Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Firing Range

Commanders who met and addressed us teachers described typical Marine recruits this way: "Typical young men and women show up at boot camp with under-developed cardiovascular systems. The new recruits have difficulty running or walking long distances." The commanders added that "young people have an amazing use of their thumbs." One told us that if "our nation's thumbs were attacked, the enemy would be destroyed easily." This metaphor about thumbs was the drill instructor's way of describing our nation's young people as growing up flabby and soft from excessive use of television, computers, PlayStations and the lack of exercise.

Commanders quickly added, "after 12 weeks of boot camp these young people perform as well as any Marines of the past on battle fields as demonstrated in Iraq and Afghanistan." The drill instructors reported that these young men and women "yearn for structure and discipline in their lives."

When commanders and drill instructors described these young people, I thought, "what a sad commentary on typical parenting in our country." Then I quickly thought of the past when I was in Army boot camp forty-two years ago. My cardiovascular system may have been better developed than today's young people, but the experiences and knowledge of typical recruits back then didn't measure up to that of today's recruits.

Drill instructors took us to an indoor firing range to receive instructions and practice firing the M16 assault rifle. The targets had sensors to record our hits and the rifles used C2 gas to simulate the recoil of each shot. Some targets were stationary silhouettes while others were life size videos of moving cars and human images in urban settings.

The photo above shows me and other teachers getting a feel of the M16.

The picture below shows me on a live-fire range shooting real cartridges at targets 200, 300, and 500 yards away. We were allowed to fire single shot and three round burst of automatic fire.

This experience cultivated my memory of my basic training and my year in the central highlands of South Vietnam when I used an M16, real cartridges, and real enemy contact on battle fields of jungle and rice paddies. There, I was the target within 10 yards for Viet Cong Guerrillas who had AK-47's, Thompson sub-machine guns, and Chinese style hand grenades (the hand grenades with the short wooden handles).

The bottom picture shows a demonstration firing of a machine gun by a drill instructor. We teachers did not fire this weapon, but I fired an M-60 machine gun in Vietnam many times.

Return here next week for more about our experiences at Parris Island.

Have a good week!


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