Perhaps ironically, our first task on the first day of this new deployment was weapons qualification. Unlike The Last Time, in which every training event was laden with portent and every task a reminder of the grim, guns-blazing drive to Baghdad we were about to face – I’m not gonna lie to you, we’re gonna get hit! – this journey begins with a jaded attitude of “let’s get this Army shit out of the way so we can get to the desk work.”

[An aside about The Last Time: inevitably, this deployment will be continually compared to the last one. Unfortunately, this entire thing will be viewed through a lens of comparison, which I think will reduce greatly the sharpness of my observations. I’ll try to keep things as fresh as possible, since I’m getting tired of my comparisons already, and I’m only on day three.]

Stone cold pistol shooter

Does this look like a guy who fixes your computer?

In a rare fit of common sense, it was decided that everyone “going forward” would only qualify with the M9 pistol instead of the M4 carbine, mostly for logistical reasons I suppose, since there’s no sense in transporting a bunch of weapons for people who will never use them. I was thrilled about the news, since a) I’d never qualified with the M9 and b) it’s a much shorter, easier qualification process, which meant less time spent soaking up the sun (or rain or…) at the range. At least, that was the idea – an idea which would be proven wrong in short order. Like some sort of blob, weapons qualification always expands to fill all available time, regardless of the difficulty or length of the task.

We arrived at the range at 0730, but it took hours for the range to open, for various reasons that remain unclear to me. Then, firing was repeatedly interrupted for aircraft flyovers, since apparently any air traffic shuts down range operations, no matter how high or what the flight path looks like. My turn to shoot came around 1100, and after a warmup round, I shot expert, hitting 27 of 30 targets. This may sound like a great feat of marksmanship, but you get 40 rounds to hit 30 targets, and the targets are all E-type silhouettes, which are human torso size. The targets are ranged from five to twenty-five meters, and all hits count, which makes for a fairly easy course of fire, if one has experience with a pistol.

I spent the rest of the day on the line, serving as a range safety. Luckily the weather was good – hazy and 60s and 70s – and we somehow avoided being rained on. Unfortunately, some had a great deal of difficulty with the M9 (mostly because of flinching), which meant I spent about eight hours on the line, until we broke for dinner, only to return for night fire.

That’s not to say that we ended up with a company of expert pistoliers; some had a great deal of difficulty, largely because of flinching. After my turn at shooting, I was pulled for range safety duty, so I spent the rest of the day in a road construction vest, checking pistols and picking up spent brass. I guess the vest was so that the range safeties wouldn’t get hit by any passing dump trucks or something.

We bitched mightily about night fire, though we were in bed before midnight, which is more than you can say if you’re shooting rifles at night. Despite everyone’s grousing at the time, I can’t now elucidate why this range was particularly bad. In light of some of the ranges I’ve visited in my service, it was downright functional. Maybe it just seemed inappropriate to start a year of Army time without bitching, warranted or otherwise.