Ain’t Released Me Yet
Memoirs of a REMF
Copyright© 2016 by Robert B. Martin, IV
All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without express written permission from the copyright owner, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review or scholarly journal. I have attempted to recreate events, locales, and conversations from my memories of them.
Bivouac and the Hole that Wasn’t There
“They [the Gods] had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor.” ............Albert Camus
In the sixth week of our training we marched out of the company area at the beginning of a three-day bivouac. This would allow us to put into practice many of the skills that we had learned during the preceding weeks. Those three days included an entire day at the close combat range, sharpening our hand-to-hand and bayonet skills, in addition to learning and practicing camouflage. The remainder of the daylight hours were spent marching over the many miles of dirt roads that meandered through the woods and hills surrounding Ft. Leonard Wood. We had seventy-one thousand acres of the Mark Twain National Forest in the Missouri Ozarks in which to march and crawl around during those three days of “playing Army.” One of the nights I wrote a letter home saying, “They have taught me how to eat, sleep, live, think, and fight like a soldier, but I’m still a civilian at heart.”
Another day of the bivouac was spent practicing infantry squad tactics, maneuvering and advancing in small groups of six men while firing at the enemy (targets). This particular range was three-hundred meters long and included obstacles over which six trainees at a time advanced on-line (abreast), negotiating the obstacles as a team. We were firing live ammunition, 7.62mm NATO rounds, at man-sized targets that were popping up ahead of us as we climbed over, crawled under, or otherwise overcame the obstacles in our path. It was very important to remain abreast of the other team members to avoid being shot in the back by someone who had fallen behind. The DI’s walked behind us, “encouraging” us while at the same time making sure that no one fell behind. This part of the training was actually quite fun. It was like playing army back home as a kid.
It wasn’t until after dark on the first day that we finally stopped to make camp. The DI’s instructed us to pair off and dig two-man fighting holes in front of our two-man tents before resting or taking care of any other needs. The hole was to be four- to five-feet deep, about four-feet wide, and about three-feet from front to back. There was to be a one-foot high earthen step at the bottom of the hole. The step would allow a soldier to stand high enough to easily aim and fire his weapon at the bad guys. It would also keep him from standing or sitting in water if it rained. We would have to dig out fifty to sixty cubic feet of dirt to make the hole big enough. Sixty cubic feet is equivalent to ten wheelbarrow loads. That would require a lot of digging, even with two men working. It didn’t help that the ground was frozen in addition to the entire campsite being extremely rocky.
My partner and I dug in the dark for and after what seemed like hours had only managed to dig a hole about two feet deep. It was much too dark to see how the rest of our platoon was coming along with their holes. As usual, during a night exercise, no lights or fires were allowed. We couldn’t even see the dirt we were digging. We were bone-tired and began to realize that at the current rate, we would still be digging at sunrise. Then it hit me. If I couldn’t see the dirt, then neither could the DI. And if the DI couldn’t see the dirt he couldn’t see our hole! We decided to take a big risk and trick him into thinking that our hole was deep enough. We piled as much debris, dead limbs, and dirt as we could find around our pitiful little hole in order to build up the sides as much as possible. Then we knelt on our knees in it and waited for the DI to make his rounds. It was imperative to make the DI think we were standing in a four- to five-foot deep hole. If the DI had a flashlight we would be in deep shit. We were beginning to worry about our decision when the DI suddenly appeared to check on our progress. It was too late to do anything else but pray. Fortunately, he was observing the blackout rules and not using a flashlight. He knelt in front of us, barely able to make us out in the dark. It looked like our plan had an excellent chance of success. He assumed we were standing in a hole that was five feet deep instead of kneeling in a hole that was only about two feet deep. Who would dare do such a thing? He congratulated us on digging such a fine fighting-hole. Our plan had worked. I added another personal victory to my “win column.” It looked like we would get a little sleep that night after all.
