Against The Grain

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Chapter 10

We’d gotten past white sticks and I was surely relieved that I’d gotten through it. The hot sun beamed down on us as we all stood and listened to a block of instruction at the position of parade rest. Drill Sergeant Baker had just revealed all twenty-something odd rules of the firing range. Each rule was detailed and specific. She then moved back into her place in the separate formation among the drill sergeants. Senior Drill Sergeant Ford then stepped ahead of them and spoke before the company.

“Good Morning, Delta Company!” Senior Drill Sergeant greeted us.

“Good Morning, Senior Drill Sergeant!” we hollered back.

“We’ll be conducting basic rifle marksmanship, at a high rate of getty up. Procedures and tactics will be corrected on the range. For all you idiots, that means don’t mess around! It’s mandatory that you all pass basic rifle marksmanship. Twenty-three shots out of forty is a minimal passing score. You will range walk within your firing squads, dress right dress, down to the thirtieth firing hole. Once you hear the command you’re to get down in the hole. You will have forty-five seconds to set up your sandbags. The first forty rounds will be fired in the foxhole. You will have forty-five seconds to set up your sandbags at the sandbox for your second firing position in prone supported. Next, you will fire in prone unsupported, but before we allow you to take on the task of basic rifle marksmanship, you must first be able to zero your weapon. Each weapon must be zeroed before you will be allowed to conduct this course.” Senior Drill Sergeant Ford commanded before the company.

He was a slim, short white male who appeared to be maybe in his early thirties. He had nicely tanned skin and typical dark brown eyes. He seemed to be just as sober as the other drill sergeants standing before us. After he provided us with a brief summary of our agenda he became quiet.

“Third platoon lead the way!” Drill Sergeant Baker shouted out from her place among the other sergeants.

Everyone in our platoon cheered aloud among the entire company. I continued to stand quietly. Drill Sergeant Baker held her place behind Senior Drill Sergeant Ford with the other sergeants. She was a thick-framed tough looking black female with two gold-capped front teeth.

“Whooowha!” the drill sergeants shouted.

“Whooowha!” the entire Delta Company shouted back.

The camaraderie of the entire company emerged and dominated the atmosphere.

“Platoon sergeants, take charge of your platoons.” Senior Drill Sergeant Ford ordered.

He then stepped back from his place ahead of the sergeants and they all headed to the front of their platoons just as Drill Sergeant Drake headed to the front of ours. She commanded that we ground our rucksacks just as the other sergeants informed their platoons to do the same. A clear container was passed down from hand to hand within our platoon formation. Each of the wannabes grabbed a single tiny box from the plastic container. When the clear container made its way to me I also picked out a single box and passed the container on down the squad. I opened the box to find that inside of it were two small, plastic, light green earplugs. The earplugs were the shape of a screwdriver. I peered about at the wannabes around me and I hadn’t seen any of them place an earplug in their ears yet. So, I stored the tiny box of earplugs inside my right ammo pouch with my blank protector. We all grounded our rucksacks as we were commanded to do and we awaited the opportunity to begin moving out. Drill Sergeant Drake finally gave us the command to move out on the range once the range instructors were ready for us. Our platoon began marching onto the range one squad at a time with our weapons held at the low ready position. First squad marched out first and so on went the rest of us. I was sure we appeared like ants in our orderly fashion, one behind the other.

At the ammunition shed, an unfamiliar sergeant shoved a twenty round clip into each of our chests consecutively. We were instructed to place our loaded clips inside our left ammo pouch that remained open for the drill sergeants to check. We followed the direction of the range instructors who were also sergeants. They directed us over to the far end of the range within our firing line. We followed their instructions and maintained a single file firing order as we marched onto the line. Each of us became aligned properly into a lane, where we would first shoot to zero our weapons. The drill sergeant came around to examine our firing posts and they made sure our weapons were still on safe. We each received an eight and a half by eleven-inch sheet of target paper that was passed down the line. The target paper displayed the head and chest of a jet-black figure behind measuring scale quadrants. We had to hurry up and wait for everyone to receive a target paper. Everything at my firing post appeared to mirror the same things at the other firing posts. Therefore, I figured my lane to be in its proper order. We were commanded to rest our weapons in the weapon’s rack and move past the foxhole directly up to the firing board with our target papers. The drill sergeants came around and stapled our target papers to our firing boards. We returned to our posts and awaited further instruction. We were commanded to retrieve our weapons from the rack and hold them pointed down at the low ready position. After the sergeants on the range went around and made sure each of us had our target papers in place, they held up a white octagon shaped panel. The panel gave the NCOIC (Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge) of the range the signal to proceed.

