As mentioned previously, I will try and keep certain instances general so as not to compromise the integrity or confidentiality of the exercise.
After our infil from the fiery pits of hell, treating some initial real-life medical situations, and then miraculously pulling off the luckiest mission save in my career, I am now about half way through the field exercise portion of Robin Sage.
Life at this point in the G camp consists of two phases. I’m either going on missions, or I’m doing my best to help out around the camp to improve the miserable living conditions. While I know you all would love to hear about additional missions, frankly, the missions weren’t that exciting from a medical perspective or from a participants perspective during those middle phases. Most of the missions were designed to evaluate different MOS’s and their ability to perform certain tasks, so my role as the medic on many of these missions was to simply support them. That being said, you’d be correct in assuming I didn’t take that for granted after that previously described mission in Robin Sage: The Encore. They were more just ‘laying the groundwork’ type missions. The camp however, now there is a different story.
Where we ‘chose’ to set up camp was essentially a half-dried swamp….near a cow/pig farm…in NC…in August. While there undoubtedly was a very good reason that spot was chosen…i.e. no one in their right minds would even WANT to look there, it led to a miserable existence for us. The smell…ooooh the smell. When the wind blew just right you could literally taste the manure seeping through your nostrils and into your mouth, but don’t try and breath through your mouth because the massive swarm of gnats and mosquitos would immediately find their way into it.
When the wind was blowing in the opposite direction, you managed to get a whiff of our beloved outhouse. As you may have figured out, it’s not like we had permanent fixtures or a portapotty contract. Nope, we had a straight Little House on the Prairie outhouse that we had to dig ourselves and construct a makeshift privacy barrier around it using old pallets. We even carved an adorable little half-moon in the front door because we were fancy like that. Me being the medic, the unenviable task of making sure the outhouse was up to standard, and that everyone stayed healthy, was mine and mine alone. No easy task when everything around you is a dirty, smelly cesspool.
One of the ways we tried to reduce the stank was to pour lye on our ‘contributions’ to the outhouse after each visit. This helped reduce the smell, ward off flies, etc. However, despite the horrific stench, it quickly became apparent that people weren’t pouring the lye regularly. The threat of their nose hairs spontaneously combusting wasn’t enough of a reason for them to do a SIMPLE TASK. After repeated attempts of reminding people, it was clear that the only way this would get done, is if I did it regularly. So at least twice a day, I would pick up a huge bag of lye and tip just enough in to cover what’s in there. Why am I describing this to you? Because on one of these days my foot broke through the floorboard and I half fell into that..uh…pile. There wasn’t enough soap in the world to get rid of that stench…so goodbye recently purchased pair of $180 hiking boots. Goodbye patience level. Month after month of tirelessly studying and being tested in the 18D course to do everything from trauma medicine to complete intravenous anesthesia and surgery, and the most medicine I’ve done since day 1 is pouring lye on human waste and nag them about hand washing. Now I’m sitting here covered in crap and wondering what life choices I’ve made that got me to this point. They don’t tell you about moments like this when you go through the course!
As Robin Sage is winding down, our team and G’s finally move out of that camp and into a real building. We are prepping for one last ‘battle’ that will decide if Pineland is free or not. Having kept my ear to the ground, I know this is where the mass casualty incident usually happens that tests the 18D’s, and I’m prepping like a madman. The other G’s give me the sorrowful look that indicates they know what’s about to happen, and one blatantly tells me ‘this is gonna suck for you’. Thanks dudes.
What I am not aware of at the time, is that an individual on my team has been struggling horribly in his mission planning, and this last mission is being designed around his ability to land nav and execute his plan for the team. Hint—this is the same individual who led us badly astray during our infil. So off we go on our mission….we do our thing to set it all up, and start to wait…and wait…and wait…and…wait a minute, are those the bad dudes driving by us in a truck waving a pirate flag and pointing at us? Needless to say the mission did not end in success, and despite us trying to chase these individuals around for an hour and trying to guess where they would be so we could ambush them, we returned to our building empty handed. Those who had been left behind ran out to our truck with litters, preparing to offload casualties, to find none, and our team in dead silence, knowing that something had gone horribly wrong, but not necessarily understanding what it was.
Wrapping it up….this last mission was designed for this one individual as a last gasp attempt. He failed and was dropped completely from the program. Having successfully passed a mass casualty exercise before the field portion started, and having treated the axe to the head injury early in the exercise, the cadre decided they wanted to focus on those who were struggling (or so I was told in my out-brief before we returned to Bragg). Sad for him..but the culmination mission was a bust for putting my skills to use.
Once it was all over, and we found out which one of us failed and which of us passed (4 failed, 12 passed), we were allowed to talk to the G’s as normal civilians.
They could break role and talk to us. As I mentioned in a previous post, all the G’s got to pick their own names during this exercise. Panther was my helper ‘medic’, etc. One of my absolute favorites, was a dude who came from out of state each exercise to help out. Dude was as country as they get. He went by the name Massey Ferguson. After the exercise I went up to him and thanked him for being an awesome role player, and for being enthusiastic and helpful in everything we asked him to do. When I asked him what his real name was, he said “what do you mean?” I explained that I know Massey Ferguson was clearly his Robin Sage name, but what was his real name. “It’s Massey Ferguson man”, he replied. He saw the look on my face and followed up with “My parents really like farming”. Trying to save face and not be an insensitive asshole, I asked him if there was anything I could help him out with before he left. He responded enthusiastically “could you get me a box of yellow chemlights? I love using them to go noodling with my kids!”. Of course I can Massey Ferguson, you pure country soul, of course I can.
There were so many variables, missions, scenarios and incredible stories that I can’t share with you all due to confidentiality rules, but I can honestly say that this UW mission was an incredible experience, and lessons taken from it applied in scarily accurate ways when my team conducted Village Stability Operations in Afghanistan, as well as anti-insurgency operations and FID in the Philippines (just to name a couple). The designers of this exercise and the participants from the community, as well as the role players, did a kickass job.