Tag Archives: Infantry

How To Hide Behind a Pebble

How To Hide Behind a Pebble*

by john harrison

Every combat infantryman knows how to hide behind a pebble, but they also know it’s not much use to do so. It is not that you can’t conceal yourself behind one so much as it is that even though most pebbles are really hard, they still can’t stop bullets. However, because they are so hard, pebbles make excellent secondary shrapnel should an explosion go off nearby. If you are an infantryman seriously considering hiding behind a pebble, a nearby explosion is almost a certainty.

6802861 - Feb 2 Pinned Down on Levy

This is pinned down, but given the need an infantryman could get even lower to the ground. If you look closely, you can see he is in a small depression. This was taken February 2, 1968, near Phan Thiet by Jerry Berry, PIO 3/506th (ABN).

Since a pebble is too small to protect you, but is solid enough to hurt you when it is driven into your body by an explosion, a good infantryman avoids them if possible. This is just one of the little things that you learn as an infantryman that serve to keep you alive in that place called battle.

The question of hiding behind a pebble also points out the difference between what the Army called “cover” and what it called “concealment” when I was in the service. If you can find good “cover” then you are safe from enemy fire. They may know exactly where you are, in a bunker for example, but if you have good cover then you are protected from their fire.

On the other hand concealment is exactly that. The enemy cannot see you. In fact they may not even know you are there. It is their lack of knowledge of your position that protects you.

Since you can be killed just as dead by random as well as by aimed fire, most times cover is better than concealment; but there are some exceptions to this. A bunker is usually safe against the fire of an AK-47 for example, but a bunker is an absolute death trap if the enemy has a few RPG rockets. It is a much better idea in that case to simply hide.

If you can’t be seen by the enemy, then the enemy can’t find you, and better yet if they can’t find you, they probably can’t kill you. This is a simple rule that the VC, and the Viet Minh before them, used to fight armies far more powerful than they were for years. Therefore, if your cover can’t protect you, then hiding is a much better idea than staying where you are. Like most decisions, it all depends on the particular circumstances that you face.

So, if it is not useful, why then does every combat infantryman know how to hide behind a pebble? Simple, because something is always better than nothing, and if you are a combat infantrymen nothing is often all that you have in the world.

SONY DSC

Pebbles

On the other hand, when you are talking about 2,000 pound, 16 inch naval gunfire, or a 750 pound Hi-drag bombs, there is no such thing as good cover. Only concealment and a little luck in being out of the blast range will work under those extremely challenging circumstances. Battle can be brutal.

I once told a civilian that I had often crawled into my helmet to hide while in combat. The civilian for some reason, doubted my story. He may have thought that he had a good reason for that doubt. I don’t really remember. I had been drinking for a while that night before we spoke, so it is entirely possible that I was not as clear as I should have been in my description of how that could happen. However, I have no doubt that I did indeed hide deep inside my steel pot repeatedly in combat.

If you have ever heard the sound, “thump, thump, thump” then you know exactly what I am talking about. “Thump, thump, thump” is the sound that three mortar rounds make when they are fired from their tube. You hear that sound, and you wait. Just that sound concentrates and focusses the mind wonderfully.

You wait and you listen for the explosions that you know are coming. You listen carefully because, you know that if you hear the mortar rounds explode, that means you are still alive. You will never hear the one that kills you. On the other hand, hearing the one that maims you for life is probably at best small comfort.

As an American the good thing is, you will rarely hear more than three or four mortar rounds fired unless they are yours. One of the very real advantages of being born American is the amount of ammunition that we send to the battlefield, and that we have helicopter gunship pilots who think that it is great sport to track down and then fire up the firing positions of enemy mortar crews. These gunship pilots can do that because mortar shells are mostly visible in flight. So if you are up in the air over the battlefield you can see pretty quickly, where the mortar shells are coming from and then hone in on them.

