Last week, Brad Warthen was nice enough to invite me as his guest for the night infiltration exercise at Fort. Jackson. It was important not to be late, since we were all guests of the commanding general, Major General John "Pete" Johnson, and when a Major General is your host, you don't show up late.
I picked up Brad especially early, since he, like Stephen Maturin, often gets sidetracked when trying to get out the door. I helped him along, and we made it to Ft. Jackson without incident. I saw a few friends, including Shaun and Allison Cranford, and the other Mr. Caskey, Micah Caskey. If you don't know Micah, he's a great guy. I'm so proud that he's in the Statehouse, and I expect big things from him...but I digress.
In any event, the event was about 160 soldiers who were in their sixth week of training. Basic training lasts ten weeks, so these are soldiers who are transitioning from being yelled at by authoritarian drill instructors to being taught things by these same drill instructors, in more of a mentor manner. The soldiers had to craw about 75-100 yards through dense, difficult sand in almost no light. Machine guns were shooting over the top of them with live rounds, and they also simulated artillery rounds with explosions in buried boxes.
The video is what I shot with my camera's video function looking through the night vision optics that the General was kind enough to provide to us civilians. You can see the tracers of the machine gun rounds impacting on the berm behind the soldiers crawling low.
It was a wonderful demonstration of how the Army can take regular civilians and who volunteer and turn them into soldiers. We got to hear from the soldiers afterwards, and it was inspiring to hear about why they volunteered, what they hoped to accomplish, and what they had learned so far in their six weeks.
In General Johnson's lecture beforehand, he made it clear that the competitive advantage the US military has over other armed forces is the training our soldiers receive coupled with the values that the United States has. Our soldiers trust each other, and we (as civilians) trust our armed forces in ways that other countries don't. The values that our citizens bring to the armed forces makes our fighting forces better and stronger. China may have a greater number of soldiers, but they don't have our NCO strength and experience.
All in all, the Night Infiltration Exercise was a wonderful demonstration of the great work they are doing at Ft. Jackson. Everyone here in Columbia should be proud of the great work that takes place right next to our fair city.