Sunday, August 2, 2009


It's been a while since I posted; business as usual. I finished IFS up in Manassas and promptly packed up my life and drove to Pensacola. I had orders to leave Quantico on July 13th but I actually pulled out with my enormous Budget truck the next day around noon. I decided that to save money on hotels that I would instead drive straight to Pensacola, a nearly 1,000 mile drive. I downloaded some audiobooks to my iPod and set out. It started out pretty slow until I realized that the truck was perfectly capable of driving 75 with the car trailer behind it (that was where the governor kicked in, probably a good thing). I stopped for dinner in Knoxville, TN around 10:30; the half-way point. Things got a little weird after this. I had started to get tired around 9 but figured I would be fine until dinner, which should wake me up as well. Well anyone who knows me knows that I'm not a fan of tobacco products, but I went with the suggestion of a friend and bought a tin of Skoal Citrus pouches and whoa, that worked. Buzzing like a mad man, I finally pulled into my apartment in Pensacola just as the sun was rising at 6:30 am. After 18 straight hours of driving I grabbed my bag and proceeded to pass out on the floor of my new apartment for about 5 hours before hitting the beach for the first time. That night we unloaded the truck, pouring sweat in the humidity.

Since July 15th I've been living here in Pensacola, not doing a whole lot. I check in every morning on base in uniform for a quick role call before hitting the gym. From there on the day is mine and I've filled it with getting appointments completed that are required to start flight school (flight physical, legal, getting measured for flight suits, etc...). I will be taking leave again from August 20-30 to go home for Bruce and Luke's weddings, which I'm standing up in. After I get back it looks like I'll be doing a whole lot of nothing until I flight school, which is supposedly going to be some time in February. There's a possibility that I might get a "stash job", working in an office somewhere, but that's not very likely, at least for the immediate future.

In other news, I adopted a puppy from the local animal shelter. He's somewhere between 1 and 2 years-old and is a mix between a golden retriever and a black lab. I named him Henry Jones Kuhnmuench to keep up with my string of Harrison Ford-related pet names. Henry is extremely well-behaved, a little too well behaved actually. I think he may have been abused by his previous owners (a lot of the signs are there, not to get too specific) and I'm still trying to draw out his inner puppy, of which I've seen flashes of, especially around Joe's two dogs. He was pretty skinny when I got him, but a diet of a canned dog food and gratuitous numbers of treats seem to be working to pack on the pounds.

Well that's all I can think of for now, hopefully updates will follow soon!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

To all of my long-lost readers...

I'm fully aware of how long it has been since I last updated this, and for that I apologize to anyone who may have been waiting with breath held for my next post. I don't have a lot of time to go over everything that has happened since my last post, so I'll give a quick overview of my life since March. Following the completion of FEX-3 was our very short Convoy FEX, which involved us running mock convoys using real Humvee gun trucks and 7-Tons (made in Wisconsin!) and being hit by simulated IED's and ambushes. The highlight of this FEX was my Humvee being stuck in a mud-filled field for a couple hours due to the frantic gesturing of a certain roommate of mine's gunner... After Convoy came the culmination and my favorite part of TBS: MOUT.

MOUT stands for Military Operations in Urban Terrain, basically everything we're currently doing in Iraq and Afghanistan. We spent 6 days in a mock-town, complete with multiple-story concrete buildings designed to simulate real building layouts such as hotels, banks and more. We traded in the upper receivers from our M16's (this part runs from the rear sight to the barrel and includes the bolt and chamber) for shortened ones that were chambered for 9mm simulator rounds. Imagine the same results of paintball, with all the pain of a round using an actual charge... Once the adrenalin got going, however, it was easy to ignore the sting of being hit in the hand or leg. We wore high-coverage paintball masks and practiced giving and receiving orders in the MOUT environment, which ended in us fighting each other inside and out of the buildings using the sim rounds. I don't thing I've ever had more fun in my life. The week ended with us at the FBI academy's urban simulator, known as Hogan's Alley. This is a realistic city, complete with actors playing the villagers and fully-stocked shelves in the stores. Here we conducted a full urban patrol, complete with more ambushes, IED's and vehicle and house searches. Awesome.

After MOUT, TBS really began to wind down. The last and easiest FEX was AMFEX, or Amphibious Operations Familiarization Exercise. AMFEX involved us getting on charter buses and riding down to Norfolk Naval Base, the largest Naval Base in the world. We spent two days there touring amphibious ships and watching demonstrations of landing craft and other Navy-related things that I really can't remember right now. The importance behind AMFEX is that the Marines are historically an amphibious force; it's in the National Security Act of 1947 as well as naturally suiting as the sister service to the Navy. Lately we've gotten away from our amphibious training, leaving us extremely weak in that area (thank you, Iraq). The Commandant has since decided that we need to "return to our amphibious roots", starting with new Lt's getting formal instruction that the officer corps has been missing over the last 8 years.