The abundance of ammunition means that American artillery always loves to fire, and they have literally tons of ammunition available to do exactly that. I always found massive American artillery fire to be very helpful on the battlefield.

Having gunships overhead also means that if the enemy mortar crew is not of the shoot and quickly scoot school of mortar crews, then that gun ship overhead will flat kill them with its first pass. The latter passes serve mostly to bust up their equipment, although it is said that some gunship pilots continue to fire purely for esthetic reasons. Not being a pilot I would not know, but I have always enjoyed watching that process unfold.

Before any of that happens though, other things occur. First you hear that “thump, thump, thump” sound. Then, your sphincter muscle tightens tighter than it ever has before in your life. It continues to tighten, or contract with each thump. According to doctors during contraction of a sphincter, or circular muscle, the lumen (opening) associated with the sphincter constricts or closes. This constriction is caused by the progressive shortening of the sphincter muscle itself. If the thumps continue, that sphincter muscle continues to shorten with each thump.

Again according to doctors, voluntary sphincters like the one in the anus are controlled by the somatic nerves. That is your brain actually orders the voluntary sphincter muscles in your anus to contract, or open by a conscious command from your brain. However, I would love to see someone down range that hears that  “thump, thump, thump” sound try to order their sphincter muscle not to contract. It simply can’t be done.

Of course, some will say that they have known people, never themselves of course, that have reacted very differently when under mortar fire. They will say that these people, usually just acquaintances, not even friends, have experienced severe, multiple spasms rather than a single continuous, progressive contraction. Invariably these spasms would lead to unfortunate, dark brown, stains, some permanent, on their uniform trousers. However, this just proves the point that sphincter muscles are not always voluntary since no one would chose to spasm that way on purpose, or at least not on purpose when their pants are up, and their boots are bloused.

Therefore, no matter what the doctors say, sphincter muscles are not always completely voluntary, as anyone who has ever fully experienced explosive diarrhea can also attest. Sometimes even a good, otherwise reliable, sphincter muscle seems to just have a mind of its own.

It is the shortening of the sphincter muscle that allows one to fit into that helmet. As the firing continues, it continues to shorten. You can look this up in any medical textbook describing the operation of sphincter muscles. They will all say that the sphincter muscle constricts by “shortening”.

When you are short enough, you will fit entirely into your helmet. Case closed.

 

There’s more, this story and twenty four more like it can be found in my new book, Steel Rain, the Tet Offensive which is available on Amazon both as a paperback and on Kindle. Use this book to tell your grandchildren what you did fifty years ago. Please give it a look. See; Steel Rain, the Tet Offensive 1968

Recent Reviews of Steel Rain, the Tet Offensive: “John Harrison does an eloquent job writing what it was like being in the infantry during the Vietnam war. I know, I was in the infantry in Vietnam. There is a statistic which states that only 1 out of 10 who served in Vietnam were in the infantry. All of us have been asked what that was like at one point since our return. It is an impossible question for most of us to answer in part much less in full. John Harrison manages to do this in his book, Steel Rain, the Tet Offensive. So, if you are inclined and wonder what it was like, or you want to tell someone else what you went through, buy this book. Show it to your friend. It tells that story. To, “LT” John Harrison- thank you Sir.Salute.”

“John Harrison’s book, Steel Rain, the Tet Offensive, is a series of short stories, told mostly in the first person, that weaves together the humor and violence that only a talented writer can accomplish. The result is a compelling book that is hard to put down. John’s words flow easily on the pages, making an easy read. I highly recommend this book to anyone that has been there and did that, or anyone wanting to know a personal record of one lucky Lieutenant in Vietnam and the people that made it possible for him to return home.
Dan Hertlein, helicopter mechanic with the 192nd AHC at LZ Betty 1968″

“John is the soldier speaking the truest story of Vietnam. I will confirm his action as I was in a different company same battalion, fighting the same battles.”