“Firers, at this time, you may lock and load your weapons.” The instructor informed us over the loudspeaker.

An instructor stood inside the booth that towered overhead within the range and he shouted orders from the loudspeaker. The sergeants referred to the booth as the T.O.C. (Training Operating Company, pronounced as talk). Another five seconds zipped past before the NCOIC finally provided the next command over the loudspeaker.

“Firers, take your weapons off of safe and proceed to fire.”

A rush of firing broke out across the lanes. Instantly, a heap of excitement came over me. The powerful sound of rifles firing across the lanes throttled my eardrums. Just then, I dug into my right ammo pouch, pulled out my earplugs and stuffed them in both my ears. The surrounding smoke produced by each rifle quickly faded into the stiff air. The stench of burnt cleaning lubricant lingered around without the breezes. I positioned my face on the surface of the warm black stock and fired at the paper target in my lane. Once I finally pulled the trigger, the impact of the shot provided a backward kick that caused me to misfire my weapon. I had no choice, but to get used to the feeling of the rifle. Therefore, I continued trying to fire upon my black target.

I’d fired approximately twenty shots before the T.O.C. instructed us to ‘seize fire’. Right away, I placed my weapon on safe before I had the opportunity to forget. After attempting to zero our weapons, we were commanded to go fetch our targets from the board. I spaced forward in my lane toward my firing board and I took a look at my target paper. I’d managed to accomplish eight bullet holes in my paper. The paper held two clusters of bullet holes in two different quadrants. The actual black printed physique in the center of the target paper held only two bullet holes. One bullet hole remained on the lower wide physique of the target and another on the left tip of the narrow head. I took my paper off the board just like the others had done and I quickly range walked back to my post that was divided by rows of sandbags. We stood in a single file line while we waited for our next command. Finally, our firing squad was commanded to exit the range. I followed our moving segment up to the ammunition booth as all the drill sergeants yelled out direct commands at us.

Suddenly, Drill Sergeant Drake approached me. I didn’t even see her coming because I was too busy analyzing my target paper, trying to figure out how to read it. She forcefully snatched my target paper out of my hands as I stood in alignment with the wannabes. She overviewed my target paper as I stood at parade rest. She then shoved the paper into my chest as if she were trying to push me away. She walked off without another expression. I moved along in the line as I held my target paper in my left hand and my weapon at the low ready position with my right hand. Of course, my weapon remained on safe. I could hear surround yelling and magazines crashing against one another at the ammunition booth.

We waited for a good ten minutes before any of us had a chance to turn in our empty clips. I gave the range instructor my empty magazine and followed in the direction of the wannabe that stood ahead of me. While we exited the range, second platoon entered the range from the bleachers.

The temperature had risen over a level five heat category, which only meant that the temperature was over 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Our platoon gathered leisurely at the foot of the bleachers. Drill Sergeant Drake approached our cluster and began giving orders. She commanded us to ground our kevlar, protector belt and flack vest atop our rucksacks. We were granted a few seconds to uniformly ground our gear and then to stand behind it in a formation. She stood before us with her gear properly grounded in front of her as the head of our formation. She provided a visual example of how our gear should appear in front of us. I maintained a slow stride on over to where our formation began to form and I started grounding my gear in uniform with the rest of them.

“Platoon! Atten-hoon!” Drill Sergeant Drake commanded.

“Stand at,” she began.

“Ease!” Drill Sergeant Drake commanded.

Once in my proper place, I was able to stand at ease with my weapon on safe at the low ready position and my gear properly grounded. I could feel a good amount of sweat under my armpits. I stood at parade rest with a cottonmouth and an oily face. My body became weak and thirsty from the sun draining my precious energy. My eyes felt heavy in my head. However, I had not begun to drip sweat from my head yet. My kevlar had protected me from the beaming hot sun. My uniform appeared marked with smeared dry dirt. Dirt particles had risen and floated about in the hot air. Dirt was everywhere around us and I couldn’t help, but get dirty.

