we got back to the "300 man barracks" and found out our chain of command for the first graded patrol tomorrow. The sunset tonight was AWESOME. I've had that Beach Boys song "Sloop John B." stuck in my head for about 4 days now. "Oh, won't you let me go home? This is the worst trip I've ever been on..."
Day 96: Friday 12 May (Florida Day Six)
That same toolbag Captain that had PL1 in mountains had it again here in Florida, but this time on top of being a social retard, he totally jacked up the OPORD, wasted the afternoon doing BS rehearsals, and made us all look like idiots. All in all it could have been a lot worse because our first day of this week and a half long FTX was spent in garrison, but it just sucked. No problem, one more day down in this seemingly endless countdown to graduation. On a positive note, I finally got some mail today. I still can't believe Erika finds the time to write me nearly every day, but I sure do love her for it.
Day 97: Saturday 13 May (Florida Day Seven)
Another day full of rehearsals. At least we got breakfast in the DFAC this morning. Marcus Morgan was our squad leader today and did a helluva good job. We pretty much did nothing but rehearsals again all day, but that was highlighted later on because on our forty eleventh iteration of "squad attack" we found some blackberries growing wild on the far edge of the field we were training in. Good stuff. Definitely reminded me of the ones that grew wild in our backyard in Arkansas. Of course, we couldn't get caught eating blackberries because it's an "SOR offense" to eat any naturally growing stuff here. We left the blackberries and got back to the mission at hand. Finally loaded up on trucks around 1930 and started on our final FTX of Ranger School. After moving through the woods, in the dark and wearing NVGs, for about 2 hours we got a new chain of command and they were given a FRAGO to conduct a hasty ambush on some random stretch of road about a kilometer away. We had to move quickly and it was truly a hasty operation, but it went extremely well and the RIs were very impressed. For the lack of time we had we pulled it off rather well. Congratulations, Marcus. You got your GO.
Day 98: Sunday 14 May (Florida Day Eight)
"Roster number 554. FO." Great. I get to carry the radio on another day of movement to contact. Perfecto Sanchez is the RTO so at least I've got a good dude to keep me company with radios on our backs. We moved total of close to 9 clicks and a few times I thought I was gonna keel over, but we made it. When we got to our final NAI (named area of interest) we found a building or two and three OPFOR dudes just standing around. Clay Hinchman, our point man that day, actually got the drop on them by sneaking quietly and after a bit of a firefight we secured the area and started searching their bodies. Lo and behold, one of them had 4 Cinnamon Toast Crunch bars on him. They got split up, one per squad, and we all got a taste of normal food if only for a few seconds. Good stuff.
Day 99: Monday 15 May (Florida Day Nine)
Another day of movement to contact. I still haven't been called to be in a graded position and it's starting to worry me. Ben Blane was named the PSG and we're pretty sure he got a NOGO because of the lack of control he had over the MEDEVAC operation after we made contact. Eric Perkins was named PL for the second half of the day and received a FRAGO to rescue a downed pilot about 2 clicks away. We would have two Apache helicopters providing aerial support and we had 2 hours to have him out of the area he crashed in. We stepped off and after we got within a few hundred meters of the objective we halted. In the distance we could hear rotary aircraft approaching and then two Apaches flew overhead and started clearing the area. Eric was on the radio instructing them where to clear, where the suspected enemy were, and where the downed pilot was and it was pretty cool to see something so "real-world" actually happen like that. Up until now we've had pretty lame and generic objectives, but this mission was pretty sweet. We assaulted across, cleared the objective, and just like that Eric Perkins got his GO.
Day 100: Tuesday 16 May (Florida Day Ten)
Waterborne Operations. The stuff we did today is the quintessential type of operation that people think of when they imagine what Ranger School is all about. Most of the time we walk forever, set in at an ORP, recon the objective, and then do our raid or ambush or whatever, but our insertion technique today was by Zodiac boat on a slow-moving river. After a few clicks of paddling down the river we disembarked and did a short movement through the swamp to get to our objective. Brian Stoltz was the PL up to this point and did a pretty decent job all the way through actions on the objective. After everyone was called in to consolidate and reorganize the RIs put out the new CoC. "Ranger Martin. PL." Hell, yeah. I've been waiting for a chance to finally earn my GO and finish this school. I got everyone lined up and away we went down a dirt road to the entry point of "Boiling." As the last rays of light disappeared and the stars came out we stepped off in a tight file and started our first night swamp movement. At first it was just ankle high water, but within 20 minutes we were up to our chests in nasty, black, muddy, putrid water. Walking through that stuff wasn't really all that bad, but the best part was tripping over and running into hidden tree roots beneath the water's surface. You couldn't really see anything except the stars and the "cateyes" on the patrol cap and rucksack of the guy in front of you so it was imperative that we kept it tight and kept moving. We got to the one-rope bridge site and after Joey Williams and his team emplaced it and everyone made it across we kept moving until we reached high ground. Overall, not that bad of an experience, but I'll stick to dry ground if possible from now on. Because of the dropping air temp the RIs made us change BDUs and we continued walking down the seemingly endless road to our assembly area. Everyone was "droning" really bad and one guy actually fell down dead asleep while he was walking. Funny stuff. I don't remember most of that movement because I, along with everyone else, was almost sleep-walking too. We stopped after awhile just short of the TAA and then took enemy contact from the rear. I grabbed a squad and we cleared the area, but they had broken contact. We took a casualty during the brief firefight so after we called up the MEDEVAC request we moved out and finally got to the TAA at 0345. By the time we got emplaced and finished our priorities of work it was 0445. The new chain of command was emplaced at 0500 and my time as PL was over. Almost zero sleep coupled with 2 hours each the previous nights is going to make for a long day today.
I'LL ADD THE REST OF THE ENTRIES SOON...
The rest of the story...
Mountains Round 1
Mountains Round 2
Mountains Round 3