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How To ...

Spice up an MRE? Go a week without food? React to a bombing? Read a leave and earnings statement? Here's an assortment of insights on the practical, the improbable and, in some cases, the unimaginable.

Whether you’re deployed around the world or serving your communities at home, you bring a wealth of skills and knowledge to your jobs. Sometimes that knowledge comes from training, sometimes from experience and sometimes from your fellow Soldiers. We thought we’d pass a few bits of this wisdom along. Of course, not everything is as simple as 1-2-3, but they provide a glimpse into how specialized some of these skills really are. Some are practical (treating casualties for shock) and some are fun (finally learning to do that Airborne jump you’ve been dreaming about), but they’re all real tips from Soldiers who know. And hey, when you’re finally able to make sense of your leave and earnings statement, make sure you send us a note to say thanks.

 

GET INK OUT OF YOUR UNIFORM

1. Act fast—the sooner you attack the stain, the more likely you’ll be successful.  
 
2. Apply cleaning liquid or stain treatment. If you don’t have a commercial stain treatment product, apply hair spray or hand sanitizer. The alcohol in each will help loosen the stain.  
 

3. Use a paper towel or clean cloth to press or dab against the stain spot. Don’t rub.
 
4. Get it out before you dry it out. If you dry your uniform with the ink stain on it, the stain will set and be much harder to remove.  
 
5. Call in the professionals. If you can’t get the stain out, take your uniform to professional cleaners. They have special equipment and experience that can help.
 

TRANSITION FROM RIFLE TO PISTOL FASTER

In close combat, in close quarters—when it’s you or the bad guy—seconds can make a difference. A quicker transition from rifle to pistol can mean life or death.

Prepare. The key is preparation. Practice—and not just in a calm, quiet setting. Practice when you’re tired and under stress, under the most real-world scenario you can create. 
 
Be consistent. Your transition should be routine. Your holster should be in the same place on your body every day, every mission. In the instant you need it, there’s no time to stop to think—you have to be able to rely on muscle memory.
 

 
 

DO AN ARM BAR

Whether a war-hardened infantry officer or a professional mixed martial arts fighter, every Citizen-Soldier should know how to finish this most basic of all the jiujitsu finishing moves. 

 
Once you’ve finished the takedown and you’ve gotten to half guard, start the arm bar with plenty of “ground and pound” (punch and elbow your opponent while you're holding them down on the ground) to soften them up, then move to full mount. From there, pick an arm to break and isolate it with your body by pushing down full-force with your chest, forcing their arm across their face. Then, hook your arm inside of theirs and rotate your body around the isolated arm so that one leg wraps across their head. Press your legs together and lean back, taking their arm with you. Then wait for the tap. Or the snap.
 

TREAT COMMON PT INJURIES

R.I.C.E. is used for common injuries such as sprains and strains. If you have received one of these injuries, bruising will likely be at its worst a day or so after your injury. If swelling persists or bruising is excessive, seek help from a medical professional. 

Rest. Stay off the injury for about a day. If pain is still intense after a day, it’s time to go see the doctor.
 
Ice. Apply a cold compress or ice pack to the injury for 20 minutes at a time, with an hour of rest in between. Avoid ice directly on your skin (use a thin towel or paper towel to wrap it). The ice should feel uncomfortably cold when you first apply it. 
 
Compression. Use a bandage wrap made of a stretchable material to compress the injury point. The wrap should not be so tight that body parts such as fingers or toes on the other side of the wrap get discolored.
 
Elevation. Keep your injured body part above your heart as often as possible to reduce the amount of inflammation and speed recovery time.
 

PICK A SPOT FOR A FOXHOLE

Check observation ability and fields of fire.

You should be able to see (and shoot with limited obstruction) out to a distance that is equal to or greater than that of your primary weapon system. 

Find cover and concealment. 
Cover stops bullets, and concealment only keeps you from being seen. A mix of both is preferred, but the mission will dictate your flexibility. 
 
Identify potential obstacles. 
Manmade or natural terrain can be obstacles to falling back to an alternate location if the need arises. Find out what is between you and the enemy—will it slow their advance or retreat?
 
Use key terrain to your advantage. 
The fighting position should be off of natural lines of supply in order to prevent forces from quickly reinforcing with either a larger element or armored vehicles.
 
Know your avenues of approach. 
Can the enemy quickly mass against your position? Can you defend against this possibility? Do you have a path to rapidly fall back to an alternative location?
 

 
  

SPICE UP AN MRE

Specialist Jacob Steele is a cook for the 141st Field Artillery Forward Support Company, which is attached to the 2/218th Field Artillery, Oregon Army National Guard. He has five years of experience making the most of food in the field. Here are his tips for giving those rations a boost. 
 