“Achew!” I sneezed.

“Achew!” I sneezed again.

“Third platoon, drink water!” Drill Sergeant Drake commanded.

Clipped to the left side of my rucksack was my full canteen inside the cup and cover. I took my canteen out of my cup and proceeded to drink water. The wannabes began to converse leisurely after the drill sergeants gave us permission to stand at ease and drink. Shortly after, we were commanded to stand back at the position of parade rest and wait for further instructions.

In due time, it was our platoon’s turn to get back out there on the firing line again and attempt to zero our weapons. We paraded onto the range in our same firing segment. We were given the command to halt and then we were given a right face command that placed us in front of the firing board up ahead of our lane. The drill sergeants made sure we were in alignment with a single firing board and a weapon’s rack that made up only a portion of the firing post. We were then commanded to place our weapons in the weapon’s rack and move past the foxhole directly up to the firing board with our same target papers that we’d held folded in our pockets. We would then await a drill sergeant to come by with the staple gun to post our targets on the firing board. Once our targets were posted, we were to return down the lane and assemble into our firing positions. I placed my earplugs in my ear again as we awaited the command to fire our weapons. A few minutes slipped past and we were commanded by the T.O.C. to begin firing our weapon.

I fired off my first round without much focus on the target. I fired my second round after the smoke cleared from my muzzle nearly four seconds later. I could clearly see the little black target in my thick brown-framed BCGs. I could hear the voice of Drill Sergeant Andrews playing out the five-step procedure in my head. Apply the cheek-to-stock method, slow and steady my breathing, aim . . . fire . . . I felt the buck of my weapon against the socket of my shoulder. I knew the force of my M-16 rifle would leave the pit of my arm bruised. I kept my focus and kept a tight grip on the weapon despite my tender arms.

In less than four minutes, we were given the command to seize fire and drop our magazines. I pressed the magazine release and a single round flew out of the ejection port of my M-16. We were to retrieve our targets from where they were stapled onto the wooden post. We awaited the command to do just that. I retrieved my target paper from the board and noticed that this time I had only four holes in nearly the same spot of the first quadrant.

We all returned to our firing post quickly and Drill Sergeant Mayor gave us a left face command. We would all wait our turn to be evaluated by a drill sergeant one squad at a time as we exited the range. If we were given a ‘go’ we were to walk to the ammunition booth, turn in our magazines, and exit into the bleachers. If we were given a ‘no go’ we were to be recycled back into the firing line.

I focused on the wannabes ahead of me. I watched as Private Price approached Drill Sergeant Mayor. Of course, Price would be one of the first ones to zero. I watched her bright happy smile as she beamed it on us, walking slowly from the ammunition booth to the gates that led to the bleachers. I examined my target sheet unsure of how to read it. I figured I would be right back in the firing line. It was obvious that I’d fired four shots onto the target paper and I had two rounds left in my clip. Therefore, I was certain that I’d failed to zero my weapon. Drill Sergeant Mayor stood four wannabes ahead of me and he’d look at my paper shortly. Hopefully, I’m not a complete disappointment, I thought.

Private McCarthy was to be evaluated next. He walked up to the drill sergeant and handed him his target paper. He turned out to be a ‘no go’. His face turned hot pink after he’d received his evaluation. Next, Drill Sergeant Mayor evaluated Private Clinton. I figured she’d be ‘a go’ and I was right, she was. I watched as Clinton kept a straight face. She didn’t even break a smile. Drill Sergeant Mayor moved onto the next wannabe and Clinton carried herself on over to the ammunition booth and turned in her ammunition clip.

In the distance, I watched Price and Clinton give each other a high five and I was surprised. She only stuck with Blackstone and Mendez within our platoon, but at nights she socialized with Stevenson and Brown from fourth platoon.

“McCoy!” Drill Sergeant Mayor shouted at me.

I quickly turned my head around to peer at him. It was my turn to be evaluated. I made my way over to him so he could glance at my target paper.

“Pay attention!” Drill Sergeant Mayor shouted at me.

He glared at me, sternly. Drill Sergeant Mayor snatched my paper from my left hand and I almost dropped my weapon on the dirt ground. I heard a wannabe from behind me calling me, ‘stupid’, wanting me to hear them. I didn’t know who called it to me and I didn’t care. I heard laughter from behind me. He looked at the paper and laughed.

