A lot of soldiers complain about going out into the field.
A lot of soldiers weren’t 1st Platoon, 1st MPs. A somewhat derisive term for MPs is Mud Puppies. We loved going out there, getting the Humvees dirty, and generally just have a great time.
I was new to the field. I’d been in the Army almost four years, and aside from time out in Basic, AIT, and PLDC, I had almost zero experience out there. I’d recently had enough of working MPI, walked across to street to talk to my friend Captain Scott Price, and told him I was going to be ask to go to a line unit. I said, I’d like to go to work for him.
He and the 1st Sgt. walked over to the Battalion Headquarters and asked for me.
Two months later, we were getting ready to take 1st Platoon out to the National Training Center at Ft. Irwin, California. Ft. Irwin is about a close as you’re going to get to war without actually having a declaration of war. You go out there into the middle of the Death Valley, and you throw down with the local varsity team. We call them the OPFOR (Opposing Forces), and they strutted around in Russian uniforms, used tanks and equipment that had performance characteristics very much like Russian equipment would have, and were some serious players. Having your butt handed to you by them was to be expected. These guys were so good, Patton and Rommel would have had their hands full trying to beat them. Indeed, almost no one beats them first time out.
Of course no one wants to lose to them, so we’d been out with brigade training right alongside them in the vast training regions of Ft. Riley, Kansas. We’d be doing a lot of the same things we’d do out at NTC, but do it here first. The idea was if you’re going to make a mistake, make it here first.
We’d gone out the month before for a week long training scenario, but that was the entire MP company. This would be the first time I worked closely with tanks and such, and would be preforming our real world combat mission. I knew the books, I knew the drills, but I was going to rely heavily on my people to school me in what to do out there.
I was a fast learner. I enjoyed being out there since I knew all these guys. While in MPI, I’d worked closely with all of them when 1st Platoon was working garrison. They all knew I was former cop, and I took every chance to pass on lessons learned.
Now, that was reversed. While in charge, I was also the student. I learning how to do the things they never taught in MP school, like how to put up cameo netting. And I learned how to load a Humvee so you had maximum amount of space.
And being that amateur in the bunch, I also became a bit innovative. We’d developed a tactic where I’d hand an AT-4 up to our gunner, he find his target, and when ready, would tell the driver to stop. We’d scream to a stop, he’d lock onto this target, fire, and we’d get moving (the AT-4 is fire and forget weapon). We’d tried it in practice and it seemed to work and were looking forward to trying it out on Ft. Riley’s home grown OpFor.
In this case, our Opfor was provided by one of our Calvary regiments and another infantry Battalion. They loved sneaking in, shooting up the place, and sneaking out. It was totally annoying.
Along about the middle of week two, we got word that scouts had sighted a company sized element of armor headed our way. The plan for the defense was one I didn’t care for. What the LT did was to give each team a map that he’d marked with several different locations. Each of us was given a location where we were to head to and set up an observation post. We were to watch for the enemy, and then send warning back. From these static positions, we were to engage and defend.
My Friend, Sgt. Richard Kelley didn’t like the plan either. Having come over from Armor to the MPs, he knew that the best defense against armor was movement. A static position would be quickly destroyed by armor. Our LT was new, and I think our Platoon Daddy had cautioned him that wouldn’t work well, but he’d made up his mind.
What I didn’t realize right away (until we were in the thick of things) was that my map had been mismarked. We were proceeding to the point assigned to us, and I’m looking at it thinking this doesn’t make sense. There was a highway that separated the two maneuver fields. All the other teams were to the west of the highway and I was the only unit to the east. Between us was enough space to drive an attack through without being seen. Now in a real war, the highway wouldn’t have mattered but there was no driving a tank across the highway here (it was a civilian highway). We had to use the underpasses that allowed us to go from one side to the other.
The underpasses formed a natural bottleneck, and that would come in handy for us.
So, I’m looking at the map trying to figure this out when all of a sudden my gunner yells, “Tanks, left!”
“What?” I cried.
“Tanks!” he said again, pumping his finger towards the crest of a small hill.
I looked. It was Opfor armor, and we’d run right into it. It was M-113s in an attack line headed hell bent right at us.
“Get us out of here!” I yelled at my driver.
He spun the Humvee around and gunned it in the direction we’d just come while I grabbed for the radio handset to report in. As I was doing that, a voice came over the radio saying that any unit east of this location, if you were there, you were wrong.
He meant us.
I replied, “Tell me about it. We’re being chased by OpFor armor. Copy Sitrep.”
“Go ahead,” the radio said.
“Fourteen!” my gunner shouted down. “I count fourteen M-113s!”
I then radioed where we were, our heading, the number of enemy vehicles, and what they appeared to be doing which was closing rapidly on the Battle Central location to assault it.
We all knew our only chance of not being declared administratively dead was to beat them there, hook up with the rest of our team, and fight them together. I pulled the AT-4 up, and a satchel of simulated rounds.
A quick word about what we were doing here. Each soldier and vehicle were equipped
with what we call MILES gear. This is a series of sensors worn on your chest and helmet. Weapons have a laser emitter on them. When fired (the weapon is shooting blanks), the emitter activates and sends out a beam. If your sensors detect the laser, an ear splitting alarm is started from the sensor pack you’re wearing. This means you’re dead. The way you turn it off is to removed a key from your emitter, and use it turn your sensor array off and stop that alarm. You need to be administratively brought back from the dead, and that involves an officer or a senior NCO with a key that will reset your gear.
