Monday, January 19, 2009

Heavy Metal

I don't remember when they gave us our weapons in Basic Training (BT).

I think it was somewhere in the second or third week. We weren't allowed to call them guns. They were "weapons". M16s to be precise. And they were beautiful!

I grew up with guns. My dad went hunting nearly every year - we had rifles and handguns in our house as far back as I can remember. My bio-dad gave my brother an air gun (or pellet gun, as some people call it) when he was about 7 years old.

I know people get all bunched up about guns in the house around kids but I think one of the biggest problems is that people don't educate their children about these dangerous pieces of machinery. We teach our kids at a very young age about the hot oven and not to play in the fridge or the dryer. Doesn't it make just as much sense to teach them about the things that can really kill them? A lot of people don't even tell the kids they have a gun, much less teach them about the thing. If something is hidden and forbidden, it's so much more tempting, isn't it? Growing up, my brother and I knew where all the guns were, we knew how to use them and we also knew that if we touched them without permission, our asses would be grass. I know that kids often do things they aren't supposed to - but, just like everything else in life, if they are properly educated, they are more likely to make better decisions.


An M16 is a fully automatic rifle. When I was in BT, we actually got M16A2 rifles. It has different settings - safety on, single shot, 3-round burst, and fully automatic. (It was my understanding that the A2 model added the 3-round burst to conserve ammo and improve accuracy for scared shitless soldiers under fire.) It weighs about 6 lb.s and has a range up to somewhere btw 300-800 meters.

Our weapon was soon to become our best friend. During most of BT, you were rarely separated from your best friend. Whenever we went inside as a group, we made these little teepees with our rifles. At chow time, one soldier had to wait with the teepees until the first soldier to finish eating came out to relieve them.

I loved the weapons training. If you've never fired a weapon, get thee to a firing range pronto and try it out. It's so. Much. Fun! When we first got our weapons, we spent a day learning all about them. It was like a gun theory class - we were taught how to adjust the site, adjust the strap, load the clip, and (my favorite) take the weapon apart, clean it and put it back together. By the end of the day, we were having contests to see who could break apart and put together their weapon fastest. The winners were usually Amy, me or Krissa (she's the girl that people thought was a guy in reception). The three of us won our way to the front of the food line a few times with this contest! We were also taught tips for firing with accuracy. The best tip is to look for movement, not a specific thing. If you give your mind a specific thing to focus on, it'll bypass other, potentially important things you might need to know about.

Later, the training goes from theory to practice. We would go out to the firing range at least once a week usually more. You had to "qualify" with your weapon. Qualifying means you had to develop a specific amount of accuracy with your rifle to be able to graduate BT. We went to the range a lot. There's very specific rules at a rifle range. Number one being, "Up and down range" - you had to have your rifle muzzle pointed up in the air and facing downrange. The oddest (and saddest) rule they implemented was a new one. There were no proper bathrooms at the range, just port-a-potties. The cycle before ours, a soldier had taken his rifle into the porta with him and killed himself. Because of that, whenever you used a porta, you had to have a hand sticking out of the porta, holding your rifle.

I was always volunteering for range duty. Range duty consisted of raking the sand pits to get all the empty cartridges and reloading the empty clips with bullets It was mindless, mind-numbing duty and I couldn't get enough of it. It gave me some much needed time to myself. I've never been one to enjoy the drama of too many women in one place. With range duty, there were only one or two people assigned at any given time.

Amy, Krissa and I were the best shots in our squad. This honor gave us the opportunity to play with weapons the others in our squad did not. The best shots in each squad got to fire the M60. An M60 is a machine gun - the type you feed the ribbon of bullets into . F'in awesome beyond belief!

