Thursday, May 21, 2009

Day 43 (Monday May 11, 2009)

Let's shoot more stuff...

M9 Qualification

After a short, but entertaining weekend, we're back at it again.  This time, we were heading to the range to fire our personal weapons, the M9 (9 mm pistol) and M4 (rifle...similar to the M16).  Our wake up call for this evolution was not quite as bad as the 0430 alarm just a few days earlier for our range day on the big weapons.  And, in standard fashion, you can see I was sporting the "cup o' Jo" again.  We're really roughin' it, huh?  

(That's not a gang sign...alla means day 2 on the range.)

Our first task for this morning was to qualify on the 9 mm pistol.  After the safety brief near the bleachers, we moved out in groups to receive our magazines with a particular number of rounds loaded into each one.  Magazines, in this case, are the cartridges full of ammunition that are loaded into the weapon...not variably interesting viewpoints by journalists assimilated on paper...sorry, bad attempt at humor...this journaling thing is tough.  

Approaching the range, there were two rows of mounded dirt at 5, 10, 15, 20 and 25 meters intervals, in front of each firing sector.  (see the first two pictures below)  The sector (or lane) is the area an individual will fire in.  Having been given a chance to fire a few rounds for familiarization, we proceeded into the qualification.  Unfortunately, I can't remember the sequence of the pop-up targets, but the general idea was have our pistols at the "low ready" position (which means pointed at the dirt...away from your neighbor) and fire upon the targets as they popped up.  As the targets pop up, one only has a few seconds before it you have to be on your toes.  For anyone who hasn't fired a pistol...or even those that have, it's not as easy as it sounds.  But, we all qualified and moved on to the M4 evolution. 

Ready to draw my "9". 

Part of the team waiting around after shooting the M9.

M4 Qualification

(M4 firing range beyond the tower.)

The M4 range was a bit more complex than the M9.  Having traveled up the road to a different range (actually, it was range next door), we began by "sighting in" our weapon.  Initially we sighted in our "iron sights".  Sounds tough, doesn't it..."iron sights".  Truth be told, these are the sight posts anchored to the weapon; one near the barrel and one near the trigger.  We fired at a paper target approximately 25 meters away.  Initially, we shot for a "group", which means we fired a single round, three times and walked to the target to check our marks.  If our group was within a 4 cm square area, we would start adjusting either our far "iron sight" up or down, or the near "iron sight" left or right.  Each time we would fire three single rounds and check our positioning. 
(Sighting in the "iron sights"...the first group is in the lower right corner and the next two groups show me moving closer to center mass.)

After this was accomplished, we sighted in our M68...the laser scope.  With this scope, we don't use our iron sights at all.  Rather, once the laser is sighted in, we look through the scope and put the little red dot on the target and fire.  I believe this was made for goofballs like me who have rarely fired a gun...very easy.  The "sighting in" portion of the M68 was very similar to that of the iron sights.  Again, first we shoot for a "group" and then adjust a "traversing" (right or left) or "elevation" dial to march our group closer to the "center mass" of the mass basically refers to the bull's eye.  The only way this works, is if the shooter has the same sight picture every time.  This means, I will always look at the same point on the paper target (center mass) and shoot my three rounds.  Therefore, the targeting mechanism moves, not my view of the sight picture.  I know I didn't explain that very well, so feel free to ask me about it later.

(M68 Laser sighting in...progressively, each group moves towards center mass.)

Once our M4's were sighted in, we moved down to the qualification range and collected our ammunition.  There were between 16-18 lanes on this range.  As we moved out to our respective lanes, we were met by an instructor who would be with us during the entirety of the shoot.  His was the case, all were men...was to help us maintain safety with the weapon and direct us as to which targets were going to pop up.  These targets were set between 50 and 300 meters, at intervals of 25-50 meters.  Honestly, I can't remember where each one was.  Anyway, the targets were green silhouettes of people that would fall down once hit, though I think many of my targets that were broken...because they didn't go down...OK, maybe I'm making that up.  

For the qualification, the initial phase was spent standing in a fox hole (a cement box built into the ground) with our M4 supported on sand bags.

