Saturday, October 4, 2008

Live Fire Shoot House Day Three

My right shoulder is aching as we ride out to the range in the back of a HumVee.

At 8 am we jump out of the back of the HumVee--except me. I get out out rather more slowly than the other five sergeants in the truck who range in age from 25 to 31.

Frist, we get a half-hour briefing on all the electronic capabilities of the shoot house. We can add noises of gunfire, babies crying, women screaming, explosions and shouting. Today we will fire at the man-sized three-dimensional targets--a dozen plastic mannequins that bullets pass through. The technicians explain that the dummies will fall over when shot, but they can be set to fall down with between one and five hits.

Next we move to the shoot house and Phil starts the briefing telling us that we will be the instructors today. Teams of three will run the exercises as we go through. Also on this final day of live fire we begin in small teams but quickly switch to a full ten-man team for each assault. And the exercises can use the entire building.

Up till this point everything we did was new to me--or so old that it seemed new. But today two parts of the training were things I had recently practiced. During the night, I realized that walking steadily and smoothly forward, rifle on my shoulder aimed forward, finger over the trigger guard, thumb on the safety was a lot like riding a bike fast through city traffic.

Riding in city traffic--cities like New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Paris--you ride between lines of traffic pedaling steady but scanning in every direction looking for the movement that betrays an unsignaled lane changed, a door opening, a guy who hesitates then runs a light. Your hands are on the brake/shift levers, but lightly, only shifting or braking in the split second when something changes. And a mistake can be a disaster. So going into the shoot house is like riding Storrow Drive in Boston or riding the cobblestone traffic circle around the Arc de Triomphe in Friday rush hour traffic.

Now I am jazzed.

After the first team of three instructors runs us through the shoot house I get another boost. The guys on these teams know their weapons inside and out and have practiced the tactics of moving and communicating under fire. But they don't speak in public that often.

As instructors we had to make up a scenario for an assault, explain it to the team, and then put ourselves in the line with the team so we can monitor movements and give them feedback. In some cases, the instructor becomes part of the exercise.

Speaking to groups and putting together events is part of my day job. This was looking good for me--or at least a lot better than the rest of the exercise.

My big revelation about the bike made me more comfortable. It wasn't a big difference because I am still out of practice with the weapon and team movements, but I could concentrate more on the mission and less on my own movements.

After six assaults I got the orange vest. Just two of us made up the scenario. The third member of our instructor team was part of the range staff and on the radio with range control. Sgt. M2 (I don't use soldier's names) and I dreamed up the first scenario to use the entire house. Up to this point the instructors had only used half of the upper floor because there is a non-ballistic door in the middle of the house--bullets go through it. So for safety's sake we went down one side or the other.

M2 & I decided to send the team through the entire house, upper floor to lower, but knock down all the targets on the upper floor. That way there would be no reason to shoot on the upper floor and no danger of bullets passing through the door in the middle. All of the "Live" targets would be on the lower floor, but the 10-man team would not know in advance there would be no firing on the upper floor as they passed through it.

Also on each exercise up to this point, the first man in the assault saw targets as soon as he opened the door. Everyone was ready to fire on entry. In our scenario the team would walk over "bodies" and clear a half-dozen rooms before they fire a shot.

Our scenario: "You are entering a building that was cleared of terrorists two hours ago. The team was pulled away and another group of terrorists was seen entering the building. You must re-secure the building. . ."

It went great. I volunteered to be an instructor three more times. My team members were always happy to have me give the briefing before the assault. On the second one I took a cue from Phil as to where to monitor the operation. He stood on the stairway inside the building as we entered on the lower floor. That meant the first men in the building were scanning in his direction before they turned toward the doors. It was a rush to watch the assault from the business end of the weapons instead of from the middle of the line. Since I was up the staircase and the teams were very good, there was little danger and it gave me a great perspective on the action.

The best assault to watch was another one Sgt. M2 and I set up. The major in charge of the range was serving as commander of two fire teams on this exercise. M2 and I set up a "capture the flag" scenario where the team had to find a book with valuable information in it. The teams cleared the lower rooms then the upper room of all terrorists but did not find the book. The team regrouped and covered each other as they went back through the rooms to find the book. I was in the back then the middle of the group and watched the operation move from room to room, then regroup and complete the objective.

On the final mission of the day, I was the last in line in a complex scenario, so I was the first man through the door in the last room we cleared. I went in that room looking over my sights with both eyes open, moving smoothly, weapon on my shoulder, ready to fire. As I went through the door, I turned right. In front of me was a hostage with a terrorist behind him. I was six feet away. All I could see was the terrorist's head. I flipped the safety to semi-automatic and fired two rounds. I hit the terrorist in the forehead and the nose then stood over him, my weapon on him until we were given the signal to withdraw. My partner in the assault pretended to carry the hostage out.

I really learned a lot in three days.

After all that excitement, we cleaned weapons, cleaned the shoot house, got in the HumVee and went back to range control. My skin was tingling and my head buzzing from the excitement of the last three days. I drove home slowly and steadily.

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