However, there wouldn’t be much sleep that night as we had thought. We were on “50% Alert” during bivouac, which meant one of us had to stand guard while the other slept in the tent. Reveille was in about six hours so we would each sleep for three hours and stand guard for three hours. Our exhaustion coupled with the temperature being in the ‘teens made it very difficult to remain awake while on guard duty. I remember thinking it should be about time to wake my partner for guard duty but when I checked the fluorescent watch face I would see that only ten or fifteen minutes had passed since the last time I checked the watch. I had to pinch myself, assume uncomfortable positions, talk (quietly) to myself, and drink water so that my bladder would be uncomfortably tight. I would have been in a world of hurt if found sleeping on guard duty. That would not have been looked lightly upon, even in a training situation.
The next day was March 13, my 25th birthday. At mail call I received a homemade birthday cake from either my mom or Carol Ann, I just can’t remember which. I sliced it with my bayonet and being a very smart trainee, first offered some to our DI’s before my buddies and I finished it off. It was then that SGT Floyd Dunagan asked, “How old are you?”
“Damn,” he replied. “You’re an old man. What are you doing here?”
That was a very good question. It seemed that I was older than most of the trainees and DI’s.
During the days on bivouac we trudged along a dirt road in two single-file columns, one on each side of the road. We maintained a “combat interval” of about fifty feet between each trainee so we were quite strung out up and down the road. In class we had been instructed to dive into the ditch and return fire in a “superior manner” if ambushed. In other words, fire back whether you could see your attackers or not. The theory was that by returning fire, even if not accurate, the attackers would duck, causing them to momentarily cease, or at least decrease, their fire. At that time, we were then to jump out of the ditch and charge the ambush “using superior firepower to overwhelm and kill the enemy.”
So there we were, tired and sore, marching down a dirt road somewhere in the National Forest, probably daydreaming and wishing we were someplace else. All of a sudden an M-60 machine gun began its loud, distinctive chatter. We were being ambushed!
We immediately fell into the ditches, where everyone was probably quite content to stay and take a load off. The DI’s had instructed us not to jump out of the ditch and charge the ambush as we had been taught. It wasn’t a REAL ambush and the machine gun was only firing blanks. However, after about six weeks of training one tends to get a little cocky. Three or four of us decided to have some fun by crawling out of the ditch and sneaking around behind the ambush. We slithered off through the brush and managed to crawl up behind the ambush without being seen. The ambush party was none other than our Company Commander, CPT Spacek, who was acting as gunner, and a couple of DI’s. They looked like they were having a great time with the M-60 and they seemed to have a ton of blank ammo for the weapon. We slipped up a bit closer, not worrying too much about them hearing us because the noise of the machine gun would cover any noise we made. Once we felt we were close enough, we jumped up and charged out of the bushes yelling, “Bang! Bang! Bang!” (we had not been issued any blank ammunition so we had to improvise) and “overpowered the ambush with superior firepower and surprise,” killing them all (well, we would have if it had been real)! We were so proud of ourselves. We had made the training work by overcoming the enemy and carrying the day. We were grinning from ear to ear. We couldn’t understand why the captain and DI’s were so pissed off at us. I guess our laughing didn’t help our cause very much. They stomped around and screamed that we were not supposed to do that. Funny, I didn’t remember that rule. There were obviously too many rules involved with war. We tried to remind them of our training but they chased us back to the company. I believe that some of the training was actually beginning to work even if our instructors didn’t seem to realize it. This was another personal victory to add to my total. I do believe that this attitude of mine helped me get through BCT.
The march continued until late in the afternoon when we stopped and were allowed to rest a while and eat hot chow that had been trucked out to us. After chow, we marched another ten miles to our new camp site for the last night of bivouac. Before I had time to find my buddy and get a tent erected a truck drove up and within a few minutes I received word to report to the DI. That couldn’t be good. It turns out that I was one of four trainees scheduled for KP (Kitchen Patrol or Kitchen Police) the next day back at the battalion mess hall. The truck had come to take us back to our barracks because KP began very early in the morning. We would sleep in our bunks that night instead of on the cold ground. We still didn’t make it to bed before midnight and had to get up at 0330 hours (3:30 AM) to report for KP at 0400 hours (4:00 AM). I scrubbed pots, pans, and garbage cans until 2030 hours (8:30 PM).
Once the four of us were finished with KP we returned to the barracks to find the rest of the company back from bivouac and in the process of cleaning gear before putting it away. I still had to clean my gear. It would be another late night.
Continued in Chapter 16, Under Fire and Final Qualifications…