Monday, December 14, 2015

165 Days In Military Service

Selfie from the ranger flying field where we trained

This post is to give you guys a overall summary of the 165 days spent in Finnish Defense Forces. The service time is divided into 3 equally lenghty training periods, which are Bootcamp, specialization training and then multiple forces training.

Wall of text warning!

Bootcamp was physically the roughest time I have ever had. The FDF really wasted no time getting everyone up to speed on what was demanded from each of us. The schedule was packed to the brim every week and if we were lucky we might have had the evenings to visit the soldier's home, basically a cafeteria inside the barracks for the combatants (they said we weren't soldiers, but combatants. go figure). The army boots were absolute hell on my heels, they hurt so bad! Felt like I had hot coals inside my heel. Luckily I was able to procure some gel heel pads on one of the weekend leaves and save my heels from permanent damage.
First settling shooting with the RK62s were exciting, having basically no real experience with firearms and of course after that we learned how to clean and maintain them, cool and actually fun stuff. There were shooting range days so everyone could actually calibrate the sights and then actually get some holes put through the target boards, I was pretty decent with 'mah RK, but I felt my eyesight was clearly a limiting factor.
The forest camping training was fun... wait no, that's the wrong word. Hell. I got a high fever on the first camp, because I had a guard shift at night and it was raining and it was cold and I was tired. Wet and cold is not a good combination and of course somebody didn't keep the stove on in the tent, so it was cold inside too. There was a good side to this though, after visiting the barracks hospital I got couple days of rest from the training! And luckily it chewed a couple days off from the next camping happy fun time in the forest. The was something fun in the second camp though and that was throwing a live hand grenade, made a nice boom. My throw was shit though, but I'm going to blame that on the semi-concussion I got while running in the trenches and banging my helmet covered head on a horizontal wooden beam. I think I lost one vertebrae from the impact.
Last memory from the bootcamp period was the 18 mile cross country march in the local area. I think we left at 8 pm in the evening and before that we had a shooting range training, to which we had to cycle 12 miles and then 12 miles back. We came back to our unit's lower yard at 2 am and the bottom of my feet were bleeding.
The period reached it's peak when we had our soldier's oath, it was a magical event in it's own way.

All in all the bootcamp experience itself was awful, but the other awesome servicemen made it tolerable!

Specialization training, finally something that I'm familiar with... RC stuff! Right away our aerial target team's staff sergeant whisked us away from our unit to 300 miles away to Lohtaja, which is the place where the live AA exercises are done. It was time to get to know our new equipment. Gone away were the assault rifles and chest rigs and in were the RC radio equipment and screw drivers.
Engine test runs on the MALE 97 made by finnish Avartek company
The team that I was a part of was small, only 6 servicemen, and that's in the whole country! We were going to be responsible for over half of the live AA exercises! But the team picked up the job very quickly. The training we did for the first week with the smaller MALE 97 planes was to ensure our pilots were good to go and knew what kind of flying was wanted and maintenance on the side learned the quirks of the planes and how to fix them. I was first in the pilot side of things, but I later dropped out to the maintenance after concluding that my crappy eyesight didn't allow me to fly at the needed distances safely.
Prepped planes fueled, inspected, charged and ready to go
Field engine maintenance
Slow mo video of a hand launching of the plane

After the training with the smaller planes was completed we returned back to our home barracks for a couple of days and after the weekend we left for Lohtaja again. Now it was time start using the planes that were going to be used in the actual live fire exercises, the MALE 04, also by avartek. It's basically the big brother of the older 97 with bigger wingspan, bigger motor, bigger hull and much, much better design overall. Otherwise it was pretty much the same schedule, but just with the bigger plane now. Oh yea, also a fricking catapult!
Catapult to throw the bigger MALE 04 planes. No more hand launches!
POV of launching a plane with the catapult
Plane coming in to land

Man this thing was so frickin' awesome! Well, another week rolled by and we were back at the home barracks. Now, at this point we still had 3 months left in our service and now begins probably the worst time of all. The time that we had absolutely nothing to do. Just imagine, you're trained at the thing you were supposed to be trained, but nobody needs your services. That was us. Nobody needed any aerial target action. So in the end we basically just laid on our beds in our room in the unit's building. There were 2 times that we had some target service we needed to provide, but otherwise we just laid around to burn time. This went on for pretty much, until we had 4 weeks left of our service and it was time for the actual big training event at Lohtaja. Finally some proper action!
Tracers in the air, chasing our target plane
The exercise was the pinnacle of our military careers and I must admit it was pretty awesome watching all the traces flying in air, chasing our planes. We split into 2 flying groups, which flew from two different areas to the turrets and cannons. Our group had only one plane that was shot down, well, more like blown up to bits as it was hit by the 35 mm cannons from the T-55AM Marksman 
I luckily caught the one plane on video that was actually shot down by AA fire
Having some lunch out in the fields :D
Flash photography in the dark tent in the evening to cheer up our buddies
After the exercise we really didn't have any flying services that we needed to provide, so again it was back to laying on our beds... So much wasted time... 

All in all, it was an experience I will never forget
All the awesome guys I met in the military
All the horrible training exercises
Long, cold, wet nights in the forest
Long, warm, sleepy days spent on our beds
I want to thank everyone who I met during these times
And I will always honor the times we spent together

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