We left off with the 9mm pistol class, but before I go any further I should say a few things about the Army Drill Sergeants that are training us. They are on par with some of the most professional and dedicated senior enlisted service members that I have ever worked with; including senior enlisted Air Force contracting officers, Marine Corps Staff NCO's and Navy Chiefs. They have patiently and professionally prepared a group of salty sailors, most of who have never handled a weapon before and spent many years at sea, for a deployment with ground forces in combat zones around the world. Many of the drill sergeants are recent combat veterans and take their instructor role here very seriously. They willingly impart their lessons learned under fire to better prepare us. Whether it is graphically describing treating combat injuries, reacting to roadside bombs, or simple things like how to better adjust the 70 pounds of gear we have to wear or what small items should always be in your pockets, they take a personal interest in giving us the tools we may need to survive and come home.
That being said, there was one period of instruction that, in my opinion, was very lacking, and is the basis for the title of this post. Tuesday morning we were issued weapons, and the first brief we got was a presentation on the proper handling and clearing of the M16 rifle. The instructor simply read the slides with no emphasis or personal anecdotes of the results of mishandling weapons and ammunition. I have seen marines accidentally shoot each other with pistols, and have personally almost had may face blown off by a round some idiot major forgot to unload from a M870 12 gauge shotgun; so yeah, the whole "accidental" (negligent) discharge of a firearm thing is a pretty touchy subject with me. I get worked up over it, and the word that was put out to our class Tuesday morning was woefully inadequate. After all the rifle and pistol marksmanship instruction during the day Tuesday, they gave us all a magazine and five blank rounds of ammunition. From that moment on, we have been required to carry a loaded rifle around wherever we go on Camp. We have to unload and clear them whenever we go in and out of buildings, but if we are outside, they are to be loaded because that is how it will be when we get to our final destinations. Except then it will be live ammunition. Once they dismissed us, I looked at my squad mates and guaranteed them that there would be two negligent discharges by lunch tomorrow. Oh how wrong I was.
There were two within two hours.
When I went to breakfast Wednesday morning, there were more. One guy shot off two rounds, bang bang right in the clearing barrel as I was walking past. There were at least a half dozen more that I heard about on Wednesday. I was losing my fracking mind. I reprimanded, corrected and instructed as many folks as I could, but without going completely old school, Marine Corps NCO ballistic on their dumb asses there wasn't much more I could do but be grateful for the fact that they were only popping off blanks. Wednesday and Thursday were also very busy training days with lots of movements between evolutions. We covered: combat first aid, with a strong focus on tourniquets, and medevac procedures, personnel recovery, surviving as a prisoner, code of conduct, communications equipment and procedures, and were run through a Humvee rollover trainer. For those of you who have been in a rollover crash, then you know how disorientating it is. We were run through the trainer twice. The first time through, after they flipped the vehicle, I undid my seat belt, rolled over and was on all fours on the ceiling looking for the door handle in the dark. I couldn't find it, and had to turn around and crawl out of another door. The second time they flipped us, I used my left hand to hold myself upside down, reached across my body with my right hand to undo the seat belt while still holding myself upside down with my left hand, then reached back across my body (still upside down) and grabbed the door handle, opened it and then somersaulted right out the door and sprang to my feet in one fluid motion. That's one lesson I am grateful I learned in a trainer, and not on the side of the road in Afghanistan.
When we were done with training for the day, one of the drill sergeants asked our platoon for feedback on the training we had had so far in the week. I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to express my concerns about the plethora of negligent discharges that had been going on for the last day and a half. I told him that I didn't think there was enough emphasis on weapons safety and instruction on unloading and clearing our weapons. He replied that they only had so much time to spend with us, and that we, as leaders need to police ourselves. He basically called me out. I never got to finish telling him that there was time allotted, but I didn't think the instructor did a good enough job, and that block of instruction could be improved with more emphasis on safety, because, as if on cue, BANG, not fifty feet behind us some poor unfortunate sailor just popped off a round trying to clear his weapon before going into his barracks. At that point I stopped mid-sentence and just said, "I've got nothing else to say Drill Sergeant" and walked away.
Thirty minutes later our company was mustered in a classroom with the entire cadre of Drill Sergeants. The ones who had survived combat gave us an appropriate, but NC-17 rated period of instruction on safe weapons handling. I slept much better that night.