(Another poster mentioned automatic weapons systems, which reminded me of this little episode. OPSEC, PERSEC, etc. have all been adhered to.)
We were sitting in class that afternoon in the huge auditorium in the main building of Staff Academy on Quantico, VA. It was late fall in Virginia and I was bitter and resentful about having been sent to Staff Academy. This was because I’d been planning to take thirty days of holiday leave but my SNCOIC, GySgt Gonzalez, had put my name in for the course, and if there’s one thing that the Marine Corps hates, it’s letting people out of training. There were nearly one hundred staff sergeants in my class, and that day we had been broken down into groups of ten to work on a project about laying out fields of fire.
I didn't know much about weapons systems but whatever the assignment entailed sounded complex. The instructors, all of whom were gunnery sergeants, provided each team with a list of different weapons and a fake map of our defensive position. We were then given a roster of "Marines" who represented the pretend platoon we were supposedly leading and we had to draw a diagram of how we would position everyone so that our perimeter was covered by fields of fire. There was a chart of what the maximum effective range of each weapon was and how it should be deployed for best effect. Nearly all of us were POGs, so we didn’t understand these concepts fundamentally. I was data, another teammate of mine was admin, and one of our group was in the Marine Band, for God’s sake. His instrument was the French horn, but we’d been given a task, so we had to get on with it.
I was sitting at the end of our table, doodling on a sheet of paper and listening to my teammates. By this point, I had taken a couple of semesters of college, and I had certain unfavorable views about group work. When the assignment was handed down, I figured that every Marine at the table probably would grasp it before I did, and therefore I didn’t want to contribute in case what I said sounded stupid as hell to the rest of them. After five or six minutes of listening to them argue, though, I started to realize that everyone else was just as lost as I was. Since everyone was busy asking each other what different terms meant, no one paid me any attention when I slid the project documents over to my side.
Let’s see here. We’ve got ten mortarmen with mortars, six .50 cals, every single Marine of the twenty or so on our roster had M-16 A2 service rifles, and there were a handful of M240G machine guns. Ooo-kay.
I traced out the map and looked at the key for the symbols to indicate each weapon. I scrutinized it and started to draw. Well, these were long range and powerful, so let’s put them here. Space them out a bit. Don’t want one side to be easy to overwhelm while the other is impenetrable. Hmm. What was it they were always banging on about in network security? Defense in depth? Okay, so maybe it worked the same way with bullets as it does with information packets.
I sketched out a few trees while I thought, drew a couple land features. I heard SSgt Stringer ask what the symbol was for a .50 cal, and I slid the symbol key to him without saying a word. I had copied it in the corner of my little map. I had nothing else I could be seen doing, and I thought I’d compare what I thought it looked like with the right answer when the instructors eventually got fed up with us and just gave us the answers.
That was always the fallback plan. Fuck around until someone gives you the final answer. It’s not like there would be repercussions. Getting hated on by the grunts in our class was a foregone conclusion regardless of our fumbling attempts, and, anyway, there was lots to hate on the grunts right back. We were fairly surprised they knew any non-violent uses for their pencils.
SSgt Hammad groaned that she couldn’t find the range for the guns, and I slid that paper over to her. She thanked me and then put it next to Stringer’s map. They leaned over it and started going down the list.
When I looked back at my paper, I realized that drawing everything in black ink meant that it took extra time to correctly identify the symbols I’d drawn. Well, that’s no good in a map. We need to know as fast as possible what goes where, right? Something, something fog of war, combat is intense, simplify, adapt, overcome. Wait, no, that’s not how it goes. Well, whatever.
I grabbed a packet of multicolored highlighters and pulled them out. Let’s make the M240Gs green because it’s got a “G” in it. And maybe the M-16s are all blue because they’re like patriotic or something. Sticking my tongue out of the corner of my mouth, I colored like a first grader on my map.
Hey this is kind of fun!
Then I decided to play a bit. Well, I had to draw what areas each weapon was supposedly going to cover, so let’s make arrows here and here. Oooh, let’s color them in yellow! I scribbled yellow over my ink arrows that were supposed to overlap with the other fields of fire.
Say, this grunt stuff is pretty cool! I could hold off an entire battalion in my little fort now!
But I had saved the best for last.
The .50 cals. If you’ve never had the pleasure, and I do mean pleasure, of firing a .50 cal, let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that gun is music. No matter what kind of music you like, country music, rap music, chamber choirs, this gun is your rock-n-roll. Sitting behind that gun made me feel like I could’ve killed a building. I’m sure someone somewhere has killed a building with a ma deuce, as they are also known. I didn’t usually care about munitions at all, but the .50 cal was like a lover from long ago whom I will always remember fondly.
I wanted the .50 cals on my map to know that.
So, I busted out the pink highlighter and, with great affection, drew their fields of fire. I wanted to just draw a big circle all the way around my fort and giggle in evil delight, but that probably wouldn’t amuse anyone else if they found my paper. When it was all done, I weighed if I should include a sketch of a rainbow behind the tree line. This was no time to be reasonable! Enjoyment was a rare thing in the Marine Corps and I wanted to keep going. Maybe I could look up the symbols for land mines.
Wait, no, that’s a war crime. I think?
As I daydreamed about my supervillain fort, I caught sight of GySgt Theo walking toward our table. GySgt Theo was lifelong grunt, and he was headed our way to see how we were getting on. He looked skeptical but encouraging, walking up and slapping a hand on SSgt Stringer’s shoulder.
“How’s it going, ladies and gents? Let’s see what you’ve got!”
My group froze. I waited for a second to see what they had, since I’d been off in my own little world. SSgt Hammad swallowed and licked her lips. She glanced at the other Marines.
“Um…” she answered.
Oh no, our group didn’t have anything to hand him! Well, screw this. I’m planning on getting out in like a year and half. I’ll take the hit. I sat up straight and waved my pen-drawn map.
“Here, Gunnery Sergeant!”
He took my notebook paper with the highlighted fields of fire and subjected it to examination. Everyone at the table turned and looked at me. I hadn’t shown them the paper before doing this. Was I about to make us all look dumb? Was there any other option? I mean, we didn’t have anything else and, look on the bright side, he’d at least tell me the myriad ways I bungled the whole project, and then we’d have an idea how to fix it before the end of class. It’s a win from some angles. Maybe. If nothing else, when he said it was garbage, I’d confess it’s just my doodle and no one else was at fault.
GySgt Theo started nodding his head, tracing the symbols with his finger.
“Okay. All right. This looks good. You’ve got them all on here. Are these blue things M-16’s? Okay, good. Yep. That’ll do it. Good work, guys.”
He handed the paper back to me.
“Don’t know why you had to make them PINK, though.”
He left to go check on the next team.
My team stared at me, agape. SSgt Stringer held out his hand for the paper. I gave it to him. He looked at it and snickered.
“The .50 cals are