(My teammate firing from the "fox hole" and the instructor to his left.)

We used one 20 round magazine for 20 targets.  The second phase consisted of a 10 round magazine for 10 targets in the fox hole, unsupported by the sand bags.  Finally, the third phase was conducted out of the fox hole, in the kneeling position; firing 10 rounds for 10 targets.  This last position of firing was the most difficult.  It's amazing how tired one becomes over the course of the qualification and how hard it is to steady your weapon without any support.  But, I believe this is part of the intent, to familiarize us with the weapon, our proficiencies, and limitations.  Overall, I shot 31 out of 40 targets for a designation of "Sharp Shooter".  Not bad for my first time.  We have some pretty good shooters on our Navy-Army team, and a couple scored at the Expert level...36/40.  

We were done with the daytime qualification by 1100 and headed back to the barracks for a little "R & R".  As with the larger "Crew Serve" weapons on the prior range day, we still needed to come back for the nighttime qualification.  

Back at the range by 2000, we received our safety brief and had our PEC 2 Infrared Lasers sighted in by the instructors.  Wait a minute..."what is a PEC 2?" you ask.  Well, this is another laser sight on our M4 that allows us to target objectives at night, while wearing our night vision goggles (NVG's).  It's a very cool device.  Essentially, while wearing the NVG's, you turn on your PEC 2 and point your weapon down range.  Once you see the bright, light-green dot on the target...Fire!  Due to the nature of this laser, you don't even need to look through your sights, rather you can "shoot from the hip" so to speak.  One interesting point about this night shoot is that unless there is some ambient light source creating enough light to see the target, or the target is holding a light, you can't necessarily see them.  So, as each target popped up, a flashing light would appear, center mass.  Now, because most of our enemy would not click a flashlight on and off at us repeatedly, the flashing light was to simulate gunfire from the end of their weapon...clever.  Again, we had 40 targets.  However, all of our shots were from the standing fox hole position.  And again, I got a "Sharp Shooter" classification...couldn't break into the Expert level.  

This was a lot of fun and my instructor, Staff Seargent Keller, was very cool and very helpful.  

To top it off, we weren't out at the range until 0500 the next morning either.  I think we finished up by 2300 and were home by 2330...beautiful.  
(Some of my teammates hanging out in the bleachers following their qualifications.)

(Mike, aka "Fifty Cal", just chillin'.)

(I don't know who this is, but he keeps popping up in my pictures.)

Day 41-42 (Sat & Sun May 9-10, 2009)

Saturday was a nice, relaxing day.  I think I slept until 1030...fantastic!  After doing very little, aside from a light workout, some of our team members were going to make margaritas outside around dinner time.  As luck would have it, another group of Army Reservists, were also planning a little BBQ.  Forces collided, stars aligned, the heavens were other words, we combined efforts and had a big ol' BBQ with alcohol.  

Following the BBQ, a few of us went to the LT Dan Band concert being put on for free on base.  The band is named for it's base player, Gary Sinise.  Ring a bell?  Gary Sinise is a movie and TV star from such shows as CSI: New York, Apollo 13 and probably most notably, Forrest Gump...hence the LT Dan reference.  They sang music from the 70's all the way up to contemporary.  It was great.  And, after learning that Gary and his band do free concerts for the troops and their families, and how supportive and grateful he is...I am a huge fan.  Thank you Mr. Sinise. 
Stage for the band.

Gary Sinise playing in the crowd.

Gary Sinise playing on stage with one of the singers.

Sunday...more sleeping in.  I was very lazy today.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Day 40 (Friday May 8, 2009)

In the previous episode, we found our "hero" (quit laughing) thoroughly exhausted from a long day's shoot...

My quick nap lasted about 80 minutes before having to get up and head to a classroom where we needed to clean our weapons from last night's shooting extravaganza.  What began as an hour and a half instruction and practical on cleaning turned into an 8 hour cleansing of all things metal.  (Not so bad, but most of us had only a little over an hour of sleep in the past day and a half...felt like residency again.)  First, the weapons we shot the night before were, basically, dipped in a solvent tank to help remove or loosen up the carbon and copper deposits that build up over the course of firing.  While this helped, it's amazing how stingy some of these deposits are and where they accumulate...always in the smallest, most difficult places to get to.  Anywho, our Navy-Army teams trudged admirably and knocked out every weapon we used...and probably some we didn't.  I'm pretty sure our instructors added a few that needed to be done and figured our free labor was better than theirs.  