1. Keep everything you don’t use from previous MREs, like salt and sugar. Use these to season MRE packets that lack flavor.
   
2. Before you go into the field, acquire your own sauce and bring it with you. (Steele likes Heinz 57.)
 
3. Take MREs when they’re offered, even when you’re not hungry. Extra salts, extra TABASCO and extra milkshakes! 
 
4. Combine ingredients to make your own creations. Crumble up cookies and put them in applesauce for a field fruit crisp. Combine a vanilla milkshake, instant coffee and a creamer packet for a caffeine-boosted dessert. Combine chocolate drink powder, a creamer packet and just enough water to make the mixture wet for “Ranger pudding.”
 

 

REACT TO A BOMBING 

First Lieutenant Stephen Fiola was near the finish line at the Boston Marathon. He saw the explosion. He felt the aftermath. He and his fellow Massachusetts Army National Guard Soldiers were some of the first responders on the scene, providing lifesaving first aid and comfort to those rocked by the blast. Here’s what he learned in those life-changing moments:
 
1. Take a deep breath. The first thing to do when chaos strikes is not to get caught up in it. Be one of the calm ones people will look to for strength and then instruction.
 
2. Perform the 5 C’s. The Guard Soldiers at the bombing confirmed the blast, cleared the area of nonessential personnel, called for help, cordoned off the area to prevent nonessential personnel from entering, and controlled the environment so emergency crews could perform their job.
 
3. Find where you fit in. Fiola and his fellow Soldiers were in uniform, so civilians were looking to them for guidance. If no one is in charge, take charge. If workers are needed, work.
 
4. Practice true leadership. True leadership doesn’t look like people yelling (see “Be a Great Leader”). It looks like Soldiers having the emotional strength to impart calm and the physical strength to do what’s needed.
 
5. Trust your training. Physical fitness, mental toughness and muscle memory helped Fiola’s team—which had just ruck marched the full 26.2-mile marathon—perform under incredible stress. 
 
6. Pay attention to your own healing. When the smoke clears, traumatic events will affect you whether others look at you like a hero or not. Use resources available to you through your unit, family support services, or your own circle of family or faith.
 

 

BE A GREAT LEADER 

In an exclusive interview in GX 10.1, General (Ret.) Colin Powell gave Guard Soldiers several pieces of advice on leadership. They’re worth repeating—here’s one of them.
 
“[President Reagan] reminded me of something I always knew, and that is as a commander you can’t get it all done by yourself. So you hire and train the best people you can to be your subordinate leaders. But then you have to give them the latitude to make decisions and solve problems so you can preserve yourself for the more important problems. But at the same time, when it’s your turn to be decisive about something, then you have to be decisive because it’s your problem.”
 

 
 

TELL A STORM IS COMING

Look for pillowlike cumulonimbus clouds that look as if they’re bursting upward into the sky. The part of the clouds that looks like it’s exploding up is rising because it’s being warmed. As it rises, it increases the friction between the water molecules that make up the clouds, which builds up lightning-producing electricity. The changing temperature while the moisture rises makes it condense into raindrops. Pay attention to slower-moving clouds, and before the worst storms, you’ll feel a noticeable drop in temperature or experience a change in wind direction. When this happens, it’s time to take cover.
 

 

COMPLETE AN AIRBORNE JUMP

Airborne is one of the Army’s most sought-after schools. After all, what’s not cool about jumping out of airplanes? Not every Soldier is cut out for it, but the ones who are get to experience one of the Army’s most thrilling events. Jumps are mainly done at 1,200 feet for training, but in combat they can be performed as low as 500 feet. Here’s how you do it:
 
1. Complete Jumpmaster’s briefing and mandatory training before every jump. 
 
2. Get issued your gear. Inspect it well—your life is going to be hanging from it shortly. 
 
3. Adjust your harness for fit.  
 
4. Have the Jumpmaster inspect your gear.  
 
5. Board a plane capable of flying you thousands of miles across the country. Stay on it for only a few.  
 
6. Take commands from the Jumpmaster—jump when he says jump. Don’t think about what’s going to happen when you get to the ground (if giving in to fear were in your nature, you wouldn’t be here in the first place).  
 
7. Exit the aircraft with your feet and knees together, slightly bending at the waist with your hands over your reserve parachute and your chin on your chest.   
 
8. Count four seconds. If your static line hasn’t opened your parachute yet, pull your reserve.  
 
9. Inspect your chute—make sure it’s fully open and untangled.  
 
10. By treetop level, turn into the wind and prepare to land. Your feet and knees should be together, bent slightly, ready to absorb the shock of landing. Hands and arms should be in front of your face and head.  
 
