18 June 2010

At Home on the Ranges

It was the perfect day for little target practice: Overcast skies, somewhat cool, gnats but no mosquitoes. My unit hit the firing ranges early to conduct our annual individual weapons qualification (I.W.Q.).

We're now firing brand-spanking new M-4 carbines, shorter cousins of the long-familiar M-16. They're so new--less than 500 rounds fired in each--that you're not supposed to bore-brush them when cleaning. We joke that they should come with round-counters or rifle-odometers, so that we can keep track of our mileage.

When I was a younger soldier, we had rifle slings that were good only for carrying our weapons on our shoulders. (We weren't allowed to use them much, if ever.) Now, we have "combat slings," which carry our weapons to the side and the front. They're quite the contraptions, but they work.

We carry our weapons everywhere, even on the Forward Operating Bases ("FOBs"), back in the rear. A good sling frees up a couple of hands.

There's some other new gadgetry, too. Some of our buddies in the brigade, for example, are sporting bipod front hand grips, which split into a small two-legged stands to support the rifle. And there's the Close Combat Optic (C.C.O.), which places a red LED dot at the end of one's front sight. No, it's not a laser--that would be too Hollywood. It's just a dot that you can see inside your scope. It's easier to see in most lighting conditions.

Before you qualify with your weapon each year, you have to "zero" it. This means firing three rounds at a time, adjusting your front and rear sights little by little, until you can hit a half-dollar-sized mark 5 out of 6 times.

I zeroed very quickly this range-fire morning, after firing only nine rounds. Then, I went to the computerized range, which pops up Jawa-sized molded-plastic soldiers at various distances from 50 to 500 meters.

Here's a change from when I was younger: Soldiers once qualified firing 40 rounds; 20 from a "foxhole" fighting position (standing in a deep hole), 10 from a "supported" ("with sandbag") prone" position, and 10 from an unsupported ("no sandbag") prone position.

Now, however, we fire 20 rounds from the supported prone position, then 10 from an unsupported prone, and finally 10 from a kneeling position. I fired a 31 out of 40, which was good enough. I think 24 was the minimum you needed to qualify.

It was one of those range-days that just felt good. It reminded me of learning to shoot as a grade-schooler, and how the mindful mindlessness of doing a simple, repetitive task can make time seem both to fly, and to stand still.

Exhale and aim. Squeeze and fire. Breathe and repeat.

Sometimes, everything just falls into place, and everything is right on target. Today was one of those days.

1 comment:

  1. I think it's kind of funny...when we deployed on OIF 3, we knew our teams would be going out everyday...we asked for M4 carbines because they're easier to move around with in close quarters of Humvees and Blackhawks.
    Our Guard unit's Batt XO told the CO "they don't need them, the M16's work fine."
    So, we bought our own shorty uppers to make our own.
    Then some of us got attached to a "real" army unit...they bought us M4s in Iraq. Very handy.

    But laster when I saw REMFs and FOBBITS with M04's I laughed.
    I carried an M4, 10 mags, an M9 with 7 mags and it just made me tired after a year. I never got to shoot back once...I was just a friggen target.


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