Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Up a Creek...

When the ship came into port into Ecuador, I was informed that my mortar team would be attached to one of the rifle platoons for some riverine ops.


At the leaders meeting, I got to meet or reacquaint myself with some of the guys. They all seemed to be solid guys, or that is to say the type that is uniquely suited to running all over god's green earth blowing shit up and raising hell. I was looking forward to the training until their Platoon Leader showed up.

To say that the man had his limitations would be understating it, but he was making the most of it. To those that might think that there is not really all that much to taking a platoon of riflemen plus a few crew-served weapons and attached personnel to a foreign country and conduction a ten day training evolution, consider this;

In training, it is considered some what Bad Form to kill your own guys.

In training, it is likewise considered Not Good to kill host-country servicemen.

Now add into the mix that you have direct and indirect weapons systems and next to no firing restrictions. This means that you are actually able to fire mortars over your riflemens' heads, to keep the 'enemy' in place with their heads down until that pre-arranged moment that the bayonets of your riflemen are nostril deep in the bad guys faces. Good training, but a somewhat increased potential for a Charlie Foxtrot (and I ain't talking 'bout a dance here).

You are also conducting this training evolution in two languages.

The air assets available are civilian helos jerry-riggged to include one machine gun.

You are about 4 hours aways by river boat from any kind of medical assistance.

The ship that dropped you off is now in another port, 100 more miles away.

I was willing to cut the PL some slack.

This sentiment was really put to the test when he exposed his lack of knowledge in regard to anything mortar related when he asked me, "So, Corporal, can you fire those mortars off of the zodiacs?"

[insert mental smack of my own forehead here]

Zodiacs are those black, inflatable, small boats that you sometimes see those hard-charging special ops dudes paddling, faces cammie-painted, as they silently and stealthily advance through the jungle.

Mortars are a weapons system that needs at least two guys on a solid platform (terra-firma), that sometimes is known to bury the base plate inches to feet into the ground, depending on the number of charges and rounds fired.

My answer was not the maniacal laughter that some infantrymen might expect, but the more diplomatic response of "Uh Sir, that is something that you might be able to do.... ah... once." I will give the man credit, he didn't know something but instead of playing it off, he swallowed his pride and asked. I would much rather have that than he come up to one of my PFCs, ordered him to fire and then we get to find our how good our swim qualification really is in the piranha infested waters of the jungle's rivers.

Loading up the boats, we realized that we had a hell of a lot of extra food and water. This was because as a show of good will, anything that we were not going to use ourselves would be left first for the host country servicemen, and then for any locals that might be hanging around.

Before I get any further, let me say this; Ecuador is a relatively poor country. There are many places in the world that will make you appreciate so much what we have in this country, and I am merely talking about things like heat, clean water, and basic medicine. Where we were at, the locals had just about nada.

On the other hand, Ecuador had one of the more kick-ass militaries. It became very apparent after attending one of their mission briefs that they had copied and translated word for word some of the same things that we do in mission preparation. They then built off of it, adding their own improvements and details. Everyone knew the plan, their place in it, and what to do when things went to shit (this is what the Ecuadorians know of as 'muy importante'). I was very impressed with their esprit-de-corps, and the fact that while there was quite a bit that they did teach us about jungle/riverine warfare, there was a very honest hunger of knowledge that they had for fighting in all aspects.

The 'outpost' that we were assigned to was a collection of about 6 buildings in the middle of the jungle. The post was situated right next to a small shrimping village of about 30-40 shacks. Their commander apologized for the spartan conditions, and informed us that we had the use of one whole building for ourselves. As this building would only fit about 10 Marines, the PL decided that all team leaders would sleep here to allow easy access for his planning, and the rest of the platoon would sleep outside.

As sun-set was rapidly approaching, setting up the bivouac site was a priority. There really wasn't enough space in the camp to sleep the 30 or so other Marines, but we managed to scout out a field to the rear of the camp, across a small stream. It was decided that this field would serve as the tent area, as well as a potential emergency medivac site. Guard schedule was decided, the Marines were bedded down, and some of us gathered in our building to work on the training evolution of the next few days.

At the butt-crack of dawn the next morning, we filed out of the building into the courtyard to await the rest of the Marines for a joint unit formation. As we were hanging out with some of their NCOs, we noticed that while the majority of the Ecuadorian men were present, ours were nowhere to be found. Eventually, I went to see what was taking our guys so long.

Remember that stream that was just to the rear of the camp? It had rained the previous night and the stream had flooded. It had flooded just about the entirety of the field. Most of the tents had water in them, and the Marines were hastily attempting to dry-out all of there gear, moving it to higher ground. I attempted to cross the stream, hopping from a rock to a piece of wood, when I slipped and fell in, water level up to my knees.


No really, crap.

I'm serious, little brown pieces of poo that waved and said 'Hiiiidey Ho!'

See, just to the north was the 'ass' end of the shrimping village, and what was not visible in the evening light of the previous night was clear to see in the morning. Many, many makeshift outhouses were set up the length of the village, with all 'deposits' free to float down the river, right down to were the Marines had set up. The river flooded it's tiny banks, soaking all the gear in muddy water and... extra mud.

I feel somewhat poetic. (indigestion, perhaps?)

Standing in the softly flowing stream of the early morn',
I dream of my part in future Infantry Lore.
A turd floats into my left boot
Another beautiful day in my beloved Corps...


Snigglefrits said...

Do you write love songs too Murphy? :-P

Chris in SE TX said...

Man, don't take it the wrong way, but I'm glad you've been through some shit, that way, you can write and tell us all about it!!!! Makes for some funny shit, but I'm glad it wasn't me that got to float around all that shit.

(sorry about that, all the puns were fully intended. I just couldn't help this shit)

Please keep your stories going, I can't wait to see what kind of new shit you got yourself into!

Deborah Aylward said...

Funny, but I would have the thought that the smell of said outhouses would have been some sort of...you know...clue!

Guess the Ecuadorans have some pretty good deodorizer, hmmm?

Veritas et Fidelis Semper

P.S. The above is said with MUCH respect, sir. (retreating now)

Hammer said...

They say s*** rolls down hill. I guess it floats downstream as well.

Murphy said...

Snigglefrits: I've got some lyrics here and there.

Chris: I am the living, breathing, definition of that phrase, 'better him than me!'

You know you're having a bad day when you say 'oh, shit' and it's not just a figure of speech

Deborah: No worries, but it was a small base next to a shrimping village, in Ecuador, middla jungle. Guess everything just kinda wafted together.

Hammer: Yup, and it moves in double time if I'm anywhere nearby!