Against The Grain

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Chapter 12

Some of us spoke up about our frustrations and experiences on the range while others remained silent. It was after dinner chow, the time when we dismantled our M-16s and cleaned them as thoroughly as possible. The entire platoon gathered in the back of the female barracks while Drill Sergeant Andrews conducted an AAR (After Action Report). I remained silent and listened to the wannabes around me while I cleaned my weapon. They complained about all the challenges of firing their M-16 rifles and the drill sergeants offered detailed explanations to their specific questions and concerns. They tried to make their firing instructions as simplified as possible. They even provided us with firing strategies to follow. So, we all sat and listened attentively while they lectured us on what we could do better tomorrow.

The drill sergeants exaggerated that if we didn’t qualify on the range, it was our fault because they had done everything in their power to teach us. If we were too stupid to qualify then we could get ‘restarted’. Private Price had already qualified, so when the drill sergeants began talking down to the platoon she looked around at all of us as if they weren’t talking to her.

Drill Sergeant Andrews ended our AAR block of instruction and redirected our attention solely on him. He quickly dismantled his M-16 rifle and laid it out on the red cleaning rag in front of him. Drill Sergeant Andrews then provided Private Carter with a stopwatch to keep track of time. When Drill Sergeant Andrews was ready to begin he looked over at Carter. The minute Carter pressed the start button, Drill Sergeant Andrews then proceeded to put his M-16 rifle back together. We all sat quietly for a short moment, watching as Drill Sergeant Andrews pieced his rifle back together. Private Carter hit the stopwatch in 21 seconds when Drill Sergeant Andrews was done. His weapon was assembled back together in less than twenty-two seconds. Now, even I had to admit our drill sergeant's skills were impressive.

Unfortunately, for the next half an hour after he put together his weapon, he carried on about how great of an infantryman he was. We ended up listening to another war story, which took place during his deployment in Kosovo. I peered up and out the window as I slowly began to tune him out. He finished his recollection shortly and he then began inspecting each of our weapons one after the other. Drill Sergeant Andrews checked our weapons to make sure they were free from the slightest bit of black carbon film.

Once we passed the inspection, we were able to put our weapons back together and head outside to shine our boots in our formation area underneath the barracks. I took my time about cleaning my weapon because I was tired. In return, I was one of the last people to be inspected. As soon as Drill Sergeant Andrews inspected my weapon and allowed me to put it back to together, he was able to take it from me and lock it away inside the cage just as he did for the others. I quickly snagged my black boots and headed out the double barracks doors.

I used my small round brush with the wooden handle and the seven-ounce Kiwi shoe shiner, which we all had to purchase with our own money at the shoppette. We weren't allowed to use anything else, but the Kiwi brand for shining our boots. The chore of boot shining seemed to be a nice calming pastime before bed. It was our time to wind down from the rush of the day.

I sat next to Chapman on the cold concrete in our designated place under the barracks. We were distribute two pairs of boots since the beginning of training, the boots we had on our feet and the ones we were shining for tomorrow. We weren’t allowed to use anything else. I pressed my round brush into my open can of polish and I collected a small amount of shoeshine on the bristles of my brush. I started at the head of my black leather boots and I began to brush in a circular motion. The Kiwi shoe shiner smelled just like fresh linens on a clothesline as I brushed.

Chapman sat Indian style on the concrete in our platoon area at my right side. She held her head facing down as her golden hair curtained her face.

“Chapman, how you doin’?” I asked.

“I’m fine.” She whispered, without looking at my face.

She also kept her eyes fixed on her almost shiny black boots as she frantically brushed them.

Of course, she was still upset about not qualifying.

“Chapman, hardly anybody qualified—” I began.

“McCoy,” she interrupted me.

“I try hard at everything. I give it my very best,” she replied, raising her voice unintentionally.

Tears fell down her tan cheeks and once again I felt sorry for her. She kept her head down in order to remain buried in her hair. Yet, I could see her big, rolling tears that reminded me of raindrops in a summer storm. Her hair appeared damp and oily from sweat.

“I suck!” she shouted, throwing her brush down on the concrete ground.

It flew at least four feet away.

“Private Chapman!” Drill Sergeant Drake shouted.

“Get yo’ crybaby tail on up and go pick up that doggone brush!”

Drill Sergeant Drake marched over nearer to us and Private Chapman rushed to her feet to follow her command. She hustled over to where she threw it, reached down and snagged her brush from the ground.

“Now you can beat your face!” Drill Sergeant Drake shouted.

Chapman swiftly dropped down where she stood in order to get into front leaning arrest position. Chapman upheld a strong posture while she performed several push-ups on the smooth, concrete ground. Drill Sergeant Drake allowed her to recover after her fifteenth push-up. Chapman recovered from her position and quickly grabbed her boots in dismay. She headed up to the barracks to prepare herself for bed. Most of us took our showers at night, so I quickly finished shining my boots and prepared myself for a nice hot shower.

