By Jack Mandaville I want to make a few of my...
The Dumbass Chronicles – The Most Dangerous Range Ever
So there I was enjoying a two-martini lunch when the Battalion XO, Major Good Ideafairy, walks into my office and says, “Lieutenant…I want you to run a joint end-of-year weapons range with the Koreans next month.” Anyone else think this is how those “do’s and don’ts of range safety” videos start off?
It’s an annual thing – Army units have to expend all remaining ammunition in their accounts by September 30th or they don’t get any the following year. The logic goes like this – if Uncle Sam gives you 10,000 rounds of ammunition and one fiscal year to shoot them off, then failing to do so means you don’t need 10,000 rounds of ammunition. You probably only need 9,000 rounds and therefore you get a smaller allocation the following year.
So to avoid getting their ammunition accounts cut, most commanders set up a range in late September to go gun crazy before the end of the fiscal year. When you think about it, that means most commanders are cheating the system to ensure they have more ammunition than they really need, which puts an unnecessary burden on the logistics of the Army, but that’s beside the point. This story is all about how one dumbass, butterbar Lieutenant (me) planned, coordinated, and executed one such range and nearly got a lot of people maimed doing so.
The sheer volume of the ammo we had to shoot was staggering. The breakdown went something like this:
15,000 rounds of 5.56 ball ammo for the M-16
10,000 rounds of 9mm ammo for the pistol
7,000 rounds of 7.62mm for the M60 machine gun
2,000 rounds of 40mm grenades for the M203 grenade launcher
8 hand grenades
15 claymore mines
1 AT-4 rocket
The first indication that this range was destined for lore were the elderly Korean civilians walking leisurely downrange. No matter how much our interpreter implored them to leave (through a bullhorn), they were intent on gathering up rare indigenous roots for some pagan ritual (or just to sell at a local market) and had no interest in petty American qualifications.
“Should I put a round downrange near them to get our point across?” an NCO asked.
“Sure,” I replied.
In hindsight, I’m an idiot. Thankfully this NCO was a good shot and the tracer round that flew over atashi’s (the Korean word for gentleman) head had the desired effect. He picked up his one-eyed dragon wheelbarrow and left quickly, probably to inform his local politician that Americans were trying to kill him.
Didn’t matter. The range was officially open.
The second indicator that this was noy your standard range was the fact that we had every weapon in our arms room on the same firing line. Normally we break up weapons systems into different ranges here in the U.S. The M16 has it’s own range, the M9 has a smaller one, and the M-60 has a longer one. Not in Korea. Realistic training is the name of the game there because hey…in combat would you split up your weapons into different zones? Hell no. So we had everything rocking at the same time, which was perfectly legal at this point. Major Good Ideafairy’s guidance was clearly being met – “Don’t come home with a single round of ammo.”
In hindsight, he was an idiot to tell me this because inexperienced Lieutenants don’t know how to interpret orders, just follow them. So I did exactly what he said to do. There was no way I was bringing a round home.
By mid day, it was hot and blowing off ammo as fast as possible made many barrel’s scorch. Someone joked about a barrel glow bright red from all the ammo we were shooting…until it wasn’t a joke. I’ve never yelled “CEASE FIRE!” so loud and flapped my arms so frantically in my 24-year career. I looked like Tiger Woods trying to deflect alimony suits.
With a ceasefire in effect (and no one injured), I figured it was time to walk down range and throw the 8 hand grenades we brought. Too bad only six of them exploded. Now I had a real problem. I couldn’t leave a dud on the range or some atashi like the previous one might step on it while collecting snipes. Luckily I had a stroke of brilliance.
“Let’s keep shooting and hope someone hits them.”
In hindsight…. this actually was a good idea, though I don’t recommend it. Within an hour of resuming fire I heard two distinct explosions downrange that could only be the two grenades that didn’t detonate. Cool. Now it was time for the big toe-poppers, but again, the Gods of EOD challenged me.
“There’s only two fucking clackers!” Sergeant First Class Snuffy said. We had fifteen claymore mines, but somehow the detonators had all disappeared. It was time for another stroke of innovative genius, but I was tapped having used mine for the day. Seconds later I heard one of the few phrases I hope to never hear again.
