The second week of training is much like the first: lots of weapons firing and walking in around with body armour in 90+ degree weather. But it’s also the week when you get to shoot the big guns and go full auto.This is where IA personnel will finish their ~700 rounds of live fire training. The previous weekend had an M16 practice qualification test while this week is the “real thing”. However, the instructors will take your best score from both days and count that as your final score, so do your best both days. For what it’s worth, my best score was 34 out of 40, which is only a Sharpshooter; Expert is 36 out of 40.You will shoot from the prone supported (on a sandbag) and unsupported (without the sandbag), followed by a round from the kneeling position. All of these times are without your body armour. This is followed by you putting on the body armour and doing it all over again.The problem of shooting from the prone position, regardless of whether it’s supported or not, is that the helmet may have a tendency to slide into your line of sight. This is most prevalent when you’re wearing armour because the helmet can’t rest as far back on your neck; the armour collar pushes it forward on your forehead.If you’re in this situation, I recommend you use the goggles attached to the helmet. They will sit a little heavy on the bridge of your nose making breathing a tad difficult but they keep the helmet from covering your sighting eye. Also, move your head forward enough to allow the helmet rim to rest on rear sight rail of the M16; it will be further pushed out of your way and also ensures you have a consistent face-to-weapon position (in addition to putting your nose on the charging handle).The only problem is that the recoil will cause the rifle to bounce back into your goggles, leaving a nice scratch right in the middle. For me, it’s right at the bridge of my nose so it isn’t normally in my sight range but your mileage may vary. I’d rather have the goggles damaged than a $140 pair of sunglasses but it’s your choice.If you’re assigned a 9mm pistol, this is also the week you finish qualifying. Pretty standard stuff, you shoot from 3, 5, 7, and 15 meters, the last eight rounds or so from the kneeling position. You have to get at least 180 out of 240 points; points are scored based on hitting the 3, 4, or 5 point areas of the target.You’ll have to count your score yourself, so I recommend taking the “approved cheating method” as advocated by one of the drill sergeants: count all the rounds that aren’t in the 5 zone and subtract their values from 240; assume everything else is a 5. Though this doesn’t account for any rounds that didn’t hit the target, it’s pretty unlikely that you completely missed. Most of the time you’ll have a big hole in the middle and there’s no way you can count how many rounds hit the 5 zone so it’s the only way you can get a good score.In addition to these ranges, you’ll also have one day of low-light shooting. They used to wait until evening to do this but it would be so hot that they moved it to early morning. Unfortunately, you don’t get to play with night-vision goggles, flares, or any other cool technology. It’s pretty much a standard range and the drill sergeants sweep a flashlight back and forth downrange so you can sort of see the targets when they pop up. It’s actually somewhat of a letdown.This is also the week of “stress firing”, where you have to run from obstacle to obstacle and fire at the targets from various positions, all with a timer counting down. The 9mm range is slightly easier, IMO, because you don’t have the instructors yelling at you. The M16 range has the instructors yelling at you at each obstacle after you run ~30 meters to the first location. This is supposed to simulate the stress of shooting at a target in combat, I guess. Personally I think a simulated battle would be better, like in the movies. You know, with fake explosions and firecrackers to help stimulate the students. But this is all funded by the Navy and we all know they have better things to spend money on.Reflexive fire is also covered. This is related to close quarters combat (SWAT-like tactics) because you have to pivot your body and snap-shoot a designated target within just a couple of seconds. It’s not very difficult but if you’re the last person to do it that day, you’ll be very, very hot. I did this drill on the same day we did the low-light shoot in the morning so I was up for about 12 hours by the time I had my turn. Plus, it was 95 degrees with a heat index of 100+ and I was wearing body armour, which adds an extra 5 degrees to your core body temperature. Needless to say, try to be one of the first people to do this.The fun time of the week is heavy weapons day. You’ll get to fire the big guns: M249 SAW (the Squad Automatic Weapon, essentially a belt-fed M16), the M240 (the successor to the M60 machine gun), the M2 (a .50-caliber machine gun), and the Mk19 (a belt-fed, automatic grenade launcher). All the rounds are live, except for the Mk19, which uses training rounds that are like giant firecrackers. You’ll get to shoot approximately 