In the shower, I used Chapman’s Head and Shoulders to wash my frizzy stands. I didn’t even own shampoo because I hardly ever washed my hair for fear of creating complete nappiness. After soap and water, I really didn’t know what to do with my hair and I never had time to do it anyway. I barely had time to get dressed. I applied a handful of carrot crème to my nappiness while it was still wet. I rubbed it in, slicked it back into a ponytail and called it a night. My breathing settled to match my resting heart rate and I began to drift away into a deep sleep.

Saturday was our last day for weapons qualification. We awoke, performed morning PT, perfected our barracks, ate breakfast chow, and hurried up to wait in formation. Before we were able to rush over toward the grass and file onto the bus, the drill sergeants provided us with a briefing that I stood and disregarded. I was ready to get this show on the road. We loaded onto the white buses all before 0800 hours again. After a good twenty miles in the right direction, we arrived at the range for the last time. I wasn’t the slightest bit worried. Rejecting the pressure that had been placed upon us kept me calm and collected. Refusing to want to be like the rest of them kept me sure of myself.

After we arrived and waited, it was finally my turn to shoot. Inside the foxhole, I first set up my sandbags. Then I shoved my M-16 rifle deep into the pocket of my left shoulder while I waited for permission to fire. On the command of the T.O.C., I locked and loaded my weapon and then scanned my lane. The 300-meter target stood erect and I could see it clearly through my large BCGs. I shut one eye and adjusted myself to obtain a good site post picture. I aimed just above the body of the site post picture, suppressed my breathing and fired at the 300-meter target. The drill sergeants warned us about wasting bullets on the 300 or 250-meter targets, but like always, I didn’t listen.

Surprisingly, the 300-meter target dropped and I kept going without much thought about it. I aimed at the 250-meter target, hesitated and allowed it to fall on its own. The 200-meter target appeared, I aimed, hesitated and missed that one too. I took in a deep breath because I was getting frustrated. The 50-meter target popped up and I quickly dropped it back down. The 150-meter target popped up and that one also became dropped back down too.

The 100-meter target popped up next. However, the muzzle of my weapon had produced so much smoke that everything in front of me was a blur. The smoke clouded my view of the target and I didn’t even bother to shoot. Once the smoke cleared, I could see the 200-meter target arise. I aimed at it, fired and I missed it. Frustration showered over me in the form of visible sweat streaming from underneath my kevlar. The 50-meter target shot up and I dropped it. Then the 50 and 150-meter targets appeared before me and I knocked them both down too. The 100-meter target appeared and I also drop that one down. The 300-meter target appeared once more, yet this time I was not as fortunate. The target pushed itself down and I began growing hot from my bad nerves and shortness of breath.

Up jumped the 100-meter target once more and I knocked it down again. Next, the 50-meter target appeared and I knocked it down like it was nothing. Then the 300-meter target appeared before my eyes. I only brushed it off once more because I didn’t want to waste my bullets. The 200-meter target appeared, I aimed and knocked it down. Yet and still, it became difficult for me to catch a breath. I could feel my left shoulder growing weaker by the seconds. Then the 100-meter target popped up and I knocked it down. I felt the need to take another deep breath and finally a pause in the lanes gave me that opportunity.

“Seize fire, seize fire!” the T.O.C. commanded.

Drill Sergeant Andrews approached me. I turned my head and glanced at him and surprisingly he held a smile on his face.

“You actually did pretty good, McCoy. I was watching you.” He encouraged me.

I smiled back at him and he quickly straightened out his smile. He immediately walked off as if he’d done something wrong.

Our next firing position would take place in the dirt square atop of our three sandbags. I grabbed my sandbags from out in front of the foxhole and relocated them in the dirty square. I set up my sandbags as a support for my weapon. They were used to mount my M-16 as part of my firing position.

Here goes . . . I thought.

“Firers, lock and load your weapons.” The T.O.C. commanded.

There was a five second pause.

“Firers, prepare to scan your lane and fire.”

The first target to appear before my prescribed 20/20 vision was the 250-meter target. I aimed, suppressed my breathing, fired my weapon, and missed the target. The 100-meter target appeared in the kill zone. I fired, but my weapon jammed. Shit! I thought.

I lifted my upper body from the dirt and kneeled on my knees so that I could quickly apply S.P.O.R.T.S. to my weapon. I moved with such a speed that I created a pearl of sweat, which I felt drip down my armpit. My heavy flack vest, lanky arms and jammed weapon were not going to stop me from shooting. I was determined to shoot these targets. Qualification was not my worry, but being defeated by a stupid target would possibly make me have a nervous breakdown.

