24 December 2009

Leaning Forward

I was 5 years old when I got the best winter-driving tip ever from Bill Cosby. Yes, that Bill Cosby.

"When the car goes into a skid, turn in the direction of the skid."

Cosby was a stand-up comic then, back in the early 1970s-not the junkyard oracle of Saturday morning's Fat Albert cartoon; not the sage, sweater-wearing Dr. Huxtable of the 1980s; not the pithy social commentator of the 1990s. Dad had borrowed a Cosby comedy album from the base library, and dubbed the record onto glorious, looping, reel-to-reel tape.

Over the years to come, his various routines about tonsils ("Ice cream! We gonna eat ice cream!", go-cart races ("There are kids. Out here, stealing our baby cart wheels."), and late-night scary radio shows ("The Chicken Heart ... That Ate ... New York City ...) would become practically tatooed on my growing funny bones. I made his stories and his timing my own, at least for a little while.

Cosby's punchlines still come up almost reflexively in my everyday speech, little inside jokes knowable only to those familiar with the same routines.

There was, for example, the story about Captain America. About driving on one snow tire, which he labeled with the superhero's name in chalk. "When the car goes into the skid, turn in the direction of the skid ..."

"Yeah, right," he goes onto say, in the same way his Noah would question God's construction directives. "That's like telling a guy, 'When someone throws a punch at you, lean into it.'"

When Cosby fails to head the advice, he ends up on an icy road, sliding perpendicular to the road, watching the scenery pass by through the windshield.

In one of those anachronistic, warhorse clich├ęs that are ubiquitous in the Army, people talk about "leaning forward in the foxhole." You can tell it's from another time, because Uncle Sam doesn't call them "foxholes" anymore. Some manual calls them "two-person fighting positions."

Joe still calls them foxholes, however, even though he doesn't spend much time digging them. The only time a soldier is ikely to see a foxhole is when he or she qualifies annually on the M-16 or M-4. Up until recent OEF history, National Guard soldiers first fired 20 rounds from the sandbag-supported standing position, standing in a concrete pipe dug in and placed vertically into the earth; then moved on to fire another 20 rounds a prone, unsupported position.

The updated firing "tables"--the schedule of which combinations of targets pop up at what distances for how many seconds--require soldiers to fire from the unsupported prone and the unsupported kneeling positions. Prior to this, I hadn't seen the kneeling shooting position since BB-gun marksmanship competitions sponsored by the Beaver Creek Jaycees when I was in Fourth Grade. But it's arguably more realistic than searching out an enemy target from the safety of a cement pipe.

So, even though our firing-range perma-foxholes are just so much government-subsidized housing for bugs and rodents now, we still "lean forward in the foxhole."

Big change of plans? "We're leaning forward in the foxhole." (Making the best of it.) Rumors of a change-of-mission? "We're leaning forward in the foxhole." (Planning for the worst.) Rumors of a deployment? "We're leaning forward in the proverbial foxhole." (Whatever that means.)

One good days on the firing range, when nobody's jinked around with your sight adjustments, and you've got a good weapon, and there's enough wind to be comfortable and enough sun to see your targets without generating glare, firing your rifle is about as much fun as you can have with your clothes still on.

Personally, I get a little zen on the range. You don't think too much. You try not to be in a hurry. You just listen to the guy in the tower give you directions. You're not even supposed to drink water without direction, although Camelbak-style "personal water-delivery systems" have mostly done away with fumbling with a canteen.

You just lean forward in the foxhole. Get good contact between your body and the wall surface. More contact means more stability. Get a comfortable grip on your weapon, but only after you're directed to pick it up. Get a good sight-picture, the same one you used on the zero-range. Focus on your breathing. Stay relaxed.

Listen for Tower-Guy to tell you to put your selector on "semi" ... and scan ... your lane.

And wait for the punch.

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