Story and photos by SFC Anthony Alessi
NORTHERN TRAINING AREA, Okinawa – 58th Signal Battalion sent 29 soldiers to train for a week in the field at the U.S. Marine Corps’ Jungle Warfare Training Center here. They attended the jungle-skills course along with seven 1/1 Special Forces Group soldiers, training and bivouacking with 170 Marines also attending the course. The soldiers and Marines learned and performed skills such as rappeling, land navigation, patrolling, boobytraps and jungle survival.
A big highlight for 58th Signal Battalion’s soldiers was training with and firing their M-16A2 weapons, using equipment known as "special effects, small-arms marking system." A special upper receiver, bolt-carrier group and magazine were fitted on each weapon. With SESAMS, plastic bullets filled with an incandescent pink dye are fired with a maximum effective range of 150 feet. SESAMS leaves the "wounded" soldier with an unmistakable pink mark and a usually a small welt.
"I learned how important it is to keep together (as a team) under fire," said 58th’s SPC Everett Maynard at week’s end.
"Rappeling was the most exciting thing we did," he recalled. "It was also the scariest. Getting to the edge is the hard part, but once you get going, it’s fun."
During survival training, soldiers learned to field-kill animals and forage for food in the jungle. After an initial demonstration, students killed, cleaned and ate four chickens. Instructors warned that a chicken’s gall bladder would contaminate the meat if it burst while students cleaned the bird. The group cooked the chickens over an open fire by placing them on a stick and covering them with coffee cans. After 15 minutes of cooking, the chickens were passed around to eat.
Instructors also went through the motions of demonstrating how to kill a goat with a sharpened stick and a rock but stopped short of actually killing the animal.
Ending the week was a grueling squad endurance course, which combined many of the skills learned throughout the week. The course is 3.4 miles long and winds up and down the mountainous jungle terrain. It’s full of obstacles like hasty rappeling, mud and water crossings, rope bridges and a "slide for life."
The course’s last mile is the hardest. Soldiers construct a field litter out of battle-dress-uniform tops and tree branches. Then they must carry the heaviest person in their squad through the last mile of the course. They carry the soldier to the stopping point, consisting of a fire-hose washdown of soldiers, clothes and equipment.
One of the JWTC instructors, SGT Randall Turner, said the Army teams "stayed motivated all the way to the end of the course.
"Usually, nine out of 10 times, the groups we have out here haven’t worked together as a team," added Turner. "They may work in the same building, but they haven’t had to rely on each other."
The whole course is all about teamwork. The endurance course is one of those life-changing experiences or challenges. It is sheer mind over matter. The course pushes you to your limits.
SFC Alessi is assigned to 58th Signal Battalion.
|PFC Joshua Winfree maneuvers across a two-strand-cable wire crossing.|
|SSG Kevin Martin (center left) completes the final phase of the endurance course litter carry.|
|PFC Tyrone Packnett surfaces after completing a submerged muddy-water obstacle.|
|A 58th Signal Battalion soldier rappels down a 100-foot sheer-faced cliff.|
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