23d Infantry in Alaska

I have had the honor to have served in the 1st, 2d, and 4th of the 23d Infantry as part of the 2d Infantry Division, USARAL (US Army Alaska), and the 172d Brigade (SEP). I have seen all and parts of the published histories and noticed that none of the "cold war" service has been written. There is virtually nothing between the Korean War and Vietnam. The 23d is now serving valiently in the Mid-East. I think these soldiers need to know the history of those dark days between the wars.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Ski Training at Fort Richardson

The 23d Infantry trained its beginner skiers at the Fort Richardson Ski Training area which was on-post. We had a number of beginners who had arrived after the annual ski training that was usually started in September or October each year, it was decided that the Company would go through it again. We first went to the "Bunny Slope" where we learned snowplow stops and turns and to herringbone back up the slope. It would have been funny except that I was one of the neophytes.

The Ski Training area had three ski trails. The Red trail for absolute beginners, the Blue trail for moderately proficient skiers, and the Yellow trail where even the experts were taking their lives in their own hands. Unfortunately, I don't have any photos of this training. I was too busy cleaning the snow out of my eyes to take pictures!

A farm boy from Illinois tries cross-country skiing

Our individual soldier training started shortly after Willow Freeze. B Company was scheduled to ski to Davis Range. First Sergeant Caldwell felt sorry for us newbies, so he allowed us to be trucked to the range on one of the company's three-quarter ton truck. We were so thankful! Bear in mind the First rule of Infantry Transportation...We non-skiers had to ski home! Slide one step forward, slide one back, fall on you butt (or face), get up and try again. It was one of the most miserable couple of miles I ever traveled. Thank God that Specialist J.D. Gilmore was there to help pick me up!

Third Rule of Infantry Transportation

If there are vehicles for the return trip, they will take Infantry soldiers somewhere where they will be even more miserable than their current location!

Second Rule of Infantry Transportation

If Infantry soldiers are transported by vehicle, it will take them farther from home than if they had walked. This means that the sole purpose of the transportation was to cause them to walk farther to get home!

First Rule of Infantry Transportation

If a vehicle (Truck, Boat, Helicopter, Dogsled or whatever) hauls Infantry troops somewhere, its a given that the Infantry troops will WALK back on the return trip!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Davis Range

The Army had a two-year training cycle. after Willow Freeze, it started with "Training of the Individual Soldier and Patrolling". The above photos are of Davis Range, and the 2d Squad, 3d Platoon of "B" Company.

Davis range was (is?) a live fire range capable of taking up to a company. A lot of ammunition was expended during the years I was there. The range was about two miles South West of the Fort Richardson cantonment area. The view is toward the Ship Creek watershed.

Coming Home

We three cheechakos were wondering if we'd died and gone to hell. The Company came in looking like death warmed over. The wind, subzero temperatures, lack of sleep had turned all the men into a form of zombie. We got really insecure.

The commander proclaimed a day off, us newbies pulled the duties while everyone else slept for nearly two days. There followed the cleaning of the stoves, drying of tents, and preparation for the post-operation inspection.

I met my squad leader, Staff Sergeant Salazar. He was a quiet professional type who went through my gear with a fine tooth comb. He nearly lost it, though, when he found the wool boot socks that my grandmother had darned. He had me set up my wall-locker and foot-locker displays. The amount of measuring, folding and polishing that went into that was absolutely astounding.


Operation "Willow Freeze"

We were packed up and sent by train to the maneuver area just in time for the end of the operation to help load the Battle Group up for its return to Fort Richardson. The maneuver had seen the 23d act as aggressors against the 1st Battalion of the 187th Airborne from the 82d Airborne Division. In these exercises, the aggressors always lose. It is interesting that the Airborne Commander had his Battle Group jump into the landing zone wearing Steel Helmets, black finger gloves, black leather combat boots, and field jackets with no liners or hoods. None of the Arctic gear that had been provided. They hit the blast at -40 degrees ground temperature. It was a simple matter to capture the whole outfit, by trading a chunk of firewood for their rifles. These guys were in sad shape. This stopped the exercise while they re-equipped themselves. At one point, Bravo Company of the 23d, on snowshoes, outran a ski equipped 187th company to put them out of action.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Organization of the 1st Battle Group...

The Sergeant showed us the intracacies of the Ahkio, (a 300 pound capacity sled full of tent. stove, fuel, and pioneer tools), between drawing field equipment and other in-processing activities. He made us put up and take down the 10-man tent and stove till we could do it in the dark in 5 minutes flat...He said this was important when it was 40 below. He wasn't kidding!

These were the days of the "Pentomic" Army Organization. It was supposed to be 5-part replacement for the WW II "Triangular" organization. Actually, the Battle Group was just about one and one-half the size of a WW II battalion
. Unlike the WW II battalion, the Battle Group Stood alone, and reported directly to the Division or other higher headquarters. The 23d Infantry in Alaska, for example, reported directly to USARAL (US Army Alaska). USARAL had the 23d and the 9th Infantry (Ft Wainwright) as its only two subordinate Infantry units.

The 1st BG consisted of 5 companies, Alpha thru Echo companies. There was a Headquarters and Headquarters Company. This later split into HHC and a Combat Support Company.

To Make it even more fun, the Battle Group had D Company of the 40th Armor, the 536th Transportation Company (M-59 Armored Personnel Carriers) assigned. The Transportation company was used much like an armored truck company. This didn't work, so the transportation company was broken up, and it's drivers and APCs assigned to C, D, and E companies.
Ultimately, A and B Companies were considered Airmobile (H-21 Flying Bananas), C,D & E Companies went "Mechanized", with Foxtrot being Airborne. Foxtrot was supported by the Air National Guard's C119 Flying Boxcars.
The 1st Battalion of the 37th Field Artillery (Teddy's Redlegs) was the organic fire support. Late in 1961, or early 1962, an Airborne Company was formed (Foxtrot Company) to add an Airborne capability for the BG Commander.
Colonel Wright, Commanding, must have had orgasms while planning our units deployment.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

How do we get there from here?

