I'm sitting in the back of an up-armored open bed truck looking up at the stars. Behind me trails a long convoy of HMMWVs, unapologeticly taking up half of the inter-state as we cruise along at 45MPH. In my truck the seats are packed so that there is a bunch of guys sitting nut to butt along the floor. Towards the cab I notice one of the candidates leaning up against the spare tire, taking a nap. He's been to field training before and he knows what's coming. Sitting just in front of me is one of the teams SGTs, humming some old folk rock song and smiling oddly. I pick up the tune and we both smile.

"I thought that one would be too old for you, Tag."

"Hell no SGT, that's my ****."

I'm pumped. After all the horror stories we had been hearing about field training over the last few months, I was mentally ready for whatever came. Almost to the point of giddiness, I wanted to take on the challenge. I thought of those war movies, specifically band of brothers, when the unit is seen sitting in the back of a half ton going off somewhere, shooting the **** to cover up their trepidation. Then I think about which character I would be. Probably the guy who is all gung-ho to get into it, the guy who doesn't know any better and ends up getting killed because he thinks it's a game. Like that jackass in the new Startrek movie that pulled his shoot too late.

Walking through the woods early that afternoon, the sun is shining at a comfortable temperature with a light breeze that rustles the trees in a very pleasing way, shifting my attention away from the task at hand and to the sounds of the forest, birds singing, insects buzzing and critters scurrying. I hold my face up to the sun, take a deep breath and smile as I return my senses to my compass, check my heading and step off towards my objective. Im land navigating by foot, alone using a method known as dead reckoning - walking a strait line, deviating as little as possible so that I stay on heading for the full 2-3km. People that are good at this just barrel through any vegetation in their path, vines and thorns ignored, moving only to avoid large trees, upshot being they tend to walk right out onto their finish point in no time at all.

Today, though, was too nice a day for me to get all caught up in thick bush and have my face slashed by the insidious Florida thorn vines, those ghostly white strings of malice that grow at one of two heights, at your shins just thick enough to trip you, or at your face and neck, just sparse enough to not be seen until you are being choked and lacerated. No, I would take the easy paths, going around any obstacle so that I may properly enjoy my happy time away from instructors and stress and pain. When I get to the creek that marks the near end of my walk, I take the time to drop my ruck, slip off my boots and socks, and wade through the shallow, cool water with my toes gripping the fine grain sand. Feels good, man. Plenty of time to reach my point, I am in no hurry at all to climb the incline ahead of me that leads out of the creek and necessarily to the road that is one of the boundaries I had set up. All I had to do when I walked out onto this road was to go back into the woods a ways and follow it until I hit another, intersecting road which would mark my finish point. And so I found myself at an intersection, calling in to base camp on the radio net so that an instructor could come and pick me up, a full hour under the time limit. I found a good tactical position behind a large tree and some concealing bush, with eyes on the intersection, and ate a snack from one of my MREs while I re-applied my face paint and waited for the HMMWV to arrive.

Back with my platoon, we had established a patrol base and were digging in. I was assigned one of the gun positions at a corner of the equilateral triangle that framed our base. Digging the fighting position took about an hour. Without much thought I pointed out how similar in depth and shape it was to a grave. My buddy looked at me blankly and kept digging. Soon instructors showed up and called us to the center of the base. They started to brief us on the coming night while chow was passed out. There would be a violent thunderstorm with torrential downpours and possibly hail. Tonight would be our first night navigation. The lead instructor told us not to be pussies, but if it got really bad we should drop our radio and gear, which acted like a supercharged lightning rod, and get safely away from it to wait out the worst. I guess well see what happens. he said.

IMG credits www2.hurlburt.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123248664