I spent this year's two week drill for the Army Reserves going to the "Primary Leadership Development Course" or PLDC as we like to call it in the Army. It is a required training course if you want to become a sergeant. The course was held at Fort Lewis in Washington, just south of Seattle.
Over the last five years, I had gotten used to the more relaxed attitudes at my Reserve units, the 728th & 478th Transportation Companies at Camp Pendleton so it was a bit of a shock getting back into harsh training mode at Fort Lewis. The instructors weren't official Drill Sergeants with the recognizable hats, but they made up for it by being tougher. While Basic Training had the tough physical challenges, PLDC was much more mentally stressful with any mistake as a reason for them to send you home early as a failure.
One of the biggest things you learn in Basic Training is how to follow commands and march in Drill & Ceremony. In PLDC it gets tougher as you have to learn how to lead a platoon of your fellow soldiers around the parade field without embarrassing yourself or marching them straight into a wall. We had to do a lot of practicing, each of us taking turns marching alongside and shouting the correct commands. Another thing we had to learn was how to lead a Physical Training (PT) session, considering how much PT we do in the Army it is pretty important. I really had to cram the night before my turn to remember all the different exercises, the correct order to do them in and the count for each one. I didn't want to get my ass chewed like some of the guys before me. Most of the time though was spent in the classroom, studying and taking tests.
The toughest part of PLDC for me was Map Reading & Land Navigation. Normally I am very good with maps, but trying to navigate over natural terrain with just a compass is allot harder than trying to find your way around a city. The first practice compass course they took us to was very tough. It was in a very scenic spot in the woods of the Northwest, but in a heavy forest with lots of underbrush it's hard to follow a straight line with the compass to find the small numbered stakes at the test coordinates. I was only able to find one correct stake so I was very worried about failing the compass course and being sent home. I was very relieved to see that the actual course for the final test was in a much more open area. I needed to find at least 6 correct points out of ten and I was running full bore to find my seventh point as insurance before the time limit ran out. I was very happy to get all seven correct.
Near the end of PLDC we had our FTX or "Field Training Exercise" to learn Warfighting skills. The exercise was about 36 hours, going the whole night without any sleep, playing war games and each of us taking turns leading the platoon or squads through different scenarios. Each squad had one M60 machinegun, which we took turns carrying, to go along with the rest of us with our regular M16 rifles. We were all wearing the MILES system, which is the Army's version of laser tag. On the front of our weapons, we attached a laser transmitter that shoots a laser pulse whenever a blank round is fired from the rifle or machine gun. To receive the laser signals, we all wore optical detector vests and headbands that went on our helmets. If we got hit, the vest would beep and we would have to play dead until a sergeant could turn it off with a special key.
I wish I could say that FTX was a breeze for me, but it started out rough. We started out by doing a lot of patrols in the woods, working on our troop formation, hand signals and taking cover in the bushes along side the road. Once it got dark, we had to dive for cover every time a flare went up or a artillery simulator was set off which sounded like an incoming artillery shell whistling in and then exploding with a loud bang. I have to admit I really wasn't in the mood for diving to the ground when this frequently occurred and I snapped after first falling down into a ditch while carrying the heavy M60 and then getting hit in the face with the butt of another guy's M16 as he dived to ground alongside me another time. After that happened around 2 am, I recovered quickly and then really started to enjoy myself for the rest of the exercise which started to get more fun as we attacked and defended different positions from the other platoons or ambushed them along the road. We were really tired and dirty by the time we got back to our barracks in the late afternoon.
Overall, it was a great experience and I am really glad to have passed and received my certificate. I am now eligible to be promoted to sergeant.