The 250-meter target appeared again while I applied S.P.O.R.T.S. and I missed it because my weapon wasn’t prepared yet. In a matter of seconds, I unjammed my weapon and I lay back down into prone supported position. Both the 50 and 100-meter targets became erect like two zombies awakening from the dead and I killed them easy. A wave of excitement came over me.

Next, the 300-meter target popped and I hit it! I felt another drop of sweat drip from my armpit. The 50-meter and the 150-meter target popped up—I lie down the 150-meter target, but I couldn’t control my breathing. I peered at the 50-meter target from my sight post picture, but I was out of breath. Just in the nick of time, the 50-meter target dropped back down without a bullet. I could feel my arms jittering a bit. A fast headache rushed over me. I was definitely dehydrated. Before I knew it, three more targets randomly appeared and the force of my rounds hadn’t knocked any of them down.

“Seize fire! Seize fire!” the T.O.C. commanded.

The last position was prone unsupported. I pushed my sandbags over to the side and waited on the command to fire my weapon. In a matter of seconds, I removed my thick framed basic training goggles, wiped them with my BDU sleeve and slid them back on my sweaty face.

“Firers, lock and load your 40 round magazines!” the T.O.C. commanded.

I quickly locked and loaded my weapon. I practiced holding my rifle upright by pointing my elbows straight down into the dry dirt while my arms sat up at a ninety-degree angle. That way I could aim higher than the ground, as if my arms were a step latter for my rifle. I stop practicing my positioning and sat my weapon down on the dirt for a brief moment. I slightly lifted up from off the ground and detached the velcro of my flack vest. I pulled up the bottom portion of my BDU top and used it to wipe away the dripping sweat from my wet face. The sun beamed down hard, but the metal shade covering over the firing line kept me hidden from the sunrays. Despite the shade, the weather was still very hot and humid. It felt like the temperature was at least 104 or above. I was overheated, but I had to continue training. The muzzle of my weapon was also hot. This would be my last opportunity to knock down the moving targets.

“Scan your lane and proceed to fire!” the T.O.C. commanded.

I prompted my pointy elbows and I scanned my lane for an erect target. Like a firework, up popped the 50-meter target. I knocked it down without much thought. The 100-meter target popped up and I had no problem knocking it down. Then the 150 and 300-meter targets lifted simultaneously. I used the voice in my head to guide me. Get a good site post picture, aim, hold in my breath and . . . I shot the 150-meter target first and immediately shot the 300-meter target. The 300-meter target dropped and I could have jumped for joy when I seen it hit the ground, but instead I smiled and stayed focused. Then the 100-meter target sprang up. I shot at it and it was a definite hit!

The 250-meter target jumped out at me and I canceled it, but when the 200-meter target lifted it didn’t allow me to do the same. It appeared and disappeared in the blink of an eye. The 50-meter target became erect and I laid it down. Then the 200-meter target appeared again. I reminded myself to concentrate. Get a good site post picture, aim, hold my breathing and . . . fire! Instantly, the target dropped down.

“Seize fire! Seize fire!” he commanded.

In about two minutes the drill sergeant came around to inform us of our qualification. I didn’t have a clue of whether I’d qualified or not. I hadn’t actually been counting the targets that I’d hit. I placed my weapon on safe and laid it down flat on the dirt beside me. In due time, Drill Sergeant Mayor approached me as I stood at parade rest waiting on my results. Private Clinton stood beside me at the same position.

“McCoy,” Drill Sergeant Mayor began.

“Get own outta here!” He shouted in his thick Carolina accent.

He appeared sober when he spoke and then his frown broke into a wide smile. Drill Sergeant Andrews passed by as Drill Sergeant Mayor spoke to me. He began laughing as he carried on past us.

“Can’n believe it McCoy, I just can’n believe it.” Drill Sergeant Mayor replied.

He echoed himself while shaking his head from left to right as if I’d done something wrong.

“Why, Drill Sergeant?” I asked.

I stood straight up like one of the targets.

“Why?” Drill Sergeant Mayor mocked me.

He’d actually performed a good impersonation of my voice.

“You wanna know, why?”

A wide smile spread across my face like mayonnaise on a slice of toast. Drill Sergeant Mayor only gawked at me as if he were waiting on me to figure it out.

“You qualified, idiot!” Private Clinton shouted.

Drill Sergeant Mayor then turned and walked away from me. Clinton turned and stomped off the firing line toward the gate, but the drill sergeants yelled for her to get back in line. I overheard her cursing to herself. I walked up to the ammunition booth with a sincere smile on my face and left my empty magazine to be thrown back into the empty bin. The wannabes that surrounded me could tell I had qualified. I walked off the range feeling proud.

“You qualified?” Private Price questioned me.

Price had qualified long before everyone else on the first day that our company arrived at the range.

“Yep, I sure did!” I said.

“What took you so long?” she replied.

I only sauntered away from her, smiling at nothing at all. I climbed to the top of the bleachers to sit in the comfort of my own thoughts. Yes! I did it!

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