TBS ended with Mess Night, which deserves a post of it's own, followed by a week of out-processing and finally came Warrior Day (Family Day) and then graduation. My brother and parents came out for 5 days, including Warrior Day and were able to see a lot of the weaponry and machines that the Marines use, as well as getting a chance to fire M16's and M203 grenade launchers. Obviously they also got the all-encompassing tour of TBS by myself.

Since graduation I have been living off base in an apartment (heaven) with a friend of mine from 2nd Platoon. I've been waiting around the Quantico area for the last 3 weeks before starting Introductory Flight Screening (IFS) on Monday. IFS is civilian flight school with all of the tests and classes and none of the certifications usually granted to people completing it (we'll be about 10 hours short of our private pilot licenses at the end). I've been in ground school all week and have my first exam tomorrow, which should clear me to start flying with an instructor next week! I'll attempt to get some more updates here now that I've finally sat down and started again. Take care!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

FEX III - Monday

FEX 3 was last week, so I'll try to get this one out while it's still fresh in my memory. FEX 3 was a 5-day, 4-night field exercise that ran from last Monday to Friday. I'll try to break it down by day since they all had their own highlights and events.


Monday we were up at 4:30 to grab mandatory breakfast before leaving for the field. I already had my gear ready so this managed to be fairly relaxing. I powered through my fake eggs and bagel and headed back to my room to apply camo paint to my face and wait for 0615 to roll around. My fireteam was the last group out due to us being tasked with sweeping and mopping the hallway before we left. As we were doing that, my roommate gestured for me to come down to his end of the hallway. I was annoyed at first, but I went down there and lo and behold, there was the Commandant of the Marine Corps in the meeting area. I quickly went back to work in the hopes that he wouldn't decide to come talk to us and see the the Texas Tech-themed face paint I had put on, or my roommate's Joker theme. We got out to the LZ last, just in time for the safety brief. After that we met up with our instructors and proceeded to the terrain model where the Lt with the first tactical billet gave us his order. We would be in the defense the first two days, oriented West in a blocking position against the Centralian Revolutionary Forces. (All of our orders take place in "Centralia" against the "CRF" who are played by the instructors, it's kinda silly.) After debriefing the order, we got on trucks and headed out to our training area for the week. It had been raining for several days before this, so the LZ we were dropped off at was pure mud, draining my hopes for a dry, warm week. The student platoon commander set off on his recon of his defense site, leaving us to rehearse the occupation plan, among other things. He returned around 1300 and we got ready to move our selves and our packs the 400 meters or so into the woods. We got to the site and dropped our packs, then assumed a silent security halt for 15 minutes while our positions were checked. The guy I was sharing a hole with and I had picked a nice spot where someone had previously dug a hole, hoping to save us some work, but it was not to be. Instead, we were placed between two large trees, again dashing my hopes for easy digging. Finally we were set and we started digging in. I was on the far right flank of our defense and was not part of the main effort, meaning that I c0uld be called away at any time for any number of tasks, such as security patrols forwards of our lines, digging alternate fighting positions, or sitting at the Listening/Observation Post (LP/OP). Knowing this, I dug furiously, trying to get as deep as I could before being called away. I managed to avoid most other tasks for the afternoon, getting to about knee-deep in the root-infested ground. At about 1900 the word came down that I would be going on the next patrol. Just as we set out, it started raining again, and we decided that speed was the most important thing to accomplish on our patrol. I got back to the defense fairly wet, but warm from the hiking. It was now dark and I settled back into my hole for a night of intermittent sleep and security watches. The rain had other ideas, however, and continued to fall as I continued to get colder and colder. The low point came during my 3-hour sleep period when I realized that I was too cold to sleep and just gave up, sitting in the mud and dark, waiting for Tuesday morning to come. Monday was definitely not the best day I had out there, and thankfully Tuesday went a lot better. More to follow on that...