  • Title created by the poet RonGFord. Used with permission. The rest is all my fault; don’t blame Ron. You can read Ron’s poem the Wall here:  The Wall.
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shame

shame

by: RonFord

2003

Blood Guts and Pain
Was it all in Vain?
Old Gory Waves
and I can See
My Buddy was Killed,
Glad it was not me.
He gave his life
and I was spared.
Yet nobody Cared
Some day,
I will be SET FREE
My buddy will be Glad To See Me
We will Hug, Laugh,
and Cry.
And all my Shame Shall,
Die.

Blog Note: Ron Ford was a member of the Second Platoon, Company A, 3rd Battalion (Abn.), 506th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. He was also the assistant patrol leader of the night patrol. He was probably the most junior E5 on the patrol, but he was second in command because he was the best man to bring the guys home. I am proud that he accepted my invitation to publish his poem here for the first time. I hope he continues to write.

The Infantry

The Infantry

by john harrison

Being a good infantryman is much more intellectually and physically demanding than most people realize. It is not easy to go on today’s, and even yesterday’s incredibly lethal battlefields with the reasonable expectation of coming back alive, and of accomplishing your mission. The operative word in that sentence is “reasonable.” That is all an infantryman expects, a reasonable chance, because they intend to make up any difference themselves.

While an infantryman needs training, it is not just good training that makes an infantryman. While an infantryman needs equipment, it is not just good equipment that makes an infantryman. While an infantryman needs strength, it is not just physical strength that makes an infantryman.

OK then you ask, what is it that makes an infantryman?

It is heart. It is the heart to get up when no one else will go. It is the heart to push forward, when no one else will. It is the heart to take one more step, when one more step is sorely needed. It is the heart to care more about the man lying next to you bleeding than you do about your own blood, and that is partly because you know that if he could move, if he could still move, he would have the heart, and he would have the will to move, to help you to move, forward.

It is will. It is the will to remain alert on post. It is the will to remain awake and alert for the forty-eighth hour. It is the will to exit, an armored personnel carrier, a helicopter on or close to the ground or an aircraft in flight in order to close with, and to destroy the enemy. It is the will to take a life rather than to give your own. It is the will to finish what you start, every time. The infantry does not back down. Not once. Not ever.

And, in taking infinite care with what seem like such small, such trivial, details to others. It is important that fighting knives and bayonets are always put away razor sharp, rifles clean, well oiled, magazines stacked and gear put away in the same order, the same place, every time.

That is an infantryman.

If you are assigned a dog; that dog eats before you do—every time. The same is true if you are assigned a fire team or an entire army; they eat before you do—every time because you are an infantryman.

It is easy to belittle the infantry, to mock their parades and their traditions. It is very easy, until the bullets fly, the bombs burst, the blood flows bright red, and you are so very, very, afraid. Just like it is easy to forget that every Marine considers themselves an infantryman first. Just like it is easy to forget the while the United States Army is only about 8% infantry, that nonetheless over 80% of the casualties are infantrymen.

Why then, you ask, would anyone want to be in the infantry?

Think of this; what do the Airborne, the Special Forces, the Rangers, Delta, and the United States Marines all have in common—they are all volunteers—and they are all Infantry. Oh, and do not forget, they are all also, very, very, good at what they do. They are the best. They are deployed first. They do not ever go gentle into that good night, they rage, they fight, they kill and if necessary, they come back to fight and kill again, and again, to obliterate that dark night.

They all have the Spirit of the Bayonet. They are all prepared to go on a battlefield, any battlefield, anywhere, anytime to accomplish their mission and to come home alive because they are all, Infantry.

Hail to the Infantry, Queen of battle, shatterer of lesser souls. Protector of your freedom.

 

Steel Rain, the Tet Offensive is my book available from Amazon about my experiences in Vietnam. See https://www.amazon.com/Steel-Rain-Tet-Offensive-1968/dp/1977045448/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

 

Women in the Military

By john harrison 

Does anyone else see a problem that the two most pressing issues about women serving in the military are: that there must be special rules, and special efforts to prevent rape to protect women in the military, and the idea that women can and should serve in elite infantry combat units whose mission is to close with and destroy the enemy? Am I wrong, or is there a serious disconnect here? 