Vehicles, our little Humvee included, also have sensors Velcroed on them that will emit a screaming sound. Some setups are rather elaborate and if enough hits are recorded on say a tank, a smoke bomb may go off indicating a kill.
The AT-4 simulator we were using worked on the same principal. We put a charge in it,
and fired it. The charge went off, and that would cause the laser to flash. The M-113s in this case also had a sensor suite that would activate a blue flashing light indicating a kill. In our case, we were eager to try the tactic we’d worked up to see if it would really work, so I was ready to hand it up.
We pulled through the underpass only to find our way blocked.
Division, knowing of the impending attack had mounted what’s called an “Operation Save.” In an Operation Save, about a quarter of the supplies and equipment is loaded up on trucks and moved away from the location. The idea is to provide yourself with enough supplies to move somewhere else and to get started.
The problem was that several rolls of barb wire had been strung across the overpass. this idea was contributed by Kelley who told use wire was the thing tankers hated most. It tended to get tangled up in the tracks, and might even cause a track to be thrown. A military pickup driven by a driver who had brought his seeing eye dog out the field had driven the vehicle right into the wire and it was tangled up in it. Now the convoy was on the side of the road, and even if they had managed to get out, they’d have ran right into the OpFor tanks.
I jumped out, the AT-4 in my hand and the bag of charges around my neck. Several soldiers were standing around the truck with that what the hell do we do now look on their face. It didn’t help when I yelled, “Sargent, get these people into some kind of defensive position! There’s OpFor tanks right behind me!”
The driver of the pickup heard that, slammed the vehicle into reverse, and drove the pickup straight backwards, dragging this big long line of wire behind him. My driver is cool, and he rolls our Humvee forward.
Looking back, we had a pretty good thing going there. The truck and our Humvee would have slowed the OpFor (until they either shoved everything out of the way, or just ran over it – which they wouldn’t have done in training – but combat has different rules). In the meantime we’d have poured it on with everything we had.
No sooner had my driver pulled through, I heard the M-113s coming through the underpass.
“Get her down!” I yelled to him, just as the first came around the small corner. He knew what I meant. Get the Humvee out of the line of fire, find a good place and fight from there, and I’ll try to catch up.
My driver floored it, and turned right to run parallel to the roadway. He was effectively invisible until the tanks cleared the underpass. No sooner had he made the turn, the lead tank opened fire with it’s 50-caliber machine gun.
Like our gear, it was equipped with a MILES laser emitter, and right away the sound of MILES alarms shrieked through the air.
I was right in the way, my alarm hadn’t gone off, and I didn’t fancy being ran over by a tank. I turned and ran up onto the embankment. Now I’m above the Opfor tanks, watching them pass under me. It took a second for me to realize I was in a perfect tactical position. I had an anti-tank weapon, four rounds, and in a short amount of time, I could do a lot of damage to them.
I put the AT4 to my shoulder, aimed, and fired the first round. The charge went off, activating the laser. Instantly the blue “I’m dead light” started flashing on one of the tanks. I reloaded, and fired again. another blue light, and then a third.
I was on my last round, loaded, and fired. A fourth light started flashing. Out of ammo, I looked around for my team. My driver had found an almost perfect place with the vehicle well protected, and with just the machine gun sticking up. My gunner was firing at the tanks as were soldiers in the convoy.
I slung the weapon over me and started running towards my team.
I’d ran maybe a hundred yards when I heard someone yelling at me. Looking I saw an OC (Think an exercise referee). He had a white band around his helmet, and he had the “God Gun.” Since we were wearing miles gear, if an OC decided you’d done something really stupid, they could point the gun at you, pull a trigger, and your miles alarm would go off meaning you were dead.
My first thoughts were, “Crap, he’s going to kill me!”
I ran over, reported, and the OC (an Infantry major) sticks out his hand and says, “God dammit, Sargent. That’s the best tactical maneuver I’ve ever seen anyone pull.”
Of course I meant to do that. I thanked him, and ran onto my team.
We soon joined the rest of my Platoon, and we raised living hell with them. One of the advantages we had was Sgt. Kelly knew the M-113 forward backwards and upside down. He knew it’s blind spots, and how to approach it with out being seen. In several cases we were able to take out the gunner, and silence their offensive capability. it was a straight forward take out of the tank at that point.
Of the fourteen vehicles in the assault, not a one escaped. My team killed four of them, Sgt. Kelly another three, and we all just took the rest of them on.
For all that, we lost one team. Fortunately, it wasn’t real, so 24 hours later, they came back from the dead.
Our LT had seen that static fights don’t work well in the mobile battle field, and he labeled what we’d done “The Swarming Bee Defense.” That exactly what we’d done. We hit, we stung (and killed), and moved on to the next one.
Afterwards, the OC and the OpFor CO sat down for the after action review with us. The small convoy on the side of the road was deemed administratively dead, so we couldn’t use those troops or vehicles. They all admitted that had this been a real fight, we’d have won it hands down. The OpFor CO felt that we’d (the MPs) so rattled them with our constant attacks, that they were just to busy just trying to defend themselves against an enemy that refused to sit still and die.
Only one track came even close to the Battle Central and it was to busy trying to stay alive to do much more.
Many of us got commendations out of the practice engagement, which while appreciated, just reinforced the notion that the greatest stuff I ever did went unrecognized while the little stuff is what I got medals for.
It still was still some of the most fun I’ve ever had out in the field.