First of all, the Army gave you $47.00 to get from Fort Benning to McChord Air Force Base, In Washing ton State. It wasn't enough to fly, so you added a little to it and took the train. When you got to McChord, you waited for the weekly (or thereabouts, depending on the weather) then flew on a contract flight in a DC-6 (4 reciprocating engined Propeller) aircraft. You landed in Elmendorf AFB, and waited for a shuttle truck to Fort Richardson.

The shuttle was an M34 multi-fuel duece and a half (it didn't run well on either diesel or gasoline) with an insulated canvas top and a heater in the cargo compartment. It was a special Arctic rig. Of course, the heater didn't work half the time either.

The truck stopped at the headquarters of the 1st Battle Group, 23d Infantry, and was told to take us all to Bravo Company since the Battle Group had already departed for Operation Willow Freeze. This was a Major Field Training Exersize (FTX) where the 23d was playing the Aggressor to the 1st Battle Group of the 187th Airborne Infantry from the 82d Airborne Division at Fort Bragg. It was a big deal, and included the Alaska Scouts, Princess Patricia's Royal Canadian Light Infantry, and a lot of other specialized units.

We parked in Bravo Companies empty barracks which was used a a transient billett till the unit came back. Three if us were assigned to B Company and three each to the other companies. There was a Staff Sergeant who was the Charge of Quarters. He had a broken leg from a skiing accident, and was charged with getting us all ready to join the unit up north.

Monday, October 02, 2006

You've Never Heard of Sand Hill?

It was the general opinion that if you wanted to give the world an enema, Sand Hill would be the place you'd put the tube! It was October of 1960 when we gathered together for AIT at Fort Benning Georgia. The Fort Benning main garrison was actually a very nice place. But Sand Hill, Harmony Church, and Kelly Hill were outlying garrison areas that were a little behind the times.

Harmony Church is being demolished. Kelly Hill has permanent barracks now, and the Sand Hill temporary barracks buildings have been bulldozed and replaced by the multi-story barracks they call "starships".

The 2d Battle Group, 23d Infantry was located in the rows of 1917 temporary barracks along the main drag. These were the two-story affairs that housed 50 men apiece. They were heated by coal furnaces that were fed coal by the troops that occupied the building. The latrine was downstairs at the end of the 1st floor. There were 6 sinks, six mirrors, etc. The urinal was on the other wall and was a trough that could accommodate 6 men at a time. The six toilets were to the right of the urinal, and had no stalls. Morning was a very communal place when everyone was getting ready for reveille.

Advanced Individual Training was considerably different than Basic Training. Very little P.T., no drill and ceremonies (except for the Friday parade). There was little supervision by the NCO's. There were 5 Platoon Sergeants. They would be available for the first couple of hours each day, then the company would head out for training, and only one of the Platoon Sergeants would go along.

This is where we began to learn the darker side of Army life. There were loansharks, who would loan you money "payday" stakes at 100% interest. There were extortion rackets. (fortunately, these had not had time to appear in the 23d.) And...there were bullies. One of these in particular terrorized the 2d Platoon, and was moving in on the rest of the company. We also learned how to handle these activities. After several fights in the chow line in the morning, where this guy would pick out someone and establish his "turf", everyone had had enough.

One night 7 or 8 guys threw a blanket over him in his bunk, and beat him with entrenching tools. He went to the hospital and we never saw him again.

One of the saving graces was the Browning Automatic Rifle...We went to the range for qualification, and I shot 2d highest in the Battle Group. The four of us who shot the highest were picked up on the 2d Infantry Division Marksmanship Unit to fire Le Clerc matches with the BAR. We spent our training time at Karamouge Range practicing for the 3d Army matches. For some reason, the matches were cancelled, and we were returned to training just in time to graduate.

Everyone was eagerly waiting for the assignments to be posted. Finally the First Sergeant posted them on the bulletin board.

Yep, Nearly every one was headed to Germany. That was the plum assignment. You guessed it! Those of us who were on the Le Clerc teams received orders for Alaska.

Ain't life grand

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Where it Started

The 23d has long been associated with the 2d Infantry Division, and began its long history with that Division. My first assignment after Basic Training in 1960 was with Echo Company, 2d Battle Group, 23d Infantry, 2d Infantry Division at Sand Hill, Fort Benning Geprgia. The Pentomic organization was the thing at the time. The Battle Group had 5 Rifle Companies, 1 tank company from the 40th Armor (equipped with M41 Walker Buldog Light Tanks) and 1 Artillery Battalion from the 37th Field equipped with some raggedy-ass 105MM Howitzers. We were stil armed with the M-1 Rifle, BAR, and browning M1919 A4 and A6 Machineguns. The AN/PRC 6s and 10s were the communications standard.

The 2d of the 23d at that time was a cadre only unit, supposed to conduct Advanced Individual Training. All it's equipment was in weapons & Equipment pools. All it's NCOs were Platoon Sergeants, or Instructors in committees. The Company Commanders were 2LT's right out of the commissioning process. The whole place was laid-back, with no sense of urgency anywhere. If it got done, fine, if it didn't get done, that was fine too. The units' filling up to TOE and subsequent assignment to the 11th Air Assault (Provisional) was just a gleam in the Army Chief of Staff's eye.

Peacetime armies are hell!