04 September 2012
Day two of Ground Sign Awareness (GSA) training has just come to a close. Before I get cracking on tonight’s homework assignment, here comes a quick, unedited dispatch. Please excuse the roughness. Time is limited.
Today started with a short written test about yesterday’s lessons and last night’s homework. After the quiz, there were a few hours of classroom instruction on the elements of sign, and what affects sign, such as weather, time, terrain, and spoor. Spoor is a Dutch word, and for purposes of our instruction, spoor is caused by animals and bugs. After that, we headed to the field and began numerous ground exercises.
Out at the training area, we had another written quiz. The six Norwegian Soldiers all are veterans, and most with at least a half dozen tours in places like Afghanistan. Their English is excellent and so in addition to learning more about tracking and GSA, this is a good lesson on Norway itself. Recently, I read that more Norwegians (descendents) live in the United States than in Norway. Norway is a fairly large and rich country with few people. Wild country is bountiful. The place is madly beautiful and equally expensive!
Believe it or not, the Norwegians actually have unions in the military, as do some other European countries. That’s probably a wild thought for Americans, but this ain’t America!
Some countries take tracking and GSA more seriously than others. For instance, the Aussies are said to be deadly serious about it. The Norwegian Soldier in the above image was taking the second quiz when this image was made.
Norway has a great deal of wildlife, including gobs of moose. Many are on this base but so far all we have seen are lots of tracks. This base is busy. Today they were parachuting in winds that I think our military might not parachute in unless there is combat. I might be wrong on that, but the winds were a bit gusty for my parachuting taste. (Not that I still parachute.)
The sky alternated between sunny and cloudy. The clouds make tracking a little more difficult. We ran several courses today, two of which were to spot IEDs or other items. On the first course I got nine out of ten, which is what most guys got. Strangely, we all seemed to miss one, but we missed different ones. I was a little upset with the one I missed; it probably was the easiest item of the bunch. If it were real, I’d be dead. Nine out of ten might seem good, but we are talking bombs.
One of the Norwegians is colorblind. Oddly, of the nine of us, he might be the sharpest eye of the bunch. (I will ask him more tomorrow, and watch more closely.) He spots things very quickly. Today, I went through two of the lanes with an active duty U.S. Marine “Gunny”. He’s done six combat tours and managed to get shot in Iraq. He also is very good at spotting things. For me, this is about writing and preparation for US/Mexico, etc., but for all these guys, it really is about combat. And not theoretical combat.
At the end of every day, we will visit what is called an “aging stand.” All serious trackers keep these things. Age is the most difficult aspect to determine. In some conditions, ground sign literally can last for years. In other conditions, only minutes, and even for expert trackers (which I am not), aging can be very, very difficult to determine. And so they keep aging stands, in which every day they add various food items that the quarry might be using (such as food that aliens might bring across our southern border), paper items, the types of cigarettes they smoke, feces (yes, a soldier has to volunteer for the sample), and so on. And so then every day, you check the aging pit and add more items, so that when you get on the track you have an idea what the current conditions are doing to the items your quarry typical creates or discards.
After that, we did more IED awareness. The instructors buried an IED (not a live one) two days ago, and other yesterday, and one today. The IEDs are all close to each other in the same soil. Interestingly, the bomb from 48 hours ago was super easy to spot. The weather had caused the disturbed soil to settle, and there is no way on earth you could miss it. This also happens in Afghanistan where an older emplacement might settle, and the earth kind of caves down a bit. The IED the instructors buried 24 hrs ago was a little harder to spot, but still easy. The one they buried today was actually hardest to spot, though we still could spot it.
The fact is, in Afghanistan, most of the IEDs are put in at night, and many or most of the emplacers are kids. (The Taliban makes kids do it because they know our guys won’t shoot the kids.) Well, when little kids spend 30-60 minutes putting in IEDs, they make a mess, and you can spot it, if you are ground sign aware.
The students in this course have so much war experience that their break time stories can be as interesting as the class. A Marine who retired this year said the Taliban would actually wound kids, just so a Taliban could act like the kid’s dad and get a recon of our bases. So they wound the kids and bring them to our bases for treatment. I have seen them do this many times (bring to our bases for treatment), but have been unaware that Taliban might be wounding them.
The retired Marine said the Taliban even shot one kid in the lower leg just to get on one of our bases. He also told a funny combat story. Apparently the Marines were in some kind of firefight, I don’t know, but they had a 60mm mortar up on the roof of an Afghan house. Many people reading this will have spent a lot of time on the muddy Afghan roofs, and so you can imagine where this is going. They had the mortar set up and fired and the base plate shot right through the roof and was gone! The whole mortar fell through the roof into a room below, and so one of the Marines ran over to get it and the door was locked, so he shot off the lock and grabbed the mortar.
I’ve got homework to do. Good night, and good tracking.
P.S. The company running this training: http://www.pencari.co/p/h/Home//21/