11. When you contact the ground, complete the controlled fall you’ve practiced called a Parachute Landing Fall, or PLF.  
 
12. Collect your gear, and revel in your undeniable awesomeness (unless your landing was off, in which case prepare to describe to your fellow jumpers the “crazy wind pocket you hit right at the end there”).
 

 
 

DETERMINE NORTH AND SOUTH VIA SUN AND SHADOW 

1. Place a stick or branch in the ground at a level spot where it will cast a distinctive shadow. Mark the shadow’s tip with a stone or a twig.  
 
2. Wait 10 to 15 minutes until the shadow tip moves a few centimeters. Mark the shadow tip’s new position in the same way as the first. The first shadow mark is always west.    
 
3. Draw a straight line through the two marks to obtain an approximate east-west line.  
 
4. Stand with the first mark (west) to your left and the second mark to your right; you are now facing north. This fact is true everywhere on Earth.
 

 

SURVIVE A FIREFIGHT

As a SAW gunner for the Washington National Guard’s 1/200th Infantry Battalion (MECH), Tommy Truex, now a first lieutenant for the New Mexico National Guard, was regularly outside the wire in Iraq from March 2004 to April 2005. After encountering a year’s worth of engagements, ambushes and attacks, he says it all comes down to one word.
 
“The real key to surviving a firefight is communication,” Truex says. “Bullets are zinging by, things are exploding and mayhem’s everywhere. It’s hard to not be scared and even tougher not to start aimlessly unloading magazine after magazine into anything that moves. Keeping communication alive with your team and squadmates is how you survive. Sectors of fire, specific target engagements, covering fire during movement or reload, redistribution of ammo, keeping the automatic weapons up—all of those things that need to happen to keep people alive start with communication. Everything else will fall into place if communication is active and open.”
 

 
 

CREATE A REGULATION SOCK BUN

Start with a sock color that mostly matches your hair. Cut the toe off about 2 to 3 inches from the end. Roll the sock into a doughnut shape.
 
Make a ponytail midway up the back of your head—too high will look hipster, too low will hit your collar. 
 
Loop the ponytail through the sock. Spread hair around the sock and tuck and roll it to the base of your head. 
 
Twist the leftover hair around the base of the bun, securing it with either pins or another hair tie.
 

 
 

EARN AN EXPERT INFANTRY BADGE

The Expert Infantry Badge (EIB) was established in 1944 to acknowledge the critical role the infantry plays in accomplishing the Army’s mission, and to reward those who have mastered its craft. Today it continues to be a badge of honor to all who have successfully completed the evaluation that’s so demanding it takes five days to complete. Here’s how you earn one: 
 
1. Hold an infantry MOS. Only 11 series (infantry) and 18 series (Special Forces) Soldiers are eligible for the award. 
 
2. Pass the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) with 75 points in each event. There are no retests for the APFT.   
 
3. Pass a day and night land navigation course on the first try.   
 
4. Get a GO on nine different Master Skills Testing stations. Each station evaluates the candidate on skills with a different individual weapon system (M4, M9, etc.). Retests are allowed, but if you NO-GO one station more than once or more than two stations total, you’re out.   
 
5. Complete three Individual Tactical Test Lanes. Each lane requires the candidate to complete a series of 10 scenario-based infantry tasks. Tasks can be anything from basic first aid to operating a rocket launcher. 
 
6. Finish a 12-mile march with a 35-pound ruck in under three hours.
 

 

SHARPEN YOUR BLADE IN THE WILDERNESS

1. Find a smooth, porous rock to use as the sharpener. The best rocks are near running water such as streams or rivers, as the water will have already smoothed the rock for you. 
 
2. Wet the rock and lay it on a steady surface. If one isn’t available, lay it on top of a piece of clothing on a flat piece of wood or a tree. 
 
3. Lay one side of the blade you’re sharpening on the smooth part of the rock and rub it gently clockwise the length of the flat blade.
 
4. Flip the blade over and rub it counterclockwise the length of the blade. 
 
5. Check for sharpness each turn and continue flipping the blade back and forth between Steps 3 and 4, alternating the edge of the blade from facing toward you and away from you, and clockwise/counterclockwise, until sharp.
 

 

FIRE A HELLFIRE MISSILE FROM AN APACHE

The AH-64 Apache helicopter and its Hellfire missile system are one of the world’s most impressive implements of destruction. Its 18-pound warhead lets you take out any vehicle on the battlefield, and its precision guidance lets you put it through a (really small) window—from over 5 miles away. 
 
1. Arm your weapons systems using the Safe/Arm switch on the Hellfire (initially named the Helicopter Launched, Fire and Forget missile). 
 
2. Select the missile system using the Weapons System Selector. 
 
3. Get an accurate range to the target by placing your weapon crosshairs on it and using the laser range finder that’s part of your Target Acquisition and Designation Sights (TADS) system. 
 
