A 26 Hour Training Day, Part 2: Night of the Cat, Flight of the Turkeys

Picking up right where I left off with the field training exercise. We were given a surveillance mission. The objective was approximately 5 kilometers away from our insertion point and we were to approach on foot at night. Each of the 4 teams was to take up a different position relative to the target location. The terrain wasn’t super difficult, but did have some changes in elevation both up and down. There were also the thorny bushes, cacti, and rocks.

Chores were delegated out. I volunteered to work on route planning with Matt. I could see that for Matt that was like a fish being thrown into the water. He’s a sharp guy, he’s had some training, and he still does orienteering type stuff for fun. The other guys took care of other aspects of the plan. The team leader put them all together and briefed us and the “command staff” on the entire thing. We briefed it back to ensure that everyone was on the same page.

We began walking in at about 1830. We made good time, and were able to stick to our established route. There were some folks with some good land navigation skills. Matt, not even one of the snipers, was one of the better at this, but Brian was also very good. I felt that this made us a good team because we each had strengths to make up for the other’s weaknesses.

I realized within about the first 100 yards of the walk that I could not realistically hold my NOD to my eye and hold my rifle. I also realized that due to the change in perspective when using the NOD, it was not much easier, if at all, to walk overland with the NODs than it was without. I decided to forego using them unless I needed to see something in particular, or to take security during a stop. I found it very interesting how although my eyes couldn’t see the surface, or much of anything, how I was still able to know enough about the terrain through instinct or intuition to keep myself from falling down a cliff or walking headlong into a mesquite bush. Frequently I would walk right up to the bush and realize it was there within probably inches of contacting it. It seemed that vision has to do with more than just what is taken in by the eyes.

About 2 hours in, one of the snipers said in his thick Mississippi accent, “Y’all, there’s a big cat out there.” A few of the guys were incredulous. He persisted, “I ain’t foolin’ with y’all.  There’s a panther out there.” More incredulity, then someone else saw it. A large cat with a big curved tail about 2/3 the length of its body. It disappeared and we began walking again. Then someone saw it again a few minutes later, walking parallel to our course. It was probably a mountain lion, but they said it looked black. There are supposed to be panthers in Texas, or it’s also possible that it could have been a jaguarundi. I wasn’t really worried about it because it was unlikely to attack so large a group, but it was slightly unsettling. We moved on and didn’t see it again, but about 5 minutes later there was a large ruckus to our left, which just about caused several of us to involuntary lose several pounds of unnecessary waste matter (though it did not!). It was a rafter (not a flock, gaggle, or murder) of wild turkeys taking flight after being disturbed by us. Miraculously, there were no breaks in muzzle or finger discipline despite the scare.

By 2200 we had made it to our forward rally point, and were ready to break up to move into our respective positions. One of the teams would be heading the same way as we were almost up until we were in position. It took about another 2.5 to 3 hours of rather difficult terrain to get close to our position.

When Matt and I reached the position corresponding to where we should be on the map, we realized that we were not even remotely in a position to see the target site. He had been largely responsible in getting us to that point, and I think he was starting to get tired, wanting to get hunkered down for some rest before first light. We started moving closer to the target site. After 45 minutes or so we heard someone coming. We had been told that there were roving patrols, so we hid behind a bush until we identified the sound as coming from the other team operating in the area. They had also found their pre-determined location on the map to be no good. We moved forward together for a bit, then split back up to find new positions.

Matt and I ended up on the top of a small hill approximately 100′ higher than the surrounding terrain. I could see some of the target area. We were both sweaty from our hike and a cold front was heading in (this would be the Texas ice storm that was all over the news). I changed out all my sweaty clothes (the only thing being carried over was the pants) and put thermal underwear on, for a total of thermal tops and bottoms, thick wool socks, Multicam ACU style tops and bottoms, a wool watch cap, and a fleece Cabela’s RealTree pattern balaclava. Changing clothes completely was very cold, but it was brief and the wind dried my skin out almost completely. I also put on heavier gloves for the time being to keep me warm. It was about at this point with the new gloves on that, holding my rifle by the barrel, I suppose my grip wasn’t the same as it had been with nomex gloves, my rifle slipped out of my grip and fell to the rocky ground. That’s generally not good.

I took over the radio from Matt (there were only enough to supply one per team) and began communicating with command while observing what I could see from the target area. Another team used IR lasers to mark the two targets they could see. Initially I could see one marked fairly well through my NODs and one seemed to be slightly obstructed. Later the targets were marked again and I saw nothing. I noticed that there appeared to be a tree partially obstructing our view. The team we had just been linked up with reported that they could see at least 3 targets, and that we could take a position near them that we could use to observe from. Matt was taking a snooze break, so I decided to wake him up and move our location.

Moving wasn’t hard for me, because I was still awake and my gear was still pretty much packed up. Matt was not pleased and decided to cache some of his gear rather than packing it down our little mountain. While moving down the hill, I slipped and fell on my rear. My rifle was kind of half trapped under me, while I held the barrel to my right and tried to keep the muzzle clear of the rocks. Sliding down a rocky hill on top of your rifle is generally not good.

To be continued…


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