I came to be a Redleg late in my military career. I joined the Alpha Gators in the summer of 1999. I was looking for a new "home" after being bored to tears a second time in the MP Corps. I have a respect for the MP's, but it just wasn't my cup of tea. I do know that as soon as i joined up with Alpha i was welcomed. I had a choice of going into the FDC or out on the gunline. At the time FDC was at 120% strength and i didn't see any room for advancement (having been an E5 for about ten years at that point it was a concern).
My first drill with the Gators was a live fire and it was pouring down buckets. The guys in the section i was assigned to rotated me around to each of the positions so i could get a feel for what they all did. I was put into a section after that drill as a gunner, which may have irritated some of the other assistant gunners because i stepped right in and some of them had been in the unit for a while. Since i like the rain i didn't mind, and besides there were plenty of places to get out of the rain under the net. I still remember Ammo Sergeant talking about how he kept expecting the animals to come out of the woodline two by two. 8)
A little more than two years later came 9-11 and deployments. While we were never deployed according to our MOS, we always had a good Esprit De Corps. It was while we were on active duty together i finally earned my E6 stripes. I remember knowing that unless i passed the APFT there was no way i could make E6. I had not been in very good shape, but i made sure i pushed myself. When i completed the 2 mile run event i was recycling my "lunch" as i ran the last 100 yards. But i passed.
When we finished our tour we went through reintegration training. Meaning we had to "relearn" how to be Artillerymen. It was my time as a Section Chief. "STONEY" was assigned my babysitter as i learned the ropes. The guys made sure i got to keep my first canister - really cool. It is stored away with my other keepsakes for my future "man cave". The most memorable part of this training was when i lost it and let fly a string of expletives. What set me off was the horseplay was beginning to "endanger" (or so i thought at the time) my collimator. That got everyone's attention. You see, by now i had earned a reputation as the unofficial Battery "Chaplin", and that sort of thing was not expected out of me. Some times it still comes out in conversations at our reunions - even seven years later.
After i moved much further away from Armory i chose to stay with them. You see, in the Guard, if you move over a certain distance away from your unit you are allowed to seek out another unit closer to home. But by 2004 i had grown quite attached to the camaraderie there. So, instead of drilling with a unit that was less than ten miles away from my house, i was driving the approximately 80 miles one way to stay with a bunch of guys who all i had in common with (most of) them was we were all Redlegs. I never regretted it.
One advantage i had, in my opinion, over many of the other Section Chiefs until my promotion to E7 in January of 2006, was that i had the same Gunner the entire time, and my Assitant Gunner almost as long. Many a time we would be well understaffed (one memorable AT it was just us 3), and yet would could still get rounds downrange faster than most of the other sections, most of the time ALL of the other sections. It got so that when we went to Section Certification the tester would say begin and i would just stand there and watch too. Even though i was the one being graded. I was being tested on how well i trained my section, and since they were already trained i never had to say anything towards the end of my time as a Section Chief.
Two memorable experiences, which is actually what i was going to blog about the whole time but i am just now getting too, were when we had a missfire (we actually had a few over the years, but one is set apart) and when a nearby unit from our division (The 29th Light Infantry) was folding their flag and were looking for other MOS positions to go to.
I will start with the latter. We were at AT at Fort Pickett, VA. It was a typical steamy Virginia summer day. Open field, blazing sun, no breeze, 90+ degrees with a pretty high humidity level. Anyone who has lived South of the Mason Dixon line, i am pretty sure you know what i am talking about. In rolls a 5-ton truck with about two dozen "kids". All of them E5 and below. Our gunline is "hot" (meaning we were receiving fire missions) and they were all wearing their Kevlar helmets and flak vests. Top brought a third of them under my net and asked me to "show them what the artillery was all about". The first thing i did was had them drop the Kevlar and Flak Vest. One of the guys was visibly nervous. I kindly informed him that if something went wrong it would not help. First, the kill radius of the HE round we were firing was 30 meters. Within that radius i had my current supply of (if memory serves) thirty more rounds of HE. By the time the chain reaction was done, the helmet and vest would not prevent their deaths and they might as well be comfortable in the Virginia afternoon heat. We received a few fire missions and were burning up my ammunition at a decent pace and i was able to talk about various duty positions on the gun when the Ammo Section resupplied each gun with one hundred rounds of either HE or HE and ILLUM rounds. It was then that i got a mischievous grin. The drop was a good fifty meters behind the my position. The only way to get them to my ammo pit was to manhandle each and every one of the eighty plus pounds case. I informed the group that if they learned one thing about artillery it had to be that it was a heavy deal. We proceeded to move every round and i made sure they participated (and drank plenty of water). There was not a dry shirt when all was said and done. I don't think i ever saw anyone of those kids ever again.
The next memory is one that i feel was a major contributor to my eventually being admitted into the Honorable Order of St Barbara (the patron saint of Artillerymen). We were in the middle of a fire mission when we heard the metallic "tink" of the firing pin impacting the canister's primer. We followed the misfire procedures to the letter and the round continued to fail to fire. Finally i sent my section to the rear while my gunner and i (and the Battery's Gunny and Smoke) waited the prescribed amount of time and then began the unloading procedures. As we removed the canister from the breach a wisp of smoke curled heavenward. Our SOP indicates that we furl the canister towards the rear to disperse the powder bags, which helps prevent the ignition train from spreading beyond one or two bags (hopefully). When the bags hit the dirt behind the trails four of the seven bags were smoldering. Top was johnny on the spot and hit them with the fire extinguisher. I believe someone else also tossed some water on them as well. Top, Gunny, and Smoke (and Smoke and Top had been in the Artillery for well over ten years each) said they had never seen a misfire where the powder bags were singed like that. I still have the picture somewhere. I remember lifting up a prayer to thank God for His protection that day. You see, powder bags burn very, very hot. And the flame can reach up several feet at times. This all occurred underneath my cammo-net, which is known to be flammable. Under that net was several more pieces of flammable equipment and more HE rounds. There was the potential for a pretty bad chain reaction of events.
In my twenty two years of service the three proudest moments were when i earned the right to fire a live TOW missile, when i was given the Humanitarian Service Medal (for Hurricanes Katrina and Rita), and when i was admitted into the Honorable Order of St Barbara. All if those things happened while i was performing in a Redleg, or Redleg-like, MOS. It is why i consider myself a Redleg for life, Field Artillery - KING of the Battlefield.
I am grateful for all of my years of service. I hope everyone has a wonderful Memorial Day. Please take a moment to thank those who serve.