Friday, January 27, 2012

BMT: The Beast

The BEAST challenge coin, available for purchase.

By request, today I bring you BEAST!  And I'm not just talking about myself!  ;)  BEAST stands for Basic Expeditionary Airman Skills Training, which is the field exercise you'll do in week 6 of BMT.  BEAST serves as a culmination of all of your practical, hands-on education at BMT.

Prior to leaving for BEAST, you'll receive training in SABC ("Self-Aide Buddy Care" - first aide), CBRNe (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear warfare), defensive fighting positions, and non-lethal rifle fighting techniques.  Around week five, this training will ramp up, and your classroom lessons will discuss "predeployment" procedures and information.

Your MTI and student leaders will select several trainees to take on leadership roles at the BEAST.  These roles include:
  • BEAST Monitor - This individual functions as the Dorm Chief of BEAST and will work with other BEAST Monitors to organize and strategize.
  • Tactical Deployment Leader - Four trainees are selected to be TDLs, which are the Element Leaders of BEAST.  They assist the BEAST Monitors.
  • Weapons Monitor - This trainee is responsible if anyone mishandles their weapon.  They should have weapons handling down pat.
  • SABC Monitor - These two to three trainees are responsible for ensuring that all trainees understand SABC procedures and can execute them properly.

The weekend before you leave for BEAST, you'll go to the mini-mall for a predeployment shopping trip.  There's a checklist of items in your BMTSG.  Things I bought but didn't use include bug spray and flexible bandage tape (for protecting my arms and elbows on the chalk walk).  You're going to want to bring hand sanitizer and probably sunscreen, since this is one of the most exposed areas of the base and you're outside all day.  You'll also prepare a second canteen, so that you have two on your web belt at all times.  All of these items will be packed in Ziploc bags in your duffle bag.  You'll carry your duffle bag and your rifle (without the case) onto the bus on Monday morning and be transported to the BEAST, which is located on a remote side of the base.

For whatever reason, this particular area of the base seems hotter than back at the squadron.  Throw in some sand, MOPP gear, sweat, and it can seem unbearable at times.  By the time the week is over, you'll be thankful for the "luxurious" squadron living.  I remember saying that I would gladly roll and fold in my air conditioned personal area for hours after that experience!  Our flight joked that there would be no more fussing when our MTI asked us to do something, regardless of how ridiculous it seemed.  Bleach the latrine floor with a toothbrush?  Not a problem, on it Sir!  We were thankful just to be back.  Keep in mind though that we were at BEAST in the middle of July in Texas - you can imagine.

I was really anxious, and not in a good way, when it came time to leave for BEAST.  I was unsure of what I was getting myself into, and shortly after I would acquire a chest cold, so I wasn't the best of company.  Luckily, the BEAST Monitors were in charge, so I was able to take a back seat for the first time at BMT.

When you arrive, you'll be briefed under a large open pavilion.  An instructor will escort your flight and three other flights to your zone for the week.  You'll be with your brother/sister flight and another pair of flights.  I found that ours were all sequential - flights 493, 494, 495, and 496 were all in the same zone.  We were in Reaper Zone, which we'd heard had the newest facilities.