20 rounds for each weapon, except the Mk19 where you only get 8 grenades.What I found most surprising is how unreliable some of these weapons are. Many times we had to wait for several minutes while a jam or other malfunction was cleared. It’s definitely not like the movies where they work flawlessly.BTW, don’t think you can get by without using your ear protection fully. Being next to the .50 cal is like being in a dance club and standing next to the speaker. The bass sound of it firing is felt through your entire body and the noise can be heard from miles away. Literally, I can tell when someone is on the range when I’m hanging out at the barracks. If you don’t have your ear plugs completely in, you will go deaf very shortly.Last but not least, the other significant class in the field is IED orientation. IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) are the number killer for military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan. Simply put, they are explosive devices that aren’t manufactured in a normal factory. They may use artillery rounds, dynamite, fertilizer bombs, etc. for the explosive and they are triggered by anything from a cell phone to a clock timer. The parts can be bought at nearly any hardware store.They will be hidden in any way that will prevent detection: buried under a road, placed in roadside trash, stuffed in the rectum of a dog, etc. Seriously, one of the most dangerous methods is to use animals as the carrier because Americans are so fond of animals and will call over any dogs they see. Another trick is to make a cardboard cutout of a dog, with reflective tape for eyes, and wire it with 155mm artillery shells. The cutout is placed in the road right before a night convoy comes by. When someone gets out to see why the dog won’t move out of the way, boom.IEDs are probably the scariest thing you may encounter. The trainer has you identify possible markers of where an IED may be placed (abnormal grouping of logs, tape tied to a tree, linear arrangement of branches, etc.) but that’s the easy part. Once you identify possible markers, the hard part is actually spotting where the IED is located, if it even exists. Pretty much what I got from the class is that you have to be paranoid when you go out on a convoy but you also have to rely on good luck to carry you through.Some of the indoor classes included stress management (the military is finally realizing that PTSD and other stress-related issues can affect your life while deployed and when you come back), convoy movement (with case studies using Black Hawk Down and Home of the Brave), and CQB (close quarters battle, essentially SWAT team room-clearing). The final week here involves a convoy drill and room clearing scenarios. Though you don’t learn enough to become a bad ass SWAT dude, hopefully you learn enough to help out if you come under fire while driving through an urban area.That’s about it for week 2. Some recommendations I’ve noticed over the last couple of weeks:
- When you have to we
ar your helmet (pretty much only when you’re firing), where a bandana or the throat gaiter you’re issued to keep the sweat from running into your eyes.
- If you choose to wear glasses instead of the goggles while shooting, put some anti-fog solution on them.
- If your job when in-country requires you to wear knee pads, e.g. convoy duty or door-busting teams, get a pair of clip-on pads. The pads you’re issued are just like skateboard pads, with straps that wrap around your legs. These straps are very constricting and can be painful.
- Cut the trigger finger of your shooting glove to give you better tactile sense of the trigger. However, don’t cut it completely off because you can still use your gloves for normal protection.
- When wearing your body armour, get it as tight as possible across your stomach and chest. This will take the weight off your shoulders. Otherwise your shoulders will start to hurt in just a few minutes.
- If you will be carrying a 9mm pistol when in-country, consider buying a better holster than the one you’re issued. Thigh holsters are very popular because of SOCOM and special forces guys wear them and they are a good idea if you think you’ll be having to go prone a lot. If you’re going to be wearing your body armour, and especially if you’ll be doing convoys, consider getting a holster that you can wear on your chest. Blackhawk makes a holster that clips to the MOLLE straps on your vest. If you’ll be having a desk job for the most part, then you might just wan to get a standard shoulder holster so you’re gun doesn’t get in the way of the chair.
- Bring a book with you every day. You don’t know how much downtime you’ll have, especially while waiting for your turn to shoot.
- A Camelbak with pockets is great, as I said in my first IA post. The one you’re issued is just the water bladder; it has D-rings for attaching gear but finding clip-on pockets can be troublesome.
- If you can, buy a better pair of boots, like Oakley or Danner. They feel more like tennis shoes and there will be less pressure on the top of your foot.
Stay tuned for the next installment.