Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Minutes of Excitement, Hours of Drudgery

Minutes of This
Is Followed by Hours of This. . .
And This. . .


In the Army, anything that is really exciting will require hours of drudgery before and after.  Much of life is like this.  Think of the hours that go into preparing a perfect meal.  The most exciting moment is the first taste of the sizzling scallops or the crunch of the the perfect salad.  

Add all the bureaucratic bedevilment with safety and the Army brackets each minute of real excitement with an hour of boredom before and after.  This is so true of firing weapons.  Before a soldier steps on the range, that soldier will have two or three hours of Primary Marksmanship Instruction.  For someone like me who fires once a year, this class is a good reminder of some of the fundamentals, especially of zeroing the weapon (lining up the sights and the barrel of the weapon for the particular shooter).  

But most of the class own a dozen guns, talk about gun safes at lunch, know who sells ammo cheapest, and fire on a range or hunt every month.  Yet these guys have to go through the same repetitive rehash of firing procedures.  If all goes well, the soldier is actually on the zeroing range firing for 10 or 15 minutes.  The procedure is to fire three-round groups, adjust the sights and fire again.  Once the weapon has a zero, the soldier can go to the qualification range.  

At the "Qual" range, the soldier fires 40 rounds at pop-up targets from 50 to 300 meters away from the firing position.  This is very exciting, especially for the once-a-year shooters like me who have not memorized the target order and have to look for and fire at the targets for the few seconds they are visible.  

This year I had trouble with the battlesight, but a friend who is an armorer and an expert marksman switched out my sight.  I fired six rounds to zero.  All six were in the 4 cm circle at the center of the target.  On the range itself, I fired the best in my life with 33 of 40 target hits.  During my first enlistment, I carried a pistol so M16 marksmanship wasn't part of my Army life.

After the sight switch, I had an exciting ten minutes getting six rounds in the center of the zero target, and an exciting five minutes hitting 33 of 40 on the pop-up target range.  Immediately after shooting, we carefully pick up the spent cartridges

Then it was time to clean weapons.  For most of the next three hours I cleaned my weapon and started cleaning another soldier's weapon who had to go to a ceremony.  So in all, 15 minutes of excitement in a ten-hour day.

But wait!!! There's more.

At the end of the next day, our brass turn-in was was 400 less than the 10% allowed for loss on the range.  We needed 400 rounds of brass--the spent cartridge that is ejected from the side of the rifle.  For those who have not been on a range, finding brass is a painstaking job.  Most shooters from long years of habit begun in basic training carefully pick up all their brass.  Some ranges require you to turn in 40 rounds of brass when you step off the range after firing 40 shots.

At 5:30 pm, the first sergeant picked a dozen of us to head to the range and find brass.  We were joined by many staff officers.  We kicked the grass and crawled along the edges of the firing stations combing the ground looking for spent brass.  We found about a hundred rounds of brass on our range, then moved to another range, hoping the soldiers who fired there had left some brass in the grass.

An hour later, the Brigade Command Sergeant Major called a halt to the search and we headed back to the armory with the brass we could find.  

I will probably never know what happened to the missing brass.  The most common speculation I overheard on the range is that someone "misplaced" several hundred rounds of ammo.  

In any case, I was happy.  I fired the best I ever fired in my life with a rifle.  My zero was as near perfect as I will ever get.  And crawling in the grass looking for spent cartridges 42 years after the first time I fired on a military range was just too funny.  I was smiling the whole time while most everyone else was bitching.  For me this was the perfect Army end to my last session of qualification.  In the Army those minutes of excitement always begin with safety briefings, long lines to draw weapons and end with hours of waiting, picking up brass and cleaning the weapon.

That missing brass let me have a full Army experience.

Family Black Sheep Flies a MEDEVAC Blackhawk

Brooklyn-born Amira Talifi, (not her real name) is a helicopter pilot I served with in the Army National Guard. She is one of seven ch...