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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Training: Good Lessons and Bad

This is Steven Petrick Posting.

The passage of time sometimes gives one chance to sit down and review past events of one's life from a new perspective.

As a kid, I wanted to be the best soldier I could be, but it happened that my introduction to Army ROTC was at the end of the Vietnam War. During my freshman year in college level ROTC, going to the woods for training was a "field training exercise" (FTX). We carried M-14 rifles (with blank adapters) and worked on learning to patrol and handle tactical problems. Between my Freshman and Sophomore years, things changed. The program was revamped more with an eye towards encouraging cadets to just remain in the program than actually teaching them useful field craft. Going to the woods was now called an "adventure training exercise" (ATX). No weapons were carried, and the emphasis was on fun and puzzles (leadership challenges).

This leads to the point.

My Freshman year I actually learned how to use an M-14 rifle. Between my Junior and Senior years when I attended my Advanced Camp, I was issued an M-16 rifle. While we were sometimes shown these weapons during my sophomore and junior years, we did not practice on them.

The result. At a key point in a battle my M-16 jammed. I had absolutely no knowledge of how to clear a jam in an M-16. For precious seconds I was helpless while trying to figure out how to make the weapon operable again, only to have the weapon immediately jam a second time without firing. I managed to get it cleared a second time and shoot a nearby opponent before she could shoot me. But the only reason I shot her first was she went into shock when she finally spotted me and saw how close I was to her. If she had not frozen she could have easily picked me off.

And that was the other training point.

I could very easily have been marked by that one incident to consider women worthless under fire. She did, after all, literally just stand there and watch me clear my rifle the second time (in the same extremely clumsy and time consuming manner in which I had cleared it the first time). I knew that any male cadet would have shot me first.

I learned, during that Summer, the correct manner in which to clear an M-16 rifle, and learned it well enough that in later times the motions were programmed. (My issued rifle during my basic course jammed on the range, for example, and I cleared it automatically and so quickly that I COULD have still taken the shot, but assumed, wrongly, that I was out of time.) But it was very easy for me now, to understand what can happen with poorly trained but aggressive troops. (I was being aggressive to be where I was to shoot the girl, but that was "native" field craft as opposed to military training, my military training proved to be sorely lacking in a key component that could have "cost my life").

To this day there are a lot of things that I learned that stick (and make watching TV hard). In the first half of this year's "Leverage" season finale, I listened to the bad guys spray the detective's car with bullets, and could only note that the weapon could not fire that long with that magazine, and that the car had more bullet holes (with Tivo, I actually stopped the screen and counted holes) than the magazine could hold, details like that drive me nuts. Not to mention the idea that the detective was not also made into Swiss cheese since his car door would not have stopped the bullets from penetrating.

But at least I know that a woman with a firearm is as dangerous as a man (I did not learn the bad lesson from that one female cadet).