Sunday, October 14, 2007

Good Times at the Gun Range

I was pretty well indoctrinated in my early days in the Marines. I'm sure that on some level I knew that they didn't know everything, but I guess you could say that the 'immediate obedience to orders' thing really stuck with me when it came to the Officers. This could set the stage for some interesting situations, at times...

One afternoon we were on the gun range working through some live fire exercises off and on when the Captain came up to my gun. I was a fresh Lance Corporal, trying to refresh the other Lcpls on the finer art of one man gunning.

See, in the Infantry Training Battalion, they teach both the one and two man method of mortar gunning, but what seemed to happen the majority of the time in various units was the two man system. Without periodically refreshing oneself on the one man system, the skills needed would inevitably deteriorate, practically guaranteeing a situation where all hands are temporarily busy thereby demanding one man gunning skills. I happened to keep my one man skills sharp, so I was the defacto coach.

When the Captain came up he had company. He brought with him one Officer and a pair of crusty old Staff NCOs. He informed me that the trio were compadres of his from awhile back & another unit and they wanted to get some gun time. He asked me if they could shoot on my gun.

Not even really a question as really they were the Captain's guns...

Normally whenever a Marine gives a lesson or demonstration to another Marine with little to no experience in the field, he has a set pattern for the class. Briefly, my lesson plan for the 81mm mortar was to cover the responsibilities and duties of the assistant gunner (the guy who drops the rounds), things to watch out for, things to NEVER. EVER. NOT EVEN ONCE. do, and the like. The Officer, leading the way like most good Officers and shooting first, pre-empted my usual spiel by announcing that he was more than adequately prepared for the mortar fire, and, as long as I hadn't screwed up the dope (deflection and elevation numbers dialed on the sight and used for aiming), the mortar would display a magnificent demonstration of accurate fire blahblahblah....


Thus ended my attempts at the niceties. He was a Officer, right? Officers know their stuff, right? It seems that spending some time as a weapons platoon commander... of machine guns... many years back... doesn't qualify one for expertise on the 81mm mortar. Amazing.

The Fire Direction Control (FDC) team announced an upcoming mission.


PLATOON SERGEANT: (in the distance) GUN 6, GET THAT KNUCKLHE- er, a-gunner behind the line!

ME: Sir? Sir! He's talking about you, Sir. You need to be behind the muzzle of the barrel from here on out, Sir.


FDC: DEFLECTION...12..34!!! ELEVATION...07..12!!! ONE ROUND, HE...CHARGE 3!!!

OFFICER: Huh? Oh, thanks. [steps back] What are they saying?

ME: Nothing to you yet, Sir. Just some stuff for the gunners and ammo men.

My gunner was hurriedly entering the information on the gun and, amazingly enough, doing some darn good one man gunning aiming in of the mortar. My ammo man completed his checks of the mortar round and handed it off to the Officer.

AMMO MAN: One round, Sir, HE, 3 charges, safety still in. I'll be prepping the other rounds...

OFFICER: Uh, thanks.

Was it me, or was the man a little bit nervous?


At the command of 'Half-Load', the assistant gunners on the gun line were to insert the mortar round halfway into the barrel and wait for the command to fire. It is usually strongly recommended to NOT drop the round before the command to fire, but if it is done, you never want to try to 'catch' the round. Trying to do so will result in the loss of whatever is in front of the barrel of the tube. Think - Very. Bad. Day.

ME: Uh, Sir? We're gonna fire pretty soon, now would be a pretty good time to remove the safety.

After his look of befuddlement, I reached over and plucked the safety half-moon lookin' metal bar from the nose cone of the round, rendering it live.

The Officer was definitely breathing heavier, now.


Upon a question from one of the Staff NCOs, I turned and told him to standby for a sec, or until we shot off the round. Turning back I heard...


The Officer was somewhat half-loaded, with his right hand clasped around the very top of the round. In his nervousness, the mortar round was shaking so hard it was rattling against the interior of the barrel.


More than ready my left - er- yeah. I tried to squeeze in some last minute instruction.

ME: Remember, Sir, when I give the command to fire, just open your hand holding the round, bend over and immediately touch your boot. Drop your hand straight down, or yer gonna lose it. If the mortar does not fire for any reason, it most likely is a misfire. It probably won't kill us all, just keep your head down and I'll take over from there.



He opened his hand thereby dropping the round, bent over and grabbed his boot, picture perfect.

The Mortar didn't fire.

From his position bent over, hand clutching his boot, he noticed the suspicious absence of any rounds getting sent down range from the gun.

OFFICER: [muffled & kinda squeaky] Misfire? Misfire!

I definitely heard some subtle chuckles behind me, from the direction of the Staff NCOs. This was because the Officer had failed to properly half load the round into the barrel. The round was trapped at an angle in the muzzle of the barrel and 'caught up', as we say. Just as the FDC and the Platoon Sergeant started to make their comments, I reached over the folded Officer and tapped the round to straighten it out and send it first down the barrel to then travel down range. As I was bending over I had to place a forearm on the Officer, because he was straightening up to see what was going on with the offending round.

More chuckles from the Staff NCOs.

After that volley and the subsequent decline in more gun time from the Officer, I nodded to one of the Staff NCOs to come up to the gun. "Shot any mortars before? That's nice. Welcome to my m252 81mm mortar. When you are on my gun you will listen to my instructions at all times. Today you will be dropping rounds from the a-gunner position..." He didn't seem to mind one bit getting instructed by a relatively FNG Lance Corporal.


Mark said...

Why does this remind me of butter bars and maps and compasses?

karla (threadbndr) said...

Every ROTC candidate should read this (and a couple of other blogs I could mention). As an example of how NOT to be an officer.

In order to lead, you have to know what your limits are. And to never be ashamed to admit that your people know their jobs - better than you do.

I see it in the corporate world a lot. But nobody can loose a hand there - usually.

Good on you, Murphy. For getting him through it and not loosing your bearing in the process (though I'm sure you were tempted)

Murphy said...

We all give 'em a hard time, but the good ones (Officers) know that there is always the possibility of learning from an enlisted man, especially when said subject is the Marine's specialty.

Heh, knowing ones limits is always a good thing. Reminds me of a story...