People in favor of the idea of adding women to elite infantry units often talk about the opportunities currently available for women in the Israeli Army of today. The 2000 Equality amendment to the Military Service law of Israel states “The right of women to serve in any role in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) is equal to the right of men.” As of now, about 90% of all roles in the IDF are open to female candidates, and women can be found in about 70% of all positions in the IDF.

Formerly, and like most armies still, Israeli women conscripts only served in the Israeli Women’s Army Corps. After a five-week period of basic training, they could serve as clerks, drivers, welfare workers, nurses, radio operators, flight controllers, ordnance personnel, and course instructors, but not as infantry, much less serve in an elite infantry unit.

However, the supporters of women serving in elite units usually ignore that there are still all sorts of special rules regarding women serving in uniform in Israel. On the other hand, in their favor is that there is also a special IDF infantry battalion composed mostly of women that they can chose to serve in. So far, Israel has not fought a war under the new regime. With luck, they never will—but the expansion of combat positions available to women in the IDF is an incredible social experiment that can be explained only in part by the shortage of military age males in Israel.

Nevertheless, it would defy reality not to acknowledge the risks faced by women in the military and that a woman POW, particularly a woman POW from Israel, but also from any other country, faces. There are also special risks in close combat for a woman that her male counterparts simply do not share. Bowe Robert Bergdahl, an American infantryman, was a POW held the Taliban probably in Northern Pakistan for over 4 years. Because of these additional risks faced only by females in captivity, I do not believe that a woman POW would have survived a similar length of internment. 

We are all aware that in Afghanistan and Iraq American service women in all branches of the military have already faced similar risks of capture for years. However, there is a big difference in the risk of capture confronted by being in a convoy, or at a base camp, or even working as a helicopter pilot, and by being a member of a small combat infantry patrol on the cutting edge in Indian country.

Does anyone really believe that if Sergeant Bergdahl had been a woman that extraordinary efforts would not have been taken to free her at least in part simply because she was a female? If you really do believe that no such extraordinary measures would have been taken, then you do not understand the American male, or the American military. The questions now being raised regarding the circumstances of Sergeant Bergdahl’s capture do not negate this. In spite of these questions, many unsuccessful attempts were made to rescue Sergeant Bergdahl. Would more rescue attempts have been made if Sergeant Bergdahl had been a woman?

The story of Jessica Dawn Lynch is instructive in this regard. During the Battle at Nasiriyahn, March 23, 2003, then Private First Class Lynch was serving as a unit supply specialist with the 507th Maintenance Company when Iraqi forces ambushed her convoy. During the fighting PFC Lynch was knocked unconscious and captured. Her subsequent recovery by U.S. Special Operations Forces eight days later on April 1, 2003 received world wide media coverage and was the first successful rescue of an American prisoner of war since Vietnam and the first ever of a woman POW. The important point here is that it was the first time since Vietnam that a combat raid recovered an American POW even though various enemies have captured many more Americans during that time period and even though many such raids have been mounted to rescue them. What was the difference?

It is not surprising that a large rescue operation was organized to recover an American POW, that happened to be female, only nine days after she was captured. Nor is it surprising to those familiar with the American military that it was the first successful such operation in over thirty years. Simply stated, there was an added urgency because PFC Lynch was female. 

The PFC Lynch rescue operation under US Army operational command involved two battalions of Marines, a Navy SEAL team, US Army Special Forces, US Air Force Pararescue jumpers, US Army Rangers and Delta Force members. The Marines made a violent diversionary attack while the special operators made a night raid on the hospital where PFC Lynch was being held. The successful raid freed PFC Lynch and incidentally recovered the bodies of eight other American soldiers. That is, two Marine battalions totaling at least a thousand men and hundreds of other highly trained service men and probably some women too went into battle with the sole objective of rescuing PFC Lynch.