“Go head on,” Drill Sergeant Mayor began.

“Go on, get out of here, McCoy.” Drill Sergeant Mayor said with a smile.

“Huh?” I said, unsure of what he meant.

“Move!” he shouted, quickly switching to a stern face.

“You zeroed, stupid.” That same wannabe behind me replied.

I stepped out of line and advanced toward the ammo booth while Drill Sergeant Mayor moved on to the next in line. I returned my magazine that held only two remaining rounds. I meandered back over and hurried towards the gate to get to the bleachers. I noticed a couple of wannabes looking at me in astonishment, but I paid them no mind as usual.

“McCoy,” I heard someone call me.

I swiveled around to see who might have called my name. I scanned the line and caught Private Chapman’s eyes staring dead at me.

“You zeroed?” she asked me, as she stood in line waiting to be evaluated.

She’d emphasized the word ‘you’ when she asked me if I’d zeroed. I only slightly shook my head from left to right as I peered back at her. Her mouth remained dropped, but then she cleaned up her face with a smile. She put her left thumb up for me. I smiled and continued through the gate. I kept moving past Price and Clinton without paying them any attention. I didn’t respond to either one of them. Instead, I only climbed up to the top of the bleachers where I could sit comfortably alone.

Even my stomach knew it was lunchtime. Our company was marched away from the bleachers into an open field and assembled into a 360 formation. The field held dry dirt and drying mud patches from the previous rain shower. Each platoon within our company remained divided and we were constructed into wide circles in the open field where we sat in the dirt and ate MREs.

Both Private Price and Carter gained their title of platoon leader, due to their efforts ahead of everyone else. They tramped off toward the one-ton truck to go and fetch our lunches. They returned with two large boxes, which they’d grabbed from off the one-ton truck that was parked a distance away on the gravel road. They both shared the responsibility of stacking the two large boxes one on top of the other, carrying them to our dwelling and dropping them in the center of our platoon. The minute they grabbed their own MRE and made their way to a place in the circle, the majority of the wannabes rose and hurried to the boxes. The wannabes pushed and shoved in order to snag their preferred MRE and surprisingly the drill sergeants didn’t say anything to them. They were too busy conversing with one another.

However, I was appalled by the wannabe’s behavior. I only sat down and waited patiently for them to finish rummaging over the prepackaged food. They’re idiots! I thought. There is always enough food for everyone. After every last wannabe picked over the MREs, I rose and proceeded to grab a single MRE from off the ground.

“McCoy!” Drill Sergeant Drake shouted.

I jerked my head upward, toward the direction of my name.

“Get over here!” Drill Sergeant Drake belligerently commanded.

I headed over toward her without grabbing an MRE meal.

“Hurry yo’ doggone tail up, McCoy!” Drill Sergeant Drake yelled.

A stern expression appeared painted upon her face.

“Yes, Drill Sergeant?” I answered, after hurrying to her presence.

We stood about three feet apart.

“I’m so frickin’ disgusted with you,” she began.

“Who in da mess you thank you is, McCoy?” she asked.

“Wut, you too good to get out here wit’ da real soldiers and fight for ya’ doggone meal, huh?” she asked, not expecting a real answer.

“I tell you wut,” she continued.

“Get yo’ butt down and low crawl ’til I get tired.” She commanded.

Immediately, I kneeled down to my knees. I leaned over to press my helmet into the dirt and I began to low crawl on the ground in front of her. My hard kevlar led me through the dry dirt. After a good ten minutes, I began to feel sharp pains in both my arms as if I’d pulled two muscles. I wanted to cry, but of course, I wasn’t going to give Drill Sergeant Drake the satisfaction of thinking she could actually hurt me.

Once I was given permission to recover, I had only five minutes left to eat one of the MREs still remaining on the ground. Quickly, I snagged one from off the ground, opened it and began eating. Private Clinton passed by and shot me a devilish grin. Drill Sergeant Mayor peered over at her, twittering past me on her way to the brown box. Unsurprisingly, he smiled at Private Clinton. She continued over and discarded her MRE packaging into the box. Instead of being irritated with her, I only focused back down and continued eating my food.

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