Mission Objective and Schedule
The point of the BEAST is to simulate a deployed environment.  You may find yourself working outside of your normal AFSC/duty skill set when you're deployed, so everyone needs to be trained to assume EC duties.
  • Monday - Build the ECP and rear security with the provided sand bags.  Pick up tactical gear, including backpack, helmet, Kevlar vest, over boots, pants, jacket, and gloves.  Receive information on what to do according to certain alarm colors and MOPP ("Mission Oriented Protective Posture") levels.  Practice getting into full MOPP gear quickly.  Do some preliminary training in SABC, PAR Sweeps, and DFP security.  Head to the auditorium/media room (outside of the zone) to watch videos briefing the mission.  Eat a hot dinner in the dining facility, where you'll actually get a cookie!
  • Tuesday - Participate in morning PT consisting of strength training in the hardened shelter.  Eat an MRE for breakfast.  Participate in exercises for the majority of the day.  Training stops if Black Flag is reached.  Some trainees may be participate in a chalk walk, which leave on each hour, until/unless Black Flag is reached.  At lunch time you'll go over to the auditorium, where you'll watch more videos, usually on LOAC ("Law of Armed Conflict"), while you eat an MRE for lunch.  You'll struggle to stay awake.  Back to the zone for more training and exercises.
  • Wednesday - Repeat of Tuesday, but with increased anxiety, as your evaluation is tomorrow.
  • Thursday - The day of evaluation!  After the normal morning routine, you'll prepare for the evaluation, which happens around 0900.  There are no chalk walks on this day.  When the evaluators arrive, you'll stand in formation near your tent.  They'll hand select trainees and direct them where to go (DFP, ECP, PAR Sweep, SABC, etc), therefore everyone needs to be trained in every area, as you'll be expected to execute this procedure to textbook perfection.  If you're not selected for one of these areas, you may be selected for questioning, where you'll be given a question about procedures and you'll need to answer it (it's open book).  The exercise will begin and you'll be evaluated and scored in all of the areas.  They will not tell you your score, but you'll       debrief with the cadre afterward.  The rest of the day is somewhat relaxed in comparison to the other two, and Thursday evening was very laid back.  I remember socializing with our brother flight, and listening to them to impressions and rap battles.
  • Friday - The morning will be spent returning your MOPP gear, packing at lightening speed, washing and returning your gas mask, returning the sleeping bags to the storage building, dismantling the ECP and rear security, and general cleaning of the area.  Finally, you'll all go to the outdoor pavilion you first arrived at, where you'll hear the results of the evaluation.  The zone with the highest number of points will be awarded BEAST Excellence, and each flight will receive a streamer to pin on their guidon for graduation Parade.  This will be the first time you're reunited with your MTI.  If you're anything like us, you'll be thankful to see them and ready to go "home" to the squadron.  You'll eat breakfast (your last MRE) in the dining facility and you'll be done for the day.  You'll wait in the pavilion until the buses come to take you back to the squadron.

