Saturday, October 07, 2006

Farewell to Ft. Benning

Thursday 10/5/06

Today was my last day at Ft. Benning. I was up late Wednesday evening packing my gear so I’d be ready to clear and depart quickly after we got done today. We got another early start and headed out to the TSIRT site for weapons and tactical training.

The tactical training was very basic stuff that everyone has had before, but they view it as an important level-setting tool to make sure everyone at least has the basics. Of course it’s been a very long time since I did the basic infantry stuff, and some things have changed, so it served its purpose with me.

As we were standing in an extended formation working on immediate action drills (e.g. “Target right! Ready! Up!”, after which you turn to the right and engage the targets with your M16), I had to laugh. People pay big bucks to go to tactical rifle courses – some of my friends have done so. And here I was, at the finest infantry school in the world, getting paid to learn it because it’s part of my job. :-)

After we finished that we crawled around in the dirt for awhile refreshing our memories on the low crawl, the high crawl, advancing under fire, clearing obstacles, etc. I could have done without the sand down my pants, but I guess it was my PT for the day. And now all my nice clean new equipment has had a baptism of the red Georgia clay I remember so well from OCS and Airborne School.

Then we went inside for weapons training. We broke out into classes based on our assigned weapons, so I was in the M9 pistol class. That was pretty boring for me, but I went through the motions – what are you going to do? I’ve never fired the M9, but the internal mechanism is nearly identical to the Walther P-38, with which I am very familiar. I ended up helping the woman next to me, who was an IG officer and didn’t know anything about it. I wasn’t too happy with the way they taught us to lubricate the pistol either, but that is largely a function of where you’re stationed and what works best under local conditions, which they pointed out. We basically went to the range with dry guns, which is a recipe for malfunctions. But I followed their regimen.

We went to the range and went through the standard Army rigmarole, and finally got to the firing line to shoot. It was a pop-up range, which was fun. They had a series of magazines with different numbers of rounds loaded in them, and told us which ones to use for each table of fire. Then a series of silhouette targets would pop up at different distances, sometimes one at a time and sometimes more than one. We had to engage them before they disappeared. We had ten rounds of familiarization fire first, and then 40 rounds to engage 30 targets. A passing score (“Marksman”) was 16 hits, Expert requiring 26.

I did pretty well, but was disappointed because I missed two targets (this is not a hard range for an experienced shooter). My first miss was at the farthest target, with a one-round magazine. I was so ticked off to have missed that I didn’t reload quickly enough – I might have been able to get off a second shot had I done so. I just didn’t think of it in time. My other miss was during a 5-round string during which my pistol jammed on every single shot. Each time I fired it, it jammed and I had to clear it before the next shot. I still hit every target I saw, but my attention was focused on the pistol and I didn’t notice that the last target was actually two – one behind the other. I knocked the first one down and only then did I see the second one behind it. It disappeared before I could clear the pistol for a second shot.

The coach on the firing line said it was a bad magazine. So now I’ve experienced the reality of what I read about earlier – poor quality or worn out magazines leading to malfunctions with the M9. This is exactly why I spent $250 on brand-new high quality magazines before I left - so I’d have my own and not have to worry about this problem. Given the type of jams I was experiencing, it is possible that with proper lubrication the gun would have continued to function despite the bad magazine. I also think it could have been a worn-out recoil spring. But there’s no way to know, and it’s not my assigned weapon, anyway, so it doesn’t matter at this point. I’ll see what they issue me when I get there and deal with it then. I also brought along my own cleaning supplies and lubricants – I intend to keep my gun running properly once it’s issued to me.

I was hoping for a perfect score, but still managed to fire expert under somewhat adverse conditions. So I felt pretty good about it.

After that they drove me back to the company area and I went through outprocessing. I just had to put away my gear from the range, re-pack my backpack for travel, and check out of the unit. A few papers to sign, turn in my linen and room key, and wait for my ride. He arrived literally at the moment I was signing the last form, and we loaded up the van and left.

I got in to Ft. McPherson and checked into Army Lodging again. Last time I had a nice roomy suite with two rooms and lots of space. Now that I have a huge pile of stuff to sort through and re-pack, I am in a very small single room. I had difficulty even find a place to put everything while it was still packed! It reminds me of Groucho Marx in his stateroom in “A Night at the Opera”. I have no idea how I am going to sort it all out, but I’ll manage. It will be interesting. :-)

So now I’m here for four days, at least. I’ll get to an internet connection sometime to upload this entry, but for now I’m essentially incommunicado.

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