Our only real break in the day (from cleaning) was a trip to the EST (Engagement Skills Trainer).  Here, we shot our M4's (personal rifle) for the first time.  Well, let me clarify; we didn't actually shot them as much as we attached a laser to the end of them and dry-fired them at targets.  This simulator exercise was done in a building where we shot at targets on a screen about 10-15 meters away.  The screen simulated targets at distances from 50 to 300 meters (I think).  It was fun, however, one of the three positions we shot in was lying on our bellies with sand bags supporting the weapon (called "prone supported").  This, in itself, would not have been so bad had it not been for my helmet continually falling into my field of body armor was pushing on the back of the helmet forcing the front down.  But, after I took off my gloves and stuffed them into the inside of my helmet, it sat higher on my head and seemed to work just fine.  The other two positions we shot in were the "prone unsupported" where we lean on our elbows, and "kneeling unsupported".  I shot well enough to score a "Sharp Shooter" qualification, hitting 31/40 targets.

As the day ended, I was officially sapped.  In bed by 2030, asleep by 2031.

While I don't have any pictures for this day, I do have a picture my sister sent me, entitled...Your Care Package.  Cute, huh?  This is Isabella and I's nephew, Maddex.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Day 38-39 (Wed & Thurs May 6-7, 2009)

Hi Everyone.  Wednesday was a pretty light day...I think I was done by 1200.  Therefore, I have elected to say very little about it; after all it's my blog and I can do what I want.  

Sorry, I was feeling a bit sassy.

Thursday...RANGE DAY!!!!  Let's shoot stuff!

Alright, here we go.  Our day began at 0430.  That's right, the infamous barracks lights dazzled us with their brilliance awfully early this morning.  However, I think everyone was a little excited to make it to our first day on the range, so tolerance for the wake up call was certainly evident.  That being said, I dug myself out of the Hooch (my bunk) and threw on my battle rattle and made my way out to the Hum-V.  But, first thing's you'll notice in the initial was necessary.  Yum, love that cup o' Jo.

I don't believe I've described what our convoys, or more appropriately named "Mounted Combat Patrols" entail.  It's quite the process.  Prior to our team of 7 vehicles pulling out of the parking lot, we must ready our individual transports.  And, in true military fashion, there is a checklist.  With that, we comb over the vehicle, checking lights, oil, transmission fluid, brake fluid, dash panel measurements, and radios.  Additionally, each vehicle has an oil drip pan under the engine and a chalk block that must be put away before traveling.  There is more, but I'm sure you get the picture.  As I said before, we have a team of 7 vehicles, broken down into 2 teams, "Blackbeard" and "Neptune".  For those interested, the names are derived as a result of our Navy heritage.  I am part of the Neptune crew.  

(If I haven't mentioned this, we have approximately 25 Navy personnel and 4 Army personnel.  The Navy contingency is wholly medical whereas our Army brethren are a logistics crew.  Our Navy ranks range from E6 to Chief (enlisted) and LTJG to Commander (officer).  There is a Major, Sergeant First Class and two Staff Sergeants in the Army crew.)

Having checked the boxes, we proceeded by convoy, 11 miles into the interior of Fort Riley where multiple firing ranges are organized into a circle...all firing to the center.  Mind you, the radius of this range is many miles.  Hopefully, that answers your questions in regards to worrying about the guy on the opposite side of the range firing in your direction.  (I know I thought about it.)  When we arrived at range 7 (0730), we all gathered in a bleacher area for a safety briefing.  There were a total of 80-90 participants in this exercise, 25 Navy, 4 Army and 50-60 Air Force.

