By Dan Shea
Somewhere between beancounting and battlefields lies a place called preparedness training. In this magical, mystical place, soldiers are drilled and trained until they are proficient at their tasks. While all soldiers have primary duties, and a smaller percentage than you might believe are actually “Combat Infantry”, every single Soldier, Sailor, Marine, and Airman needs to be prepared to fight as infantry.
Before you go mocking this, talking about “Cooks and Clerks, truckdrivers and mechanics” being lowlifes and REMF, prepare yourself to be shocked. There are countless instances in our history where these same support troops are tossed into the fray, sometimes as the front line- Korea comes to mind. They were the ones who held the line until the Cavalry could arrive. These individuals are all United States Military, and need to have the training and equipment to function on the battlefield. The United States Marines have an old and venerable tradition that every Marine is a Rifleman. Roger that.
Why am I on such a Rant today? Well, over the last twenty years I have been privileged to spend a significant amount of time with our fighting forces, listening to their concerns about small arms. I am a US Army veteran from long before that, so I have some understanding of their concerns. You want the people around you to keep their wits about them, and to be good shots.
Well, here it is. With the exception of certain “Elite” units, the United States Armed Forces preparedness is a clusterf— at present. There are minimal spare parts for the repair of equipment, and small arms are a major problem- I watched a demo by a platoon a while back and 30% of their M16s were malfunctioning. THIRTY PERCENT! These guns were older than the men firing them. I saw one marked “AR15”, which would have been 1965 vintage. This is not an unusual situation. So, old weapons, and no repair parts. Most active duty have the M16A2, but where are the parts? How did we get here? Eight years of the Clintons, plain and simple. Cutbacks and more cutbacks, removal of Battalion level maintenance parts because they thought the parts were being stolen and sold at the dreaded gun shows. Wow, that is splendorous logic.
Go after and prosecute the criminals stealing the parts, but don’t disarm our military in the process!
Phase two has been a steady reduction in range time and ammunition available. I speak with units that go out to qualify once a year, and they joke about going back to pointing and saying “Bang” to signify firing. Don’t laugh- immediately prior to World Wars I and II, Korea, and Vietnam, troops did in fact do just that- many were not given training ammunition! It seems the budget was too tight.
I have traveled through areas where some of our potential enemies are, and I can guaranty you that they are out at the range quite frequently. Our general media can paint these people as “buffoons” and “Third world losers”, but the reality is far different. Our armed forces may well be facing motivated, well trained soldiers in the near future, and if the don’t have the training, they can’t survive to do their jobs. Yes, I confess, I am not a “Peacekeeper”, I am old school- Armies kill people and break things, and if you don’t want to do that, don’t call them in.
Who suffers from this? All of us- from the grunt on the line, to the buddies who will count on him when it gets bad, to the loved ones back home who don’t realize their soldier is not well trained for combat, our allies, and our national interests. We are asking for trouble, and if history is anyplace to look for precedence, we will probably get it. I remember Bill Clinton rattling our saber in Kosovo, saying that the US Forces in Germany would rain hellfire down on that conflict, only to be told they “Needed 30 days to get the equipment operational, sorry ‘bout that SIR”.
Lack of range time is a major malfunction in a military unit, as well as in Law Enforcement groups. If you aren’t familiar with your firearms, you can’t use them properly under stress. LE groups should be on the range frequently, familiar with their firearms and the use thereof. Military has the same needs, with different training needed- they are two different sides of the martial training coin.
I would like to propose that we inventory the spare parts problem and start Congress and the President down that path to correcting it, before this bites us all right in the seat of the pants.
Equally as important, there should be an immediate study into what constitutes proper range time. I can tell you my opinion… infantry should be out shooting once a week, if not every other day. Hell, put ‘em out shooting EVERY day! Other groups should be shooting once a month, qualifying every two months. The ammo should be piled up high, and range safety and firearms familiarization should be concentrated on. Start more shooting clubs and competitions.
Oh, yeah, and let’s start giving out more ribbons for hitting targets than for political correctness. Their lives and our country may well depend on this.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V5N2 (November 2001)|