I’m a bit more of a “gun nut” than your typical National Guard signal soldier – I love radios and computers and all that crap, but it’s really firepower that makes my term in the Army enjoyable. Many of the company look at me askance when I start spouting statistics or functional characteristics about various weapons, or when I draw my M249 during off-duty hours to clean it. They look at me as if to say, “look at the silly radio operator/computer guy/photo-taker-person, always worried about weapons! How cute.”
Ordinarily, this wouldn’t bother me – I’m used to having strange hobbies – but the fact is, we’re going into a shooting zone, and people seem strangely unconcerned about what tools we’ll need in such a zone: guns, lots of guns.
Case in point: a couple of weeks ago we got some M4s, along with some M16A4s. The soldiers assigned those weapons got to the range last week (luckily just to calibrate their sights and not to do the whole qualification jive all over again), but their stories concerned me a little.
The M4 is mostly just an M16 but shorter, however the shorter barrel does result in different ballistics, and the folding stock makes for a different shooting feel than the enormous fixed stock of the M16. Furthermore, many of the M4s were equipped with M68 Aimpoint red-dot sights, which project a red dot inside the firer’s field of vision. These sights are extremely popular because they can be used with both eyes open, and can be used day or night. They do, however, require some adjustment if one isn’t familiar with them.
From the sound of it, there was no preliminary instruction on either the M4 or the Aimpoint; the soldiers were just handed the rifles and told to go shoot. They didn’t even know the adjustment intervals for zeroing the sights (which are different than the intervals printed on the targets, being designed for regular M16 iron sights). An excuse might be, “we thought we’d get instruction at the range,” but we’ve been to the range enough times to know that the range staff can barely tell their heads from their asses, let alone give knowledgeable instruction on new weapon systems.
This seems inexcusable to me. Information on both the M4 and the Aimpoint is widely available, and zeroing procedures for the Aimpoint is even in a booklet distributed by the brigade a month or two ago, ostensibly to prevent exactly this sort of problem. Even if instructions were unavailable, certainly a 20-minute practice session to handle the weapons and figure out the controls should have been in order.
Neither does it seem that any maintenance was performed on the weapons prior to firing. The Ex reports that her M4 jammed repeatedly while at the range. I don’t know if others had this experience, but I presume some did. The fact is, in the early 21st century, firearms have developed to the point that there are extraordinarily few that are inherently unreliable. I’m making this up, but I’d say that 90% of weapons malfunctions are due to operator error or inadequate maintenance rather than a faulty weapon – especially in one that is brand-new. People decry the M16 family of weapons as being unreliable, but in my experience and in that of people who take regular care of their rifles, they are almost perfectly reliable.
Rifles are complex mechanisms that need maintenance and lubrication to function properly. The rifles that the 111th issued us at Fort Benning were bone-dry; had I taken it to the range in that condition, it would have failed. I didn’t inspect these new M4s, but I assume that they too were unlubricated.
This is, plain and simple, a leadership failure. I have been careful to avoid outright criticism of the leadership in my writing, but in this instance I feel commentary is warranted.
In my mind, there is little else that is more critical than our weapons and our proficient use of the same. Chances are we will be shooting rifles and machineguns – for real – before we ever touch a UHF radio or a TED or j-box.
Since this deployment began, our company leadership has hammered us with the notion of having the right mindset for where we’re going – as in, “better get used to the idea that we’re going to Iraq and this is for real and it’s not Kansas anymore and no more milk & cookies” etc. The correct “mindset” is important, but it’s difficult for leaders to instill a nebulous mental condition – besides, I think everyone’s awareness will be sufficiently sharpened once we’re really in the “sandbox.” Rather, I think the leadership should concentrate on developing and enforcing the specific skills and habits that will lead to mission success and survival.
Note that in general I feel that our training has been good, but spending four months at Fort Hood doing nothing but garrison shit and signal crap and bumming around the motor pool has shifted everyone back into a “normal” National Guard mentality; i.e., hey, we’re just radio/switch operators, so let’s not worry about all that kooky gunslinging crap, k?