Life at the Zone
  • In week 4 (or was it 5?) when you're doing CBRNe (the gas chamber), MREs are exciting because they're different and you have a chance to get candy!  By the time BEAST is over, you'll be sick of MREs.  The cadre is insistent that you walk by the bins and grab without looking, so if you're like me, you'll end up with the same meal over and over (Vegetarian BBQ Burger).  Luckily, everyone shares their food, or trades for what they want.
  • Dinner is the best meal of the day, because it's hot and you get dessert, including a cookie and sometimes a piece of apple pie.
  • During weeks 1 through 5, you're typically in a friendly competition with your brother/sister flight.  When you arrive at BEAST, you're expected to work side by side with them.  You'll bond as a result, as it'll be the most you've ever been able to socialize with them.  We found that our brother flight was fiercely protective of us, especially when the other two flights stepped out of line, such as when another trainee drew a penis in the sand outside of a female tent.
  • The videos you'll watch in the auditorium are downright painful.  Watch for the narrator who talks with his hands.  You'll be mimicking him in no time.  Make sure you keep your wingmen awake, although there seems to be more of an opportunity to fall asleep without being completely blasted.
  • The latrine situation is not pretty.  We only had one flight of females in our zone, but that still meant we had fifty trainees using three shower stalls and three to four bathroom stalls.  Some trainees thought it wasn't worth the hassle, and chose to just baby wipe it.
  • The cadre is less strict than the MTIs back at the squadron, which is refreshing.  You'll still be on your best behavior, since on the first day they'll teach you really quickly that if you don't hustle, they'll make you run to the perimeter to the watch tower, back and forth until you learn the definition of urgency.  Did I mention you've got all of your tactical gear on, and a weapon in your hands?  You do.
  • In the heat of the day, your gear gets heavy quickly and you'll sweat profusely.  You'll pray for Black Flag as soon as possible.  You'll spend more time than you'd care to in your MOPP gear.
  • While in the hardened shelter during air attacks, you'll usually don full MOPP gear.  This can be stressful for your claustrophobic and anxious trainees, who you'll have to calm down, as they can't remove their gear prematurely.  The plus side for the rest of you?  When you're laying on your stomach in full gear, you'd be surprised at how quickly you can fall asleep.  It was a great time to catch a five minute nap.
  • You may have blown off the hydration schedule back at the squadron, but at the BEAST, you have to follow the hydration schedule.  You'll have a piece of tape on your canteen where you'll tally the number of canteens you drink a day.  You need to drink as much as possible, since dehydration can creep up on you easily, especially when you're in MOPP gear.  If you become too ill to participate, you'll be sent back to the squadron and considered a "BEAST holdover."  You'll have to repeat the entire process next week, with flights that are not your own, while your flight is back doing 7th week stuff and preparing for the EOC.  Trust me, you don't want to have to do that.
  • You will still receive mail while at the BEAST, although you cannot send out any mail.
  • If you want to go to the latrine in the middle of the night, you have to be in full uniform and gear - backpack, weapon, helmet, and Kevlar vest.  You'll start to wonder if it's even worth it.  Pee before bed, you won't want to in the middle of the night.  The cadre will tell you not to pee in an empty canteen as a means of avoiding it.
  • You'll still do duties at the BEAST - the latrine crew will clean the latrine, the laundry crew will do laundry, and the classroom crew will clean the auditorium.  Everyone else will clean tents, roll and unroll windows, and sweep every single pebble out of the tent.
  • They'll warn you of wildlife at BMT, including scorpions and snakes, but I don't remember seeing anything.
  • Everything your MTI told you about echoing at the squadron?  You'll finally internalize that lesson at the BEAST, where you'll really be forced to echo everything.
  • You'll carry your weapon everywhere, at the low ready position, including to the latrine.  Do not, I repeat, do not leave your weapon unattended.  The cadre will steal it and your weapons monitor will reap the consequences.
  • Try to take PT seriously - when you return to the squadron, your 7th week (final) PT eval in three days, and you must pass in order to graduate.     

"Exercise, Exercise, Exercise!"
You'll hear these words in your head long after the week is over.  The alarm will sound and you'll hear the Great Voice say:
Exercise, exercise, exercise!
Alarm Red, MOPP 4.

All of the trainees will echo and respond with:
  Alarm Red, MOPP 4.
Get to the hardened shelter!

At that point, everyone will run straight to the hardened shelter.  You'll remain quiet and wait for further instructions via the Great Voice.  If it's an air attack, you'll don full MOPP gear, do a buddy check on three trainees, then lie down on your stomach.  When the initial attack is over, you'll get back up and prepare for the all-clear signal.  At that point, you'll send the PAR Sweep team to do the initial scout of the area.

The PAR sweep team consists of four trainees who'll run out (still in full MOPP gear) and do initial surveillance of the area.  They'll look for UXOs (unexploded ordinances), check chemical papers, look for casualties, and anything else suspicious in their assigned area.  If they find a UXO, they'll identify it and set up a cordon (sp?) where they'll use four orange cones to block off the area.  A runner will retrieve a security team to stand watch at the cordon.  They'll continue to stand at each cone and prevent anyone from entering the area.  If the PAR sweep team finds a casualty, they'll send a runner back for the SABC team.  The SABC team will run out of the shelter with the bag of first aide equipment and a litter.  They'll perform first aide on the casualty and take them via litter to the field hospital.

When you do the above exercise during the final evaluation, you'll do all of the above in full MOPP gear, including manning the DFPs and ECP.

"Opposing Forces" will be trying to engage you at the DFPs and ECP.  These are played by your MTIs, who'll wear a mish-mash of military clothes (usually BDUs) and head scarves.  Their purpose is to test whether or not you know the procedures for entry control, including apprehension.  It can be intimidating, as their behavior is completely unpredictable.  Do not let them pass through your entry control points, which is an automatic failure.  In the same vein, do not let anyone through the ECP without running through the proper procedures, including all of your trainees and the cadre.  