“Don’t worry sir. I know how to get rid of them,” Sergeant First Class Snuffy said. Major Good Ideafairy’s guidance echoed in my head again – “Don’t bring anything back,” so I nodded my head weakly. It was time for a red-barrel ceasefire anyway, so off he went with two other troops and a bag of mines. What could happen?
Thirty minutes later I was halfway through an MRE when my eyes wandered over a densely foliaged part of the range. There I beheld our masterful Sergeant First Class Snuffy waving his arm over his head. “What is he…” I said as I choked down a dehydrated beef patty. Suddenly he dove for cover and BOOM!!!
“Jesus Christ!” more than one of us yelled. While explaining himself to the Sergeant Major after lunch, we learned that Sergeant First Class Snuffy had daisy-chained all fifteen claymores to two clackers to detonate them. He told his two soldiers, “when you see me wave my hand and dive for my life, clack away.”
Oh. My. God.
At this point I figured I was too fucked to continue any semblance of a military career and started cutting my Lieutenant bar off my collar. But the mission wasn’t complete. There was still more ammo to expend and as much as I’d screwed up this range, I wasn’t a quitter. No one was dead after all. Just scared shitless. What we needed was a night fire!
In hindsight…we didn’t need a night fire. But we did it anyway. After all, tracers are really cool. Is there anyone who’s served in the Armed Forces who hasn’t ogled at the site of pretty red lights flying downrange at nearly the speed of sound and bouncing into the stratosphere? Who hasn’t wanted to shoot those same tracer rounds straight up into the air directly over the firing line?
Straight up!? Again I screamed ceasefire while flapping my arms, only to realize it was night and no one could see me. As I ran to the firing point where I’d just seen tracer rounds fired vertically over the line, I recognized my buddy (another Lieutenant) aiming his pistol straight up in the air and pulling the trigger as fast as he could.
“Dude!” I yelled. “That shit comes down! Aim downrange!”
“Alright,” he says before turning the danger knob up a thousand notches. “When are we gonna fire that AT-4?” he asks me.
AT-4? Oh mama.
Incredibly, though I offered it to every troop several times, no one wanted to fire the AT-4. I took this as them being so appreciative of me skillfully running this range that they wanted me to have the honor of firing it myself. In hindsight, the fear of grievous bodily harm coupled with the burning desire to abandon this range from hell was palpable. Nearly every man had had a brush with death at some point (there were other incidents that I’ll leave out for brevity) so firing off the biggest Roman Candle the Army made was somewhat daunting.
In hindsight, I will never fire that sonofabitch again. Being dark as five feet up a bull’s ass, there was no way I could have been expected to read the directions on the missile casing, despite the flashlight dangling from my web gear. So I simply aimed it downrange, checked the backblast area (which was not clear) and fingered the weapon for the BOOM!!
“Those triggers are sensitive, aren’t they?” Lieutenant Colonel Bearclaw, my Battalion Commander asked me two days later while I stood at attention in front of his desk. I would have responded had I heard him, but the ringing in my ears was persistent. There was not a hint of sarcasm in his voice, so I had the impression I was Phooked.
“Let’s see,” he started. “Sniping at a civilian, destroying two weapons, firing dud-producing rounds, shooting at hand grenades, firing up but not down range, daisy chaining mines together, and firing an anti-tank weapon without clearing the backblast. Are you really even surprised this happened?”
“Uh…,” I stammered. “Yes?”
“Not you,” he replied. “You.” He glared at Major Good Ideafairy with the white hot intensity of a million suns. When I realized who he was addressing, I leaned ever-so-slightly to my left so he could get a clear shot at him.
“Sir?” Good Ideafairy replied.
I’ll never forget Bearclaw’s response.
“He did exactly what you told him to do-shoot off every round. And though the ends don’t justify the means and he is the dumbest moron in stupidville (his actual words), he at least showed creativity in accomplishing his mission and didn’t let petty obstacles, like civilians in the line of fire, stop him. I hold you responsible. You’re dismissed, Lieutenant.”
I was a cartoon character leaving a puff of smoke and a dangling hat behind me.