Friday, February 27, 2009

It's been a while

It's been a long couple of weeks here since I last updated this, so this might get a little long, please bear with me. Last week's highlight was our Call For Fire Field Exercise. We've been learning about calling for indirect fire, a tenet of the Marine Corps Warfighting philosophy; using direct and indirect fire weapons to place the enemy in a combined arms dilemma. Basically this means shooting at him with our rifles, forcing him to hide, then hitting him with something like a grenade launcher or mortar fire; a lose-lose situation for the enemy. The field exercise for this was awesome. The week prior we had practiced using a computer simulation and then in the field next to the barracks using actual mortars. These mortars were hooked up to compressed air and basically shot lawn darts at little metal tanks to simulate mortar fire. Sounds like a great game at the family barbecue... The FEX involved us heading out one of the ranges on a cold, rainy day. There were 3 stations, the first of which being an EPW handling and search technique station, to hammer out some stuff we learned in class. This gave us the opportunity to hide fake weapons on our persons and then practice searching people like we would at a checkpoint. It was definitely fun tackling people in the mud when we did find the weapons. After this we headed a couple miles down the road where they had set up an artillery gun line with 3 155mm Howtizers and a Fire Direction Center (FDC). This was awesome; the guns shook the ground every time they fired (the rounds landed back at the range we started at, which was filled with old tanks and the like for us to target). Several people got to pull the lanyard to fire the howitzers, I was next in line when the fire mission ended, so that was a bummer. After hanging out here and observing for an hour or so, we headed back to the start point for our turn on the radios. Using our maps to pinpoint targets in the field, we got on the radio and used the proper format to call for fire. To our left was a couple of 60mm mortar tubes that were also firing into the field, and these are what I got to talk to. Using callsign "beefhammer" (we were given some leeway with this, obviously), I called for fire on a group of rusted APCs. I registered a direct hit and ended the mission with "2 APCs destroyed, est. 8 casualties". We were supposed to get a demonstration of Close Air Support, but due to the poor weather, this was cancelled. The group that went the next day though had a Cobra and a Huey fly in and fire rockets and miniguns at the tanks...bastards. Final Land Nav was that week also and quite frankly I don't want to talk about it; I did well, but it wasn't pretty. One other note was that I got called out to brief an operations order in class and knocked it out in front of Col Smith, CO of TBS; pretty good feeling.

Last week was FEX 2, a three day platoon exercise. This is the next step up from the squad tactics we had been learning. We woke up early Monday morning and headed out to the LZ for our op order. The first day we were operating as a platoon in the offense, with the other half of the company in the defense. We got our order and then boarded helos (CH-53's again!) for our insertion into our AO. We immediately went tactical after landing, dropping our packs and grabbing our assault gear before punching out into the woods. I was part of the Support by Fire element, we would break off from the platoon and move into a separate position where we could fire on the enemy in order to fix him in place while the main element attacked the flank. We got to within 400 yards of our enemy and took a long security halt so that our platoon commander could conduct a recon of the enemy position. He returned and my squad set off on our own route. As we came up the hill I spotted the enemy at the top in a clearing and we immediately started firing. The enemy returned fire and we went back and forth, them in the clearing and us down the hill, hiding and moving behind fallen trees. After a couple minutes of this, we saw the assault element moving up the hill from the side. This is where the plan's faults came to light as we watched the main element attempt to assault up a steep hill under enemy fire, as we were ordered to cease fire. They took the objective successfully, however I'm sure with many casualties had it been for real. We gathered at the top of the hill as a platoon and debriefed with our instructors, who went over the high and low points of the attack. We then switched to a new platoon commander and set in security while he prepared and set out on his own recon mission. This time we would be attacking one of the other platoons' defensive positions instead of a group of instructors. This would be a test for both our platoon commander and the other platoon's commander in the defense. Our platoon commander returned and we got our order. This time I was in the main element and we would be attacking the defender's flank. Our plt co had seen the enemy defense and had set us up to be attacking almost from behind. However, when we got there, the other platoon had messed with the markings that our plt co had set up, so we ended up attacking almost straight into thei defense. To say that it didn't go well would be an understatement; at one point I was baseball-sliding down a steep hill and then attempting to sprint up the next one, all while staring the other platoon in the face. Thankfully we were only using blanks so I wasn't actually killed, and we did manage to "defeat" their defense, but mainly because they were ordered to stop firing when we got close. I attempted to take a friend from the platoon prisoner and that was pretty funny, so it wasn't all bad. After we consolidated it was the same deal as the last one and we switched to a new plt co again. This time I was selected to go with on the leader's recon and I would be left behind near the enemy as a guide for when the platoon showed up to attack them from behind. It was now sunset and by the time the platoon showed up 2 hours later it was pitch black and we had switched on our night vision. I attempted to guide the platoon through thick brush in the dark to the enemy position, which took forever. We finally got to our assault position and the platoon took off towards them. Thankfully, I was left behind again to join the reserve unit, so I didn't have to attempt to assault the enemy in the dark, stumbling and tripping like everyone else. Again, we "successfully" defeated the squad of instructors, got our debrief and then headed back to the LZ for the night. We set in a defensive circle for the night with 25% security. I had 3rd watch and used the opportunity to heat an MRE and get some food while manning the SAW.

