Friday, March 30, 2012

Google Earth and Basic Training

I haven't been back to Fort Jackson, South Carolina since I finished Basic in 1987. I've visited a few times via Google Earth, looking for memories. The barracks building was easy enough, and the site of the church we got frog-marched to because some zealous sergeant wanted to watch a holiday gospel concert. The church isn't there, anymore.

I didn't do it.

It was more of a challenge to find some of the firing ranges way out to the east, places where we spent most of our time when we were learning the M-16, M-60, LAW anti-tank rocket, and grenades. The basic rifle ranges are arranged in a loop. The last time spied around, Google Earth's low-altitude imaging wasn't very good. This time, though, I could see foxhole positions on each firing line, blasted cars and trucks, and bleachers where green trainees are taught the basics of killin' stuff.

But I hadn't been able to find the Big One, where we'd had our "live fire" exercise.

For this one, we had to sit in the bleachers after dark, waiting for our eyes to fully adjust to the night. Then we marched along a dirt road and found our way into a long trench. I was somewhere near the middle.

"You're going to climb this wall and hit the deck," we were told. "If you stand up, one of those M-60's at the other end of the course might take the top of your helmet off, so stay the hell down! There's a barbed wire obstacle--all you have to do is roll over on your back and shimmy under it. Just remember NOT TO STAND UP."

Right around then, the 60's started firing, every 5th round a tracer. A bright red flare rocketed into the sky and burst, casting its light on everything (so much for night vision).

Showtime! We went up over the wall, yelling and crawling in the dirt. I could see a low line of sandbags ahead of me. There was a flash and a gut-liquefying BOOOM that earplugs didn't do much about. Those of us near those damn sandbags crabbed sideways in case those ball-breaking bastards set off another blast.

Stay low, keep crawling, rifle slung across my forearms...there's the BOOOM barbed wire (shit! there's another sandbagged pit to the right, so the guys on that end of the line get to crap themselves this time). My knees and elbows felt sandpapered. Stay low...keep crawling. Damn helmet kept riding down my forehead.

No idea how long it took to negotiate the course. It always seems like forever. Everything distilled down to staying low and crawling, ignoring the sand working its way down my sleeves and grinding into my knees. I could see the towers from which the machine guns were firing--and then I was past them, getting to my feet and leaving the course.

I never laid eyes on the place again until last night, when I finally found it in Google Earth. Not as big as it had seemed from a worm's-eye view:

(click to largify)

It's only 200 feet wide and 600 feet long; the starting trench is about 200 feet up from a long, high pile of red dirt (the bullet catcher); the three sandbag-ringed pits, zigzagged obstacles, and machine gun towers stand out much better in daylight.

I got a chuckle out of one detail in the picture: from the trench line, you can clearly see a few dozen belly tracks. It looks like quite a few trainees headed for that middle pit only to have it blow up on them--you can even see where they damn near backtracked to get around the thing.

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