Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Shoot to Kill? How About Shoot to Qualify?

We had a range this week. I know, it seems a little odd - we're deployed but we still have to fire at a range. The hope is that this way we won't have to run a range immediately upon our return to Germany since by then it would otherwise have been more than a year and a half since most of us qualified. We'll still probably end up having one within the first three months, but this way, people also have valid scores when they go to the promotion boards. My soldiers tell me they didn't do this any of the previous deployments, but those were also only 12 months rather than 15, and there have been other, obvious changes between the beginning of the war and now (one common comment is that some of the details and duties are slightly more garrison-like).

Of course, as anyone who knows me, has read this blog for a while or has looked through the archives while bored knows, I have a rather intense hate for ranges. In fact, I dread and loathe them with my entire being. They have always made me a little anxious because I'm just not that good a shot, but whatever confidence I had about my ability was completely shattered during BOLC II. I've only been a first time go on a range once in my life, but usually, I could get close, and I'd see improvement throughout the day as I got used to the weapon and people coached me until I got my qualification score.

In BOLC II, however, it just wasn't happening for me. It was the first time I'd shot an M4 and we were using COC sights - basically, it was a red light instead of iron sights. Even the instructors didn't seem to agree on what the standard was for zero on those things, so by the end of zeroing day, we'd gone through about two or three different boxes of where our rounds needed to be hitting on the target to be considered zeroed. So that definitely didn't help matters. Zeroing usually either goes very quickly for me, or takes forever. There's no in between. At Ft. Sill, I was having an off day (week), so I kept getting 4 out 6 shots into an area instead of the required five. Basically, this means, I kept screwing up either my trigger squeeze or my sight picture.

I, along with a select few others, had to zero the next day, and this new range was on a rise. I finally zeroed, but when I went to qualify, the qualification range they'd reserved for us was on a decline. It took me a few tries to realize that in order to hit anything, I had to aim for the dirt way below the actual target because my zero was completely off. I couldn't quite figure out how off, though, so I don't think I shot above 20 that entire day. By the end, I was so frustrated, angry and agitated that I almost started crying when the guy running the tower told me "to hurry up because [I] was holding everyone up." Naturally, I didn't qualify that time either because I was shaking with rage and frustration (so much for that steady position). There were four of us that didn't qualify during range week (and actually, it took most people more tries than usual so everyone was having some issues with the new sights or the elevation). We had to go back the next week and shoot at paper targets. After being rezeroed, I qualified on the first try. However, the experience of being on a hot range for four days straight (Heat Cat 5 hot) and usually being one of the last off the range because I just couldn't get it gave me a new, intensified fear and hatred of ranges. Before that, they were unpleasant, they took longer than I liked, but they weren't nearly the same type of torture as they became that week in Oklahoma.

Imagine my delight then when I had to go to a range within a month of getting to my new unit. And I felt like there was some pressure - I was the new platoon leader, I better at least be able to qualify. Fortunately, March in Germany isn't nearly as hot as a Ft. Sill summer, and even better, we were still using the good old-fashioned iron sights (one of the instructors at BOLC II told us that if we got to our unit and it had new equipment to make the soldiers use it because the Army made it for a reason, and it would help in the long run; not to let the soldiers be afraid to try new things or cling to the old ways - thank you very much, but I'll stick to my iron sights - at least this way, I don't have to worry about my weapon running out of batteries when I'm trying to aim). I didn't qualify the first time, but I borrowed an ACH from one of my soldiers for my second try, and made it. The Kevlar I had was too loose and kept falling into my eyes - made it kind of hard to hit anything, since by the time I'd pushed the Kevlar out of my face, the target had usually already fallen back down (I hadn't gone to RFI yet to get all my "cool" combat equipment and the new style ACH). Also, the soldiers asked about my score, but they didn't really care too much that I wasn't expert or even sharpshooter for that matter.

But anyway, the dread and fear remained. After all, Iraq is hot like Oklahoma, so naturally, it seemed like this range would have more in common with that experience (I kept waking up every half hour to hour the night before). So how'd it go? Eh.

I zeroed pretty quickly, but then again, that makes sense. This is my assigned weapon, and I already zeroed it in Germany. I just had to make a minor adjustment so my rounds were falling into the center of the target rather than the bottom (and honestly, I think that may be due to my glasses - I wore contacts in Germany; I remember hearing that when firing with contacts, you end up aiming or seeing things slightly lower or something). That definitely helped my mood, so I just wanted to get on the range and qualify already. And that's when the range shut down for a camp-wide drill. We all sat in the heat, in full gear, for two hours waiting for the range to go wet again. I drank about three liters of water and never once had to use the bathroom. By the time the drill ended, there was only enough time for everyone to go through the qual once and I missed the score by three. THREE! I had to go back the next day because I only got a 23, instead of a 26 (since paper targets are perceived as easier, they have higher standards).

Everyone else's reaction was, "well, that's close." Mine: "I was so close, what if I screw everything I was actually doing right up, and get a worse score?" Which is exactly what happened the next morning.

I was on the first firing order out there, but I wasn't the first in the line so I didn't get the lane all the way at the end. Why is this important? I'm a lefty. When I shoot, I lay one way, while right-handed firers lay the opposite way. Since I was shooting in a middle lane, the guy to my right and I kept accidentally kicking each other. Not a big deal, but it does affect the position a little. I also hadn't completely adjusted my sandbags when they said to start firing, so I was somewhere between supported and unsupported. My ACH kept slipping, my glasses were slipping and fogging up and I couldn't get a good sight picture (since I was having such a hard time getting a sight picture, I think I even aimed at someone else's target at one point). To top it all off, a round of brass went down my neck while I was in the kneeling (fortunately, I only had a round to go so it's not like it broke my composure when it still mattered - by this point, there was already no way I was going to qualify). I got it out, I didn't flag anyone, but Pivo, who knows me pretty well, was acting as a safety, and he said he thought he was going to have to tackle me because I looked like I was about to flip out (it burns!). I ended up with an overwhelming 17 after that attempt.

Next try - 25. 25. Does anyone realize how absolutely frustrating that is? I also almost burned myself a second time, and managed to bust myself in the lip while clearing my weapon. Shut up, Dad. You try holding a weapon, three mags, a target and trying to clear your weapon all at the same time - something might slip. In my case, it was the rifle, and the butt stock hit me in the face.

In summary, I ended up qualifying with a 32 (only took me four times; actually, if you exclude the 17, my other three scores all would average out to three qualifications - not really relevant, but I thought I'd point it out). My neck looks very bad. Maybe I can pass it off as war wound to civilians when I go on R&R - it takes me forever to completely heal - I still had a noticeable mark from getting burned on the grill after more than six months. That one wasn't my fault, though. Still got the klutz factor going for me, or against me, and maybe, just maybe, I'll eventually get a hang of this shooting thing.


a l e x said...

Cool blog.
We've been missing you around the GWS house!

LT Z said...

The solution exists: it's called an ACOG. When I first went to the range, it felt like cheating (b/c it has 4x mag). You can shoot 30 with your eyes closed. Of course, I still get shit from my guys for having groups larger than nickel-sized, but at least it makes qualifying a breeze. I don't know if they'll issue them to a TC unit now that you're back in Germany, but you'll probably get it if you deploy again; I know our support units did (at least the officers).