The next day we packed up and switched to the defensive mode. We got our order and at about 10 we set off to occupy our defensive position. We had an Israeli camera crew following us for the day, filming god-knows-what. I found them to be an annoyance as the guy in the bright red jacket kept walking everywhere while we were attempting to be sneaky...jackass. They interviewed some of us, although I'm a little curious as to why they picked who they did to interview. Our Captain told us that he wasn't sure of their motives either, but what can you do? I was in the main effort of the defense, so thankfully I wasn't tasked with digging extra holes like many of my friends, or patrolling, but digging one hole was enough for me. By night-fall I had a knee-deep fighting position for two guys, complete with sandbags and camouflage. About mid-afternoon we had been attacked by one of the other platoons, but whoever their plt co was did a horrendous job and I never got to fire my rifle. I did throw some friction into their mix however by yelling random things during their consolidation phase as they attempted to get accountability. Their Captain thought it was pretty funny, so I kept it up. That night our plt co decided for whatever reason that he wanted us at 50% security all night, so sleep was short and painful. Much of this was also due to our Captain, who decided to randomly throw artillery sims at us throughout the night, forcing us to go to 100% security for a half-hour every time he did. I'm sure he thought it was great fun, but it was cold as hell out, so the humor was lost on me. We also got "attacked" by one of our own patrols in the middle of the night (the Captain told them to do this, and I suspected this would happen at some point), which was a good chance to fire off the rest of my blanks. The next morning finally came and we filled in our holes, debriefed, and headed back to the LZ for our glorious truck ride back to TBS.

This week was a very slow week, much due to the massive snowstorm that hit us on Monday. The base was openned late on Monday, so most of our scheduled events were cancelled, including final night land nav. We had a couple slow day of classes, the highlight of which was getting our familiarization classes with the M2 .50 Caliber machine gun, M240B machine gun, and MK19 automatic grenade launcher. We get to shoot all of these next thursday, which I'm obviously pumped about. We had a live-fire range on Thursday, practicing the platoon attack with support by fire again, this time shooting at targets. The snow added a nice twist to this as it had warmed up and turned the field we were using into a massive soup of 6 inch-deep mud. We ran through the range 4 times that day, which was exhausting. Friday we had another slow day as our 12 mile hike was cancelled. We did get to watch "Taking Chance", which was pretty good. Kevin Bacon's good in that movie and the subject is one that doesn't get a lot of media attention. Check it out if you can, it's an HBO original movie, so I'm sure you'd have to watch it on there for now. That's about all that I can remember for now, I'll try to post more frequently over the next couple of weeks. FEX 3 is coming up the week after next, a 5-day field event that's basically the same as FEX 2, just extended. I'm sure I'll have plenty to write about after that one...

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Gods and Generals

Apparently having beers with Colonels on Thursday night wasn't enough for God, who decided to mix things up on me last night. Myself and two friends decided to go the Globe & Laurel restaurant, owned and operated by a retired Marine Corps Officer. Major Rick Spooner, the owner, served active duty for 30 years (starting in 1942) before retiring and starting the business.