4. Select the missile you want to fire using your Multifunction Display interface. 
 
5. Pull the trigger. 
 
6. For a laser-guided Hellfire, keep the laser focused on your target with your crosshairs until impact. For a radar-guided Hellfire, fire and forget. 
 
7. Pick a new target for destruction.
 

 

PERFORM FIRST AID FOR SHOCK

Shock is caused by inadequate blood flow to vital tissues and organs. Untreated shock may result in death, even if the injury or condition causing the shock would not otherwise be fatal. Symptoms include cold and clammy skin, unusual skin color, nausea, or feelings of confusion or agitation. 
 
1. Position the Soldier—get them into shade and under cover if an enemy is present. Lay them on their back or side if they are unconscious.  
 
2. Loosen clothing that’s tight around the neck, waist or anywhere it’s binding. 
 
3. Elevate their legs unless it causes further injury or pain. 
 
4. Do not give the Soldier anything to eat or drink. 
 
5. Prevent the Soldier from overheating or getting cold. Do whatever you can to get them in a comfortable temperature.
 
6. Be calm and reassuring. Take charge and tell them that they are being taken care of. 
 
7. Seek medical aid.
 

 
 

IDENTIFY THE WORLD'S DEADLIEST SPIDERS

Black widow 
North America
It has a dark, shiny abdomen with a distinctive hourglass marking on its underside. The brown recluse spider might be more well known and more widespread, but the black widow is statistically more deadly in North America.
 
Brazilian wandering spider 
South America 
Similar in appearance to a North American wolf spider, this creepy thing gets the medal for the most neurologically toxic venom in the world: It’s about 20 times deadlier than the black widow’s. Look for a tarantulalike spider, but faster moving, often hiding near fruit. 
 
Six-eyed sand spider 
Africa/Middle East
Look for a flattened appearance that is obviously meant to blend in with a sandy environment. This hand-sized spider’s sandy-colored body is covered with small hairs, and you’ll usually find it half-buried in sand waiting for prey. 
 
Chinese bird spider 
Asia
With a legspan as wide as 8 inches, this Asian tarantula can be aggressive and can bring down small mammals with just a small amount of venom. It’s easily identified as dangerous by its typical tarantula body type. Plus, you know, the 8-inch legspan.
 

 

FIRE A 60 MM MORTAR

First Sergeant Greg Billings, C Company, 4/118th Infantry Battalion, South Carolina National Guard, earned his mortarman cred while deployed for a year to Afghanistan. With 17 years of infantry experience, he says one of the most unique traits of the 60 mm mortar system is its ability to fire in a faster hand-held mode using trigger fire. This is used for indirect fire, typically in close engagements with a range of 100 to 1,300 meters. Instead of using the bipod assembly, you hold the 3-foot tube with your left hand, aim using a bubblelike range scale and pull the trigger with your right hand. When you have the time for a more secure firing technique, follow these steps:  
 
1. Pick a spot to place the tube. Look for a spot with cover, concealment and overhead clearance. 
 
2. Use your compass to establish direction of fire. 
 
3. Place two aiming stakes at 100 meters and 50 meters. 
 
4. Drop the mortar round into the tube, then continue sliding your hands down the sides to make sure they stay clear of the muzzle. 
 
5. The mortar impacts the firing pin, igniting the charge and propelling the round out of the tube. 
 
6. Adjust fire based on guidance from the troops in contact, or the FO who is calling fire. 
 
7. Fire for effect.
 
 

 

READ A LEAVE AND EARNINGS STATEMENT

If you’ve been in the Guard for more than a few months, you’ve probably received your first Leave and Earnings Statement (LES) from the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS), a comprehensive documentation of your pay and leave status. Here are a few tips to help decipher it.

Pay Date: This is the date you officially joined the Army. It's the same as your Pay Entry Basic Date.

Pay Type: Any pay you receive goes here, including bonuses or special duty payments.

ETS: This is the date your current contract (or Military Service Obligation) is scheduled to expire. If you are an officer, and have no Military Service Obligation, you will see only zeros.

Net Amt: How much your check is actually for.

Wage YTD: This is the total amount of money the Army has paid you so far this calendar year.

Leave: If you are on Active Duty for training or a deployment, you accrue leave, which is noted here.

BAQ Type: If you are receiving allowance for quarters (BAQ), make sure your dependent information is correct.

Pay & Allow Debt: If you have any debts, they will be listed here. Debt can include bonus money that you have to repay, or corrections to previous payments, or if you have to pay for lost gear.

Active Duty (AD) for Training: This is where the days that you’re actually getting paid for are listed. Use this to be sure you receive pay for every day that you work.

Adjustment Pay: If you do have a debt listed, there will be additional details here.