Dog Day afternoon
October 17, 2013
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - At 7:59 a.m. the rain was nothing more than a quiet mist born from brooding clouds. Two minutes later it had escalated into a vicious downpour. The squad of soldiers trudging through the weather didn't appear to notice the change. While their uniforms quickly went from damp to drenched, their faces were stoic, their expressions unmoved.
The squad leader screamed out the positions of some imaginary enemy force, and the soldiers bounded down the street in tactical formation to engage the simulated threat.
He continued to shout out different orders and enemy positions. His squad reacted without hesitation or confusion. A faint smile materialized on the squad leader's face.
"Good work!" he shouted. "Take a break!"
The squad of soldiers belongs to the Battery B "Bulldogs," 1st Battalion (155mm Towed), 377th Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Fires Brigade, 7th Infantry Division. Their tactical movement practice was part of a two-day training exercise Sept. 4 and 5, referred to as "The Dog Days," designed to reinforce their basic soldier skills in a short and stressed period of time.
A tough training day is not unusual in the Army. What was unique about the Bulldogs exercise was its intensity coupled with the time frame given to accomplish the training mission.
Multiple events had to be completed across the span of two days, but still conducted within a 24-hour time period, said 2nd Lt. John Adair, a Fairfax, Va., native, and fire directions officer with Battery B.
The reason for the exercise? The 1-377 FA is scheduled to inactivate in October. While inactivating a battalion is a time-consuming mission that demands attention to detail, the soldiers are not throwing in the towel and calling it quits when it comes to training.
Dog Days was an example of how the unit is committed to keeping soldiers trained and ready for any mission, even during the inactivation process, Adair said.
In all, the training consisted of two separate land navigation courses - one designed to be navigated in daylight, the other at night - tactical movement training, and an eight-mile ruck march that integrated situation-specific training like reacting to enemy contact, actively scanning for anything that could be an improvised explosive device, and providing first aid and medical evacuation procedures on personnel simulating injuries, Adair said.
"All in all, it was pretty grueling, but it was really good training," said Sgt. Corey S. McCue, a Simi Valley, Calif., native, and team leader with Battery B.
McCue said overcoming the trials of the exercise built up their confidence in their abilities, but what they benefited from the most was getting through it together.
"My favorite part was the teamwork required, we all banded together. It helped us build some resilience because it pushed us together," McCue said.
While McCue's squad is very practiced at working a howitzer cannon, Dog Days helped them condition their basic soldier skills, he said.
"We're riflemen first," he added, and said all soldiers should be well-versed in basic ground tactics.
The rest of his squad expressed the same thoughts, emphasizing that they need to be prepared for anything.
"[Dog Days] was great training because if it really came down to it, we could be called to do infantry work," said Pvt. Jacob R. Grant, a Flint, Mich., native, and cannon crew member with Battery B.
While the squad understood the importance of the training, it did not make it any easier. The benefit of that was the soldiers were able to recognize how far they can push themselves, said Pfc. Kostas B. Travisano, an East Haven, Conn., native, and cannon crew member with Battery B.
Travisano and others in the squad specifically said the ruck march was the toughest part of Dog Days. The ruck march route was more than eight miles long, and the Soldiers conducted it in full protective gear with packed rucksacks, rifles, medical kits, and machine guns. Tied in with the situational training, such as simulating what they would do upon enemy contact, made the march difficult for the body, but more so for the mind, Travisano said.
"Your mind wants to quit, but you find out your body can keep going," he said.
Grant agreed, saying that pushing through and finishing the march helped him fully realize that part of his job is to be able to stretch past his limits.
Grant and Travisano both said they were glad they finished the training. With their unit scheduled to inactivate, they felt comfortable knowing they could competently conduct basic soldier tactics if their next assignments require them to do so.
Grant added that the Dog Days were bittersweet since it showed him how close he is with his team, but was also one of the last missions he would conduct with them.
"I wish we weren't disbanding because I love [Battery B] and everyone in it," Grant said, but added he would push through and take on his next assignment with the same mindset that got him through the Dog Days.
"I love being in the Army and I'm proud of what I do, that's what keeps me going," he said.