After the briefing, we meandered down to the ammunition stockpile at the base of the observation tower in the above picture, gathered one .50 Cal belt (50 round = one bullet) and another box containing a 100 round belt.  Andrew (the Internist and Critical Care doc) was my battle buddy for the day.  Essentially, we were always paired for our time on range.  Andrew also knows a bit more than I do about weapons, so he helped me throughout our qualifications on each weapon.

Lookin' usual.

Total of 150 rounds of .50 Cal ammo.

Dat's a whole lot'a ammo...all .50 Cal rounds.

As you can see, we all stood in a line awaiting our turn to occupy one of ten Hum-V's with a .50 Cal gun mounted in the gun turret.  Since Andrew and I weren't in the first group, as we stood by, it became painfully evident that our ear protection, affectionately called "ear pro", was most necessary.  These weapons fire with a rather emphatic "pop"...kinda gets your adrenaline going.

Finally it was our turn.  I decided to go first and from the minute I crawled onto the Hum-V and lowered myself down into the turret, I felt as though I just consumed 5 shots of espresso, a six-pack of Mountain Dew and washed it all down with a Red Bull...apparently it gives you wings????  In other words, I was mildly excited.  

While I would assume most of you have not been inside of a Hum-V turret, it's a lot like a round sun roof, but you stand on the middle console.  Also, it's not as comfortable standing in this hole and trying to brace yourself while you line up your shot and prepare for the "kick-back" of the weapon.  But, this is not suppose to be your living room Lazy Boy recliner either.  You can swivel the turret from side to side and lock it in place as you see fit.

Now, after I settled in, the instructor (a contract worker who was a former infantryman in the Army) acquainted me with the weapon and what they call the T & E.  The "T" stands for traverse (meaning side to side movement) and the "E" stands for elevation (self explanatory).  Traversing was accomplished with the turret swivel, while elevation was altered up or down with a wheel knob located under the weapon (see my left hand in the picture's on the elevation knob)  With such a large weapon, one needs these movements to adjust the weapon for proper sight pictures.  A "sight picture" is the picture of the target one sees through the weapon sights as one lines up the shot.  

Below is a picture of the range.  The mounds of dirt are set at different distances.  On the right side, you may notice to two dark posts just to the left of the "3-4" sign.  It is one of the targets that pops up and down throughout the qualification.    That particular target is located at 600 meters (1800 feet).  The remaining targets for the .50 Cal are located at 400, 500, 700, 800, and 1000 meters (multiply meters times 3 to get the distance in feet).  Shooting at the 1000 meter target is over a half mile away...not a close shot.  

Several times I have mentioned "qualification".  For each weapon we fire, we are tasked with hitting a certain number of targets over a period of time.  The .50 Cal, requires hitting 7 out of 10 targets over the course of 13 minutes to qualify.  The targets initially pop up one at a time (one at each distance, for total of 6) and then two at a time (for the remaining 4 targets).  Our 2 Navy-Army teams needed a minimum of 8 out of 29 people to qualify for our group to move on.  Everyone on our teams did well and many qualified.  I was lucky and hit 8/10.  I give a lot of credit to my instructor who was helping me line up my shots by telling me "right...left...up 1...down 2".  

Now, shooting the weapon is completely different than I anticipated.  You don't hold the weapon like a normal rifle, or pull the trigger in the same way.  Instead, you hold two vertical handles on the end of the gun and use your thumbs to depress the trigger.  Admittedly, I thought there would be a huge "kick" with each shot, but the mounting mitigates the recoil for the most part.  Sheepishly though, I think I closed my eyes the first few times.  (Please check out the video at the bottom of this blog to see me shooting the .50 Cal.)  I know I said earlier in my blogging that the Hum-V driving day was the best, but in the first few hours of this day...WAY COOLER!

JC "Major Christenson" and I hanging out, awaiting our turn.

Exhausted from the excitement and .50 Cal qualification, we all took a little break in the bunker where a couple of the Army junior enlisted were selling hot dogs, chips and sodas...and Hostess cream-filled cakes.  We were able to take our battle rattle off in this bunker, which was heaven.

Following the .50 Cal qualification, we essentially went through the same motions and fired both the 240 Bravo and 249 SAW.  I think we were given 200 rounds a piece for these weapons.  For the "Gun Club" aficionados, the 240 Bravo shoots a 7.62 millimeter round and the 249 SAW shoots a 5.56 mm round.  Below, you can see the 240 Bravo.  

