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Incredible mortar-assembly challenges with the Green Berets

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4.2'' rifle barreled mortar crew

When I came up through the ranks to become a Green Beret, the whole training course lasted more than three months. The first month at the time, Phase I, was what we called a “gut check.” It was very (VERY) physically demanding, and famous for cutting down the ranks of men who were lacking in resolve, true grit, and strong positive team interaction.

Those who completed Phase I entered into the special job training (Phase II) for the various positions on an A-Team such as weapons sergeant, communication sergeant, engineer sergeant, medical sergeant, and so on.

I chose to become a weapon sergeant because my primary MOS coming into the Green Berets was 11C, a mortar specialist. So, I spent the first couple of weeks of Phase II working with small arms from around the world: pistols, carbines, bolt-action rifles, submachine guns, and assault rifles (AR). The next couple of weeks were spent with crew-served weapons that were all fully automatic. Other crew-served weapons were recoilless rifles and belt- and magazine-fed weapons that typically require a second man to perform duties as assistant gunners. Included were LAWs rockets, RPGs, and Javelin AT rockets.

Finally, we progressed to mortars, my specialty!

Related: Yes, WWII soldiers could throw mortar rounds like grenades

mortar training
Members of the mortar platoon of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, practice mortar handling and firing at Graffenwoehr Training Area, Germany on May 25th, 2017. (Photo by Sgt. Nicholas Vidro, 7th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)

One of our cadre trainers was a particularly nasty man whose last name was Apple. We all called him Rotten Apple and he really had some personality issues that went hand-in-hand with his surly disposition. Let’s just say he wasn’t the apple of anyone’s eye. The chips on his shoulders were cast of soft, sappy, knotty pine – sh*t wood. The guy was just sh**ty to every one of us.

We were out in the yard doing mortar drills – assembly and disassembly mostly. We started working with the American 81mm mortar, which was the mortar I had all my mortar experience with in Basic Training. We finally progressed to the 4.2” (107mm) rifled-barrel monster of a mortar. We took to calling it the “Four Deuce” mortar. (There is a 120mm mortar now in use with the conventional Big Army, though that was way after my time there.)

During a break in place, the guys started talking about which mortar crew could set up the mortar the fastest. We had enough guys to form three crews of three men and one man out. I joked by announcing that I could be a one-man crew and set up the entire mortar by myself. And lo and behold, I was assigned to do exactly that.

It was my mouth that got me into this mess and I stood contemplating how I would accomplish a singleton assembly of the monster mortar. To give you an idea of the task, here’s the weight breakout of the mortar’s components: Mk 2 Barrel: 92 lb (42 kg). Tripod: 112 lb (51 kg). No 2 baseplate: 120 lb (54 kg). Auxiliary baseplate 318 lb (318 lb (144 kg)

Sergeant Rotten Apple sneered at me as I prepared to assemble the mortar and cried “Go!”

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The revered 4.2” rifle-barreled mortar. (Wikimedia Commons)

I began with the heaviest piece, the base plate weighing in at about 300 lbs. The saving grace was that it was round like a plate – ha ha – so I lifted it to a vertical position and rolled it to the assembly area. I grabbed the rest of the pieces one at a time and hefted them to the baseplate. Then, I began to assemble the mortar.

I built the mortar smartly and with finesse. It all came together and it actually didn’t take that long. The other guys were giving me back pats and the like. Rotten Apple didn’t congratulate me; he just sneered at me – at all of us.

“You think you’re hard-corps, Hand?” questioned the awful Rotten Apple.

“Not at all, Sgt… just curious if it could be done by one man is all that was.”

Across the street was the Psyop Group’s chow hall and we were scheduled to have lunch there. We began to scramble across the vast Gruber road to the chow hall. Suddenly Rotten Apple blocked my path:

“You think you’re hard-corps, Hand?”

“No, Rot… I mean Sergeant Apple.”

“Ok, Hand I want you to low-crawl from right here, all the way to the chow hall.”

Well hell… I knew there was no way to please this d**k so I got flat on my stomach and started to snake my way over Gruber Road. Rotten Apple at a minimum sent two men out to hold traffic while I crossed Gruber Road.

Related: Cold-weather adventures in the US Army

soldiers low crawl
Soldiers in their second week of basic combat training with B Company, 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment, low crawl through the final obstacle at the Fit to Win endurance course at Fort Jackson, S.C., Oct. 1, 2015. (U.S. Army photo by Master Sgt. Class Brian Hamilton)

That low-crawling on asphalt wasn’t doing my uniform any good… but I continued. Eventually, I reached the yard surrounding the chow hall; it was vast and composed of dirt and rocks.

Rotten Apple was waiting for me at the entrance to the dining facility. I jumped up and announced that I was all complete with the assigned task. As I motioned for the door Rotten Apple piped up:

“Where the hell are you going? You can’t come into the chow hall with your uniform all messed up and dirty like it is. You might as well go back to the training building, hardcore Hand—ha, ha, ha, ha.”

How do you like them apples? I was actually giddy about crawling all that distance and setting up the Four Deuce all by myself. The guys were coming back from lunch, bringing all sorts of fruit and the like for me. That was so cool and I felt great – I was on top of the world, ma!

We later continued practicing setting up the mortars:

“On the square!”

“To your front!”

“ACTION”

But Sergeant Rotton Apple actually received a reprimand from the training company’s commander. That is rather serious and I worried about what effect it would have on me. I was cool with the world, and inevitably the training company commander proved – you know it’s coming – that one bad apple doesn’t necessarily spoil the whole bunch.

It’s great to be king, if even for just one day.

By Almighty God and with honor,

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George Hand

Master Sergeant US Army (ret) from the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, The Delta Force. In service, he maintained a high level of proficiency in 6 foreign languages. Post military, George worked as a subcontracter for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on the nuclear test site north of Las Vegas Nevada for 16 years. Currently, George works as an Intelligence Analyst and street operative in the fight against human trafficking. A master cabinet-grade woodworker and master photographer, George is a man of diverse interests and broad talents.