Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Then and Now: Finding My Limits

In 1982 my sister got married on the 4th Saturday in October. That was also an Army Reserve weekend for me. My sister's wedding was near Boston, Mass. I helped set up a range on Friday, got Saturday off, then had to fire the .45 cal. pistol and submachine gun at 0800 on Sunday. (By the way, Happy 54th birthday Jean!)

I went to my sister's wedding and reception then drove all night to central Pennsylvania. In 1981 I fired expert with the .45 cal. pistol. In 1982 I fired marksman by just one round. Marksman is the lowest category. Afterwards our commander said, "Don't worry Sergeant Gussman, we now how well you can shoot."

I thanked him, but ever since I have known that morning is how I really shoot. I was in a tank unit. If I was going to fire a .45 pistol in combat, that means I am off my tank. So I would be tired, scared, maybe injured. How I shoot after driving all night was a better guage of how I would shoot when things were less than perfect. If the worst happened, I was going to wait till the bad guys got close if I only had a pistol.

On the desert convoy training we just completed, we arrived at 4 in the afternoon and got started with classes and orientation briefings. At 530pm my convoy commander sent me to find out where we would fire at 5am the next morning. I also drove with one of the lead instructors to a compound three miles away where they service our machine guns. Because I knew where the armorer shop was across the desert, I took the weapons over to get maintenance before we fired. I thought I would be staying up late. For a variety of reasons I stayed up all night except for an hour of lying down for an hour at 2am and swatting flies in the back of our 5-ton truck

So at 5am, I drove the weapon-filled truck to the range and got the 30 automatic weapons into the tents where range training started. I stayed with the weapons till 10 am then went to classes on convoy tactics till mid-afternoon. Then we went out and practiced convoy movement. We kept training till just after 9pm, then we could get some sleep. I started to unroll my bag in an open spot on the floor. I was beyond tired. One of the enlisted men, a guy who has a comment about everything, said that the spot of floor where I was unrolling my bag was where some other enlisted man was sleeping last night.

I exploded. I let him know how much I cared about reserved floor space in a tent in the middle of the desert. One of his buddies took him outside. The next day after we were done with training one of the sergeants from the fuelers said, "Sgt. G, I heard you really went off last night. Nobody was bustin' on you, they were just surprised." My roommates from Fort Sill heard about it. One said, "Damn! And I had to miss it. That must have been the shit." (See post on shit as a pronoun.)

Just as I cannot take the heat like a 25-year-old, missing a whole night's sleep is really my limit. I did sleep very well that second night and the training went well on our third day. I suppose it's good I have a reputation for not blowing up. But now I have less of a reputation than before.

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...