During January 2010, record-breaking, snarling, freezing blizzards blew through the Washington, DC area. During that time I was outside at a facility downstate Virginia training for deployment to Afghanistan. Operative words here are “freezing” and “outside.”
As in at 67 years of age I had to compete out in that raw weather against kids a third my age.
For my M-4 rifle qualifying test I used a back brace thingee tightened so tight I could barely breath, and because of my old age aches and pains I took 800 mg of Ibuprofen and two Alleves. Braced up like I was, with clothing on to beat the cold, I couldn’t get in the prone, so they let me do that position kneeling against a support. Still it wasn’t easy, but tightened up, bundled up, “Alleved” up – despite the fact that the wind was blowing numbing cold against my face - I passed. I don’t know by how much, but they said I passed, so I don’t care how much.
Had defensive driving training next, which was your basic Disney “A” ride. Crashing cars, doing wheelies, backing up through barricades at full speed, four tire slides. Things going bang all the God damn time. Cars coming out of nowhere trying to T-bone you. It was just so frigging cold and there was so much ice everywhere, it was like roller derby in a hockey rink.
And finally hand to hand… but with rules of engagement such as they are in Afghanistan, ours was “politically correct” hand to hand. Not Marine, “Die you worthless bastard,” hand to hand. It was more like sensitivity training.
We had a drill where we went individually into this semi dark, cold room, carrying our paint-bullet loaded Glocks at high port, and standing on an X, they put a large canvass hood on us that fell to our shoulders, completely covering our heads. It was tied to a rope that went up through a pulley and then off to the side where one of the instructors would, on order, yank it up and away.
And yea, you’re right, it was like we were in training to get hung.
Finally it was my time. I was led in this room, to the X, the hood was lowered and I stood there, waiting. I knew when the hood was yanked, I had to assess the situation and react appropriately.
Very, very quickly, I was going to have decisions to make and things to do. Here was not a situation where doing nothing was the right thing.
I knew the people I could hear moving around were bundled like you see people training attack dogs. They were going to have all this padding and armored vests – and their heads were going to be covered with hooded masks not unlike firemen wear, only bigger. Ghoulish looking. I was going to have 16 iterations of sudden meetings with these characters. Some dressed like women, others like terrorist, some up close, others off in the distance in the semi dark room. Some with guns, some with baby dolls, some with knives, some with food, some with fake dynamite.
Standing there, waiting on the X, I had clear flashbacks to Vietnam and I tensed. I instinctively bend my legs and went to the balls of my feet in anticipation. The body was on fight or flee alert.
Sweating even in the cold, I said to myself, it’s just training. Hoods goin’ come off, I’m goin to assess the situation and react. Anything happening in Afghanistan is very much in the news. They said don’t do anything, even though there are only fractions of a single second to decide, don’t do anything that could be interpreted as offensive to innocent civilians. They aren’t expecting a wild man here. Goin’ be easy.
But still, it’s seems to be taking forever… OK, OK, let’s go. I’m ready, Glock at the ready, cold
- and they suddenly yank the hood off and there were two guys very close, lunging at me. So I struck out and hit the face mask of the closest with my gun and then the other and they went down – I mean it’s easy the first time, right? – they go down after I strike them once.
Next? When suddenly engaged by bad guys in whatever way, one smart first thing to consider is to get separation, as in RUN AWAY.
Not me, in that cold, semi dark room, my mind went on automatic and I “shot” the role players – who had caused me such angst moments before – with my paint-filled bullets. One, then the other, and the instructor said, “OK, let’s stop here and review. Why didn’t you run away after you knock them down? And I said OK, next time.
So I moved back to the X, they lowered the hood on me again, people moved around in the room, they yanked the hood off, one guy lunged at me from 3 feet away, so I dropped him with a quick slap to his helmet and he’s lying there on the floor and I just instinctively shot him. And the instructor said, “No, No, No. Run. Don’t shoot.”
I put out my hands, like I couldn’t help it. “You’re right,” I said, my shoulders sagging, “OK, OK, OK, let’s do it again.”
They passed me on hand to hand, but my attitude was noted. But, I’m just saying, at 67, I can’t run fast. And apparently survival skills from Vietnam don’t go away.
I shot ever person in the room every time they yanked the hood.