It looks and feels more like a conventional gun with a butt stock and trigger where my right hand is.  This was a more difficult weapon to shoot...for me.  While the .50 Cal was more stable and heavy, this weapon was a bit "squirrely".  The recoil after firing wasn't bad at all, but because the gun is so much more mobile in the turret, it moves easily after each round is fired.  The 249 SAW was even smaller and characteristically the same.  In regards to the targets for both of these weapons, I believe the 240 Bravo targets were from 200 to 800 meters and the 249 SAW targets were from 100 to 600 meters.  Qualification on both of these weapons was either 6 or 7 out to 10 targets...sadly, I didn't get either.  I think I only hit 5 targets on the 240 B and 4 targets on the 249 SAW.  That was a tough pill to swallow.  But, the remainder of our team did well and enough people qualified.   

This was the target range for the 240 Bravo.  Again, you can see the dark posts, shaped like people, on the mounds in the distance.

Here I am taking a little afternoon break in the parking lot.  It was hot and I was a bit tired from lugging that battle rattle around all day.

After all the Navy, Army and Air Force teams finished shooting all three weapons, we were allowed to make our way back to Camp Funston and grab some chow before the night shoot.  One would think this shouldn't be too hard...just drive the vehicle back down the same road you came on in the morning.  Well...let me elaborate for a few sentences on how that went.  All 7 vehicles moved out and before you knew it, we were on a different road than what we came in on.  Fortunately, it was simply a dirt road paralleling the paved road.  But, I felt as though it was taunting us the whole way, because we couldn't go as fast.  Adding insult to injury, the Air Force Hum-V's were on the paved road and passed us at an alarming rate...rats.  When we finally made it onto the paved road, we missed one of the turns...SH&T!!!  So, we made a "U" turn in the middle of the road and proceeded in the correct direction.  However, we weren't done yet.  Not more than 5 minutes into the drive, one of our vehicles "smelled something burning".  Double SH%T!!!  So, we pulled to the side of the road, ditched the defunked Hum-V, loaded the orphans into a flat-bed Hum-V like illegal aliens on a farm, and drove back to the barracks.  All in all, it took us at least twice as long to get to base as it should have...oh good fun (this is sarcasm).  It had already been a long day, but we were just getting started...

Bellies full and minds fraught with anticipation for the night shoot, we convoyed back up to range 7.  Following another safety brief, we lined up to gather more ammunition for the .50 Cal shoot.  The sun didn't actually go down until about 2000, but we had to wait for the sky to become dark enough to make the shoot worth while.  By 2130, it was on.  We didn't use Night Vision Goggles (NVG) for this; instead, we used a night optic device called a PAS 13 Thermal Weapon Sight.  This kicks butt.  Since a normal NVG uses some ambient light to distinguish images, we would have required some light source down range either on or from the target to detect them.  In the case of the PAS 13, the targets were illuminated by the emitting thermal energy (a heater) like a human being or a hot gun barrel.  Down range, the targets light up bright green, or black, depending on your setting.  Then, it was pretty much the same techniques as the daytime shoot.  We used the same optics for the 240 Bravo as well.  (There was no 249 SAW shoot this evening.)

As a Navy-Army crew, we all shot well and moved through our range shoot pretty quickly, however, the Air Force had more people and required more people to qualify on the .50 Cal at night.  They weren't doing so hot.  So, by 2300, most of our group sought shelter and rest (as seen below).  I couldn't sleep, but I did take my battle rattle off...soooo much better.  

Well, the Air Force finished their .50 Cal shoot by about 0000.  Thus, onto the 240 Bravo.  Yes, we still needed to complete that shoot.  Longer story made shorter, we concluded shooting around 0330.  After "policing brass", which means, "now that you've shot all these rounds...go pick up the brass casings", we loaded up the Hum-V's and set out for home.  All I know is that my watch said 0500 by the time I took a shower and crawled back into the "Hooch" for a quick nap...

To Be Continued...