When I initially learned I would be trained for Iraq duty by Army drill instructors at an Army base, I expected it to be like the Army’s Advanced Infantry Training given to graduates of boot camp. However, the training is less generalized and is geared towards the type of work Navy personnel may encounter in theater.
The first week of training mostly consisted of basic rifleman training. Lots of instruction on the fundamentals (breath control, trigger squeezing, etc.) followed by practice in the “laser tag” room. This room, called EST (Electronic Shooting Trainer or some such title), is a lot like playing Duck Hunt in the arcade. The computer displays targets on a wall and you use modified rifles to shoot them. The rifles shoot infrared lasers that the computer tracks to determine where you hit. The rifles also have CO2 hoses connected to them that simulate recoil.
The next day is followed by live round fire to establish each person’s grouping and zero requirements with their M16s. Even the people that won’t be taking a rifle to Iraq with them have to qualify. In my case, I will only be taking a 9mm pistol with me since I will be working in a computer lab when I get there. However, the military wants to make sure everyone can use an M16 in case they get tasked with convoy duty or otherwise have to defend themselves.
Additionally, some personnel will be going on patrol with Army or Marine personnel and will be expected to participate in combat operations. One person told about a JAG (legal) officer who was attached to a Marine unit when he was over there. Even though he is just a lawyer, the Marines consider everyone to be a rifleman first, their speciality second. So, this JAG officer went on patrol with his unit and was given tasks such as securing roadside embankments. The lesson: you’ll never know exactly what you’ll be getting into when you get there, and your primary job skills may not keep you from seeing combat.
In addition to qualifying with the M16, certain people will also receive 9mm pistols. These people are expected to qualify with both the M16 and 9mm, but more time will be spent with the M16 since it’s the “default” weapon for military personnel. Plus, there’s just not much you can do with a pistol unless the situation is dire. Better to learn how to avoid those situations.
Other training includes combat first aid (fractures, bullet woundes, tourniquets, etc.), medevac requests, basic radio communications, and NBC (nuclear, biological, and chemical) protective suits. It behooves anyone coming here to learn these skills well because they will all come to play during the last week’s practical test.
Speaking of tests, most of the second week is supposed to comprise convoy training, since that’s what most IA personnel will be involved in. You do get Humvee driver training (just like driving a normal SUV or large truck) and you have to participate in a simulated Humvee rollover trainer.
For the most part, the training isn’t very intense. You only PT twice a week so you may do it 4-5 times the whole time you’re here. If you want a better workout, you have to do it on your own. Like boot camp, you are put into groups (companies and platoons), which form up and march nearly everywhere. Lunch in the field consists of MREs (Meal, Ready-to-Eat) or “nasty packs” (submarine sandwiches prepared by the cafeteria). The MREs really aren’t too bad; I recommend either grabbing a second bag or at least saving some of the food for later because there may be times when you won’t get into the chow hall at a decent time.
The barracks are modified open-bay style. If you’ve seen nearly any military movie that shows boot camp, you know what to expect. The Navy is spending several million dollars to “renovate” the barracks here, which seems to mean new bunks and bigger lockers. The facilities themselves are still pretty basic.
Though you are issued a Camelbak to ensure you have water with you throughout the day, it’s the most basic model. I just bought a higher-end model that includes several pockets for storage. This is a good idea since you can quickly run out of pockets on your uniform, especially when you’re at the gun range and have to carry 6-8 magazines. I normally carry my hand sanitizer (the field locations only have port-a-potties), a travel pack of Kleenex, sunblock, a camera, a sweat rag, some MRE crackers, a pen, and a book to read. That’s not counting my pistol, body armor, helmet, M16, and elbow/knee pads. The more stuff you can centralize, the easier it is to pack everything.
You’ll be working 12+ hour days with the normal knockoff time at 6pm. Lights out in the barracks is at 10pm so after you eat dinner, you may have 3 1/2 hours of down time to yourself unless you decide to stay up late (not recommended). Usually you’ll spend some time cleaning your weapons (if you shot that day), modifying your armor so it fits better, and other small tasks. Personally, I take a shower after dinner and shave at that time so I don’t have to worry about it in the morning; a great idea when there are 40+ people and only 6 sinks. Plus you can sleep in a little bit longer if you take care of as much as you can the night before.
Overall, it’s not too bad. The worst part, IMO, is the blasted body armor. It’s approximately 65-75 pounds (depending on a person’s body size) and not very ergonomic. I really wish the military would approve Dragon Skin armor; I haven’t tried it but from what I’ve seen and heard, it’s much more flexible and lighter. The military-issue stuff may protect you but it doesn’t really let you move around very well and it doesn’t sit well on the body. Plus it retains body heat better than some jackets; as soon as you put it on you can feel your core temperature rising and your breathing gets faster.
There is wireless Internet in the barracks, when it works. For the first 4 days the Internet was done in the barracks and the computer lab on base was incredibly fickle. If you wanted to check your email, you had to cart your computer over to the base club and use the wifi there. It’s fixed now but be prepared to have alternative communication methods.
Speaking of the club, it’s closed most days of the week because of people getting into fights after drinking. Surprisingly (or not), it was usually women causing the problems. There’s a “day room” with pool tables, big screen TV, and other recreation items but it’s usually trashed out by the usual slobs. Beyond that, other recreation must be found on the main base of Fort Jackson. There is a tour bus that regularly runs between Camp McCrady and Ft. Jackson and each IA platoon will provide van drivers to drive people over to the PX.
So, that’s about it for the first week. Lots of sweat and uncomfortable work but not overly difficult. The heat is the biggest thing to contend with. However, it should prepare you (somewhat) for life in the Middle East so consider one more part of the training.