The day we got to fire the M60, we were sent to a different area of the firing range. There's a perfect square foxhole with the M60 on the ground in front of the hole. You had to jump into the hole and then use the ground in front of it as the foundation for supporting the gun. There was a box in the hole for the shorter soldiers. When I jumped into the hole, DS Brown yelled at me, "Riggs, get on the box!" I yelled back, "I am on the box DS!" That gun has a kick like a mule on meth. It kept knocking me off the box! After getting knocked off the box twice, the DS's tried to make me stop and get out of the hole. "No way, DS, " I said, "Adapt and Overcome." (A popular phrase in the Army) I wedged a foot against the back wall of the hole and went to town with that machine gun. My shoulder felt like it was going to be dislocated and I knew I'd have some really nasty bruises but no way was I gonna pass up this one opportunity I was ever likely to have with such an impressive piece of machinery.

As one of the top shots, I also got to participate in a night fire exercise. It was beautiful. They put tracers on the bullets so you can see where they are headed in the dark. Very surreal.

We all got to play with the bazooka. There's the theory class for every weapon and then practical use. We got to fire bazookas into a range that had old 5 ton Army trucks and tanks in it. I hit a tank! It was all fun and games for us. I never had any real use for these weapons (for which I'm eternally grateful). I know in a real war situation, I would probably be able to hold my own but I would be scared senseless and crying like a baby while I fired my weapon.

We were taught how to wire claymores and Bouncing Betty's - those are landmines. We also learned how to unwire them. The ones we learned on were empty inside with no detonation abilities. We had no practical practice with these. Again, very thankful for that! The hand grenades were scary enough!

Yes. We got to throw live grenades. We learned on not-live grenades and then we were taken to a special facility to throw them. There was a bullet/shatter proof glass wall for observation. On the other side of it was about 10 feet of open space, a wooden wall, then more open space. The wall was about double the width of your average house door and maybe a bit more then half as tall.

You and the DS would hunch down on the ground on one side of the wall (the observation side, obviously) and the DS would wrap his hands around yours and tell you to pull the pin. You would both be holding down the detonator. He would hold you like that for awhile... not long... just long enough to really piss your pants. Then, he'd let go and tell you to throw it. You had to throw it over the wall. We practiced this throw many, many, many times with the dummy grenades. You sort of half-stood and threw it up and behind you over the wall.

A lot of the girls cried while they held that live grenade, waiting to be able to throw it the hell away from them. I didn't cry but I was sweating bullets and I kept saying, "Now? Now? How 'bout now. Now? Are we there yet?" When he finally let me go, I stood all the way up to throw it. It took an extra second and I knew it would probably fail me for this exercise (standing all the way up, out of cover, will get your head blown off by the enemy) but I'm short and wanted to make damn sure the thing got over the wall.

Fitz (the one who fake-passed out while we were getting smoked) almost killed herself and the DS. She pulled the pin, DS held it with her and when he told her to throw it, she did. What she forgot to do was that half-standing thing. She just flung it sort of up, but mostly behind herself. It hit that half-wall, bounced, and landed on the ground right in front of DS and her. I remember DS's eyes bugging out, him screaming obscenities while he grabbed her by the collar and hauled her around to the other side of the wall.

The shock blast of that grenade cracked the shatterproof glass we were all looking through. I was in front, watching and most people were already running when they heard the muted thunk of the grenade against the wood of the wall. We were all crammed against that observation glass and there was really no where for me to go since there were so many people behind me!


Still a pretty good shot, Ruth!

P. S. This is my 300th post!


Yarnhog said...

That grenade story made me really queasy.

I was in high school ROTC. Pretty gung-ho, too. We went to Spring Camp every year at Camp Pendleton and did all of that, except for the grenade part. I've fired an M16 and an M60. (We also had to go into the teargas chamber, which I hated beyond belief. I had so much hair, I could never get my gas mask to fit right and the teargas would get in.) The scariest thing I ever did was the night infiltration course, where you crawl under barbed wire with those damned tracer bullets whizzing by three feet over your head. I got enough of the military from those experiences, and never felt the need to do it for real, although a lot of my friends did.

sophanne said...

firing guns- a completely alternate reality-

another great post.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ruth!

Your description of weapons training in BT is absolutely lyrical! You need to work it into a book of some sort.

Sandy in Tucson

Nell said...

Congrats on your 300th post!!!!

I grew up with guns too. Although I probably wouldn't own one, I totally agree that there would be less fear if people were educated.