Chalk Walks
If you have the opportunity to do a chalk walk, jump at it.  These are the photos from the BEAST that you've seen at the Contemporary Christian church.  It is physically demanding, challenging, and but the sense of accomplishment when you're done is amazing.  It is a great way to build up trainees that need that confidence booster.  I believe they told us it was a six mile walk, which you'll do in full battle rattle.  You'll encounter a number of team building challenges to complete, including getting the team across a "river" on beams, building a temper tent, low crawling up a hill (probably the most challenging for me), and completing a rescue mission in The Village.  The Village is a highlight for many trainees, as the OPFOR are MTIs.  You'll have to ignore them, clear buildings, and rescue the downed Airmen.  Part of the chalk walk also includes the IED trail, where you'll work on spotting IEDs.  The entire chalk walk runs about two to three hours.  If you hit Black Flag while on the chalk, you'll have to stop immediately, take off your vest and helmet, and walk back to the pavilion - you're done for the day.  That being said, if you want the full experience, sign up for the earliest chalk.

Final Thoughts
The BEAST was not my favorite part of BMT, because I was very anxious prior to going and ill on top of everything else.  The weather made everyone miserable and the days are exhausting.  I was thankful just to return to the squadron, my MTI, and rolling and folding in my (air conditioned) personal area.  I missed hot meals.  You are able to go to sick call during BEAST, and I went once to get a cold pack.  I ended up going to sick call the day after the 7th week PT eval, and found out that I had the early stages of bronchitis.  I wasn't very engaged during the process, and was thankful that my BEAST Monitor and TDLs could take over leadership responsibilities.  Side note, while I was pleased with our performance, we did not get BEAST Excellence.

The positive side of this experience is the bonding that occurs between flights.  BEAST really pulls everyone together, and flights gel as a result.  You'll come away from the BEAST feeling confident, accomplished, and eager for what lies ahead.  Once 6th week and BEAST is behind you, all you have left is 7th week classes, where you'll wear blues for the first time, your final PT eval, and EOC.  The end is in sight and you've almost graduated!
The reverse of the coin, with the Airman's Creed.
[Parts of this post have been edited due to OPSEC concerns brought forward.  I will answer questions as best as I can, but please understand if I can't answer everything and elaborate as much as I'd like.]


Angela said...

This makes me think I need to bust out a few P90X rounds before enlisting, ha! I can't do a normal push up to save my life, but finally pushed 1 normal one out. 1 is better than nothing! :) My husband said he loved the BEAST, but I can see how some would like/hate it. Great post yet again.

thurston said...

Nice! Thanks so much!

chelleabellie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
the Ordinary Housewife said...

Thank You for sharing your experience. My son starts Beast tomorrow.

Erin said...

@the Ordinary Housewife - You're very welcome! Good luck to him and his zone!

Bryan Yates said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bryan Yates said...

Going through BEAST in the end of January it was a different experience. There were no flag conditions to worry about.

In the morning many people wore gloves and some wore the parka and watch cap.
The one night,tent guards stayed in the tent and I believe the ECP guards were in the hardened shelter due to the low temps.

Several of us with glasses found it less uncomfortable not to wear the goggles when in full MOPP Gear.

There's rumors of them moving the O-Course, Pugil sticks, and maybe a few others things out to BEAST. However, when I went through we watched the SERE Videos after evening chow and the evaluation was on Friday. Saturday was the BEAST graduation ceremony.

We were privileged to have Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Robert Gaylor speak at our ceremony. Not too many people can say they heard a former CMSgt. of the Air Force Speak.

The best part of BEAST was when we got BEAST excellence.

(Couldn't edit the comment, so I had to repost it with the change.)

Erin said...

@Bryan - The weather sure does change the entire experience! Congrats on your BEAST excellence and getting to hear CMSgt Gaylor speak!