On the other hand, Bowe Bergdahl was a POW for over four years. A singular difference, one is male and one is female. This difference and the different results cannot be ignored in an honest analysis of the role of women in the military. 

After considerable research, in all of history, the only successful army I am aware of that did use large numbers of women in direct infantry combat roles was the Soviet Union’s Red Army in World War II, but even in that army many combat roles, including all of the elite infantry units, were closed to women.

The role of women in society is quite different in America today and that of the Stalinist Soviet Union in the middle of what they called the Great Patriotic War. Those differences are reflected in their armies as well. About 800,000 women served in the Soviet military during World War II; part of the explanation for that may lie in the estimated 22,000,000 casualties the Soviet Union’s armed forces suffered during that war. And, it should also be noted, that while women in the Soviet Union during World War II served as pilots, snipers, machine gunners, tank crewmembers and partisans, as well as in auxiliary roles, they do not serve in these roles in the Russian Army of today. Any honest analysis will not ignore this significant change.

The Serbs used rape as a matter of military policy in their war in Bosnia, and in any event, rape has been an endemic part war since the beginning of time. The inclusion of this very real risk in the analysis is also essential.

Already the US military services have acknowledged that there is a problem with rape occurring among American service members. Clearly, particularly given the nature of such service, assigning women to infantry combat units will increase the opportunity for this problem to continue to grow and fester. Again, I am not condoning this behavior; I am only recognizing that any increase in opportunity usually also increases frequency. 

Aggression is actively encouraged in every elite infantry unit, specifically including extreme physical aggression, and they practice on each other constantly both in training, and in bars on and off base. Anyone who has been in an elite infantry unit knows that fistfights and worse among members of the unit and particularly between such elite units are a part of such service however much such conduct is officially discouraged. Adding alcohol to the mix, and alcohol is always added to the mix, increases both the number of such fights and often their violence as well. Training young soldiers to fight, training them how to be physically aggressive, encouraging that aggression constantly and then expecting them not to use these skills is silly. 

According to the politically correct, rape is an act of aggression, not sex. If it is true that rape is act of aggression, then one must reasonably expect that rape, as an act of physical aggression, to increase as a logical result of including women in elite units that also by definition and fact are already highly aggressive physically. I am not condoning such conduct; I am merely applying the definition provided by many of those proposing the inclusion of women into such elite units to the training and environment that such women will be exposed to along with the men in the units.

In the ethos of an elite infantry unit, soldiers that cannot protect themself from a physical attack ought not to be in the unit. They are a danger to themselves and to every soldier in the unit. This is the reality of an elite unit. Physical aggression is encouraged because it is deemed essential for success on the battlefield not for reasons of testosterone.

So, what does all of this mean? Among other things, it at least means that if the people proposing the inclusion of women into elite infantry units are correct that rape is an act of aggression rather than sex, and if women are added to such units, then rape in the military will either increase, or that the performance of such elite units will be degraded on purpose because the importance of extreme aggression, particularly of extreme physical aggression, will necessarily be de-emphasized for the safety of the women members of the elite unit. A third possibility is that, while attempted rape will increase, these women will be successful in defending themselves and therefore, while rape will not increase, the actual net result for the elite unit will be the same. Any of these results would diminish the effectiveness of any elite unit that experienced them.

Why? Why jeopardize the so far successful inclusion of women into the military by placing them in positions where their success, even the supporters of such inclusion say, will only come at the cost of reduced effectiveness assuming that the proponents of such inclusion are correct about the actual cause of rape? Why jeopardize very necessary, very successful, elite units in the service of ideology rather than excellence? Why ignore reality?

 

 

 

If you like this article you may also like these articles: “Cone of Violence” (https://johneharrison.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/cone-of-violence/),

or My Mother’s Machinegun.

(https://johneharrison.wordpress.com/2014/07/14/my-mothers-machine-gun/)