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.
Under Fire and Final Qualifications
“You want me to do something... tell me I can’t do it.” .........Maya Angelou
The infiltration course training was also during the sixth week. We had to suffer through a three-hour march to reach the course. The course was two hundred and fifty meters (over two and a half football fields) long with miles of barbed wire strung about two feet above the ground. The course had been watered down and was sloppy with mud and ice to make sure it wasn’t too easy. I was wearing all of my combat gear, including steel helmet, field pack, web gear, full canteen, first aid kit, gas mask, bayonet, and carrying my M-14 rifle. The course began in a concrete trench at one end. At the other end were .50 caliber machine guns firing live rounds just above the wire (and our heads), close enough to reach up and touch. I crawled out of the trench, rolled onto my back, and began “slithering” under the wire towards the machine guns while live rounds zipped over me. I crawled on my back so I could see the barbed wire and keep myself from being caught in it. It would be very difficult to reach behind and disentangle yourself should you manage to get snagged on the wire while crawling on your stomach. Two hundred and fifty meters was going to be a long way to crawl on my back with .50 caliber rounds passing a couple of feet above my head.
Obstacles were scattered generously over the length of the course so that crawling in a straight line was impossible. There were also “detonation pits,” which were three to four feet wide and about six to twelve inches deep in the half-frozen muck. These pits were to be avoided at all costs. Explosive charges in the pits were detonated remotely to simulate mortar rounds exploding. There was no shrapnel, of course, but the ice, mud, and water that rained down from these explosions was bad enough. I cradled my rifle across my chest in a futile attempt to keep it out of the mud. I don’t remember how long it took me to make it to the other end, but it seemed like an eternity.
The next day we repeated the three-hour march back to the course after sundown so that we could experience the course in the darkness. It was much colder than it had been during the daytime. Every fifth round from each machine gun was a red tracer round that could be seen as it streaked by overhead. It was very noisy with the explosions and constantly firing machine guns. However, I don’t remember being cold once I started crawling. It was a big relief when I reached the end of the course.
During our seventh week of training, on Thursday March 27, 1969, I was one of sixty-four trainees from our company selected for M-16 rifle familiarization and qualification. All sixty-four of us were scheduled to attend advanced training in one of the combat arms (infantry, artillery, combat engineers, armor, or aviation). Many of those trainees not selected could have been NG’s and would receive their training back home during one of their monthly weekends of duty.
This part of our training lasted two days and included a trip to a “typical Vietnamese village.” We were trucked the four miles out to the village but had to march back to the barracks each day. As usual it was very cold with a little blowing snow, occasional freezing rain or sleet, and we were outside all day on both days. I wrote home, “It snowed a little yesterday, rained a little, and was cold as hell most of the day, and I was out in it all day at the range.”
The M-16, at seven-point-two pounds, was significantly lighter than the twelve-pound M-14. The magazine capacity of both weapons was twenty rounds but their calibers differed. The M-14 fired the 7.62mm NATO round and the M-16 fired the smaller 5.56mm NATO round. Although the M-16 round was of a smaller diameter, its muzzle velocity was greater than that of the M-14, supposedly making up for its smaller size. This was demonstrated by an instructor firing one M-16 round at a watermelon (simulating someone’s head). The watermelon exploded sending bits and pieces of melon flying in all directions.
Unlike the M-14, the M-16 could be fired with the selector on full automatic. The M-16 was slowly replacing the M-14 as the Army’s standard issue rifle. It was the weapon I would be issued in Vietnam.
I found that I was able to shoot more accurately with the M-16, probably due to its lighter weight and reduced recoil (kick). The weather was similar to what I had experienced during my qualification on the M-14, yet this time I qualified for the Expert badge with the M-16. Yes! I felt as though I had redeemed myself for my lousy shooting during the M-14 qualification.
I don’t remember much about the “Vietnamese village.” As I said, we were trucked out to it where we dismounted and walked through it. I can’t remember any specifics so it must have made no lasting impression on me. But it wouldn’t be too much longer before I would see more Vietnamese villages than I really cared to.
At the end of the seventh week of training we would find out if the rigorous physical training (aka, “torture”) had paid off. We had performed hundreds, probably thousands of pushups and sit-ups. We had walked and run well over a couple of hundred miles. We had endured agony on the horizontal ladder. We had run hundreds of yards carrying a man over our shoulders. Our strength, stamina, and endurance would be put to the test and those not passing would be recycled and get to do it all over again.
There were five parts to the PT qualification test but I only remember four of them. Those were push-ups, sit-ups, the horizontal ladder, and the mile run. The maximum number of points per test was one hundred; therefore, five hundred was the highest possible score. A minimum score of three hundred was required to pass. The number of points scored per test was based upon how many push-ups or sit-ups you could do, how far you could go hand-over-hand on the horizontal ladder, and how fast you ran the mile.
The weather was still freezing but a tent with a wood-burning stove had been set up for us to wait in until it was our turn to be tested. We were fully dressed (boots, fatigues, field jacket, and pyle cap) and that’s how we took the PT test. (Note: Trainees in today’s Army run and do PT in shorts, T-Shirts, and running shoes.)
I don’t remember my score. All I cared about was that I had passed and would not have to do it again.
Continued in Chapter 17, The End is Near…