One of the attractions to the restaurant is Major Spooner himself, who takes the opportunity to walk around to every table during the evening, introducing himself and telling war stories. During our meal he stopped by once and chatted briefly, before moving on. After the delicious meal (I had the "Semper Fi Steak"), we were sitting at the table talking, waiting for our checks when the Major stopped back. He asked us if we were at TBS (a good catch by the Major) and then proceeded to ask us if we would join him down in the Wardroom for a beer after dinner. Well having heard the stories of this place, this was not an opportunity to pass up, so we went back to the Wardroom. This place was awesome; it was a small room with a full bar on one side and couches and a recliner on the other side. The Major poured us a drink and we proceeded to the couches, him in the chair, where we listened to the old Marine tell us about his career and ask us about ours. After the Major had made us all feel like less of a man (having cable and internet in our rooms is a huge step up from the dirt-floored huts they lived in when he went through TBS), one of the waitresses stopped in and told the Major (the staff all refer to him as "The Major" as well) that "the General was leaving". All of our ears naturally perked up at this and everyone's back got a little straighter. The Major tells her that the General should stop down for a drink or he would half to yell at him. She says that she thinks he may have left. Wrong. Three minutes later, in walks our Commanding General for MCCDC, the same man I spent 30 minutes hiding from in the PX last time I was there. I am immediately kicking myself for not being dressed better, and immensely relieved that I decided to shave before we went out. Introductions are passed within the two groups and we settle back in to talk. Obviously, I was sitting on the couch closest to the Major before, with my two friends to my left, so where does the General sit? You betya, right next to me. We talked for a good while, probably about an hour. We listened to their stories of TBS and the Marine Corps, and we told them about ourselves and our limited experiences. The only trip-up came when the General stopped us and goes "Ok, quiz time". "Oh great" we all think, and he proceeds to ask us in what battle did Lt Hawkins (the man the bar in our barracks is named after) get his Medal of Honor. The quiet was so deep I could hear conversations in the main part of the restaurant. I can see Hawkins' face in my mind so after a couple wrong guesses I throw out this gem "I remember that he had a sweet mustache, sir." Apparently not as funny as I thought it would be, but we moved on and the General didn't seem to hold it against me. Finally the evening wrapped up and we said good night to everyone, with promises that we would return soon.

I still can't stop hoping that I didn't look like a jackass in front of the General; hopefully he's more forgiving than I am. Looking at the natural progression in chain of command from Field Grade to General Officers in a 2-day span, I wouldn't be surprised if I somehow knocked back shots with the Secretary of Defense tomorrow night. All together, it was an awesome evening, and a once-in-a-lifetime experience. If you're ever in the Quantico area, I definitely recommend you stop in to the Globe & Laurel and talk to the Major. You won't be disappointed.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


I more wanted to write this down for myself than any other reason, but tonight just gave me the shot of motivation that I was looking for. Tonight, all of the air contracts (future pilots like myself) got a chance to meet a reserve General and his review board staff, a group of reserve Colonels and Lt Colonels. Up until now there's been a bit of a disconnect between the senior officers and us lieutenants, but tonight was sort of a breaking down of barriers. Having a beer shoved in your hand by a Colonel who happens to be an F-18 pilot is a huge gesture, let alone getting a chance to sit down and talk with him, man to man. The biggest thing that struck me was that these guys truly, deeply, love their jobs. Albeit they aren't all currently active-duty Marines, but the men I talked to all stated that they loved what they do so much that they would do it for free. All of these guys had cool civilian jobs as well, one of them being a producer on CSI: Miami, and this season of Heroes, and then flying things like attack helicopters on the weekends. Awesome.


Just a quick update, CS gas is fun stuff! But not really... Anyways, we were issued our M40 FPM gas masks the other day and today was our first chance to use them. We got issued MOPP suits which are charcoal-lined utility chemical suits designed for combat use (ask anyone who's worn one in the desert if they agree with that statement). On a cold day like today they were nice and toasty, however highly ineffective due to their repeated washing (water ruins the charcoal). The point of us being issued them was based on a nice story that the sergeant running the classes told us. Apparently he told an earlier company that he thought it was funny to go in the gas chamber and then go 'crop dust' the PX (base store). The CS gas clings to clothing, skin and hair, so he would walk in and shake off and watch the effects. Well the company that he was telling this story to decided it would be funny to all walk into our barracks Subway and do the same. This ended not so well as they gassed the girl behind the counter to the point that the gas/she ruined the food as she experienced the typical symptoms: runny nose (more like pouring), coughing, watery eyes, and sometimes vomiting. Thanks to those Lt's, we now all wear the suits into the chamber to reduce the amount of gas on our clothing.

A quick rundown on what the gas chamber is like: we don our protective suits and masks and do a quick check on our masks to ensure a proper seal. We then proceed into the chamber, which resembles a European spa, in a sick way. Through the cloudy interior we could see the instructors running a small camp stove in the center with CS pellets, pumping out smoke. We then do a 3-part test, taking off our masks further off every time and putting them back on and clearing them, ending with us taking them completely off and putting them back on again. At the end was the "Trail of Tears", which involved taking our masks off, putting them away, and then doing a lap inside the chamber before pouring outside into fresh air. I kept my eyes closed and my breath held until I reached the last wall when I lost it, breathing in a lung full of the gas. I tried to stop coughing, but the damage was done. I hit the fresh air and stood off to the side, snot, tears and spit running down my face. Laughing like only crazy people would, we poured water in our eyes and slowly the gas faded and we felt fine again. Looking back now, it's really funny and I can only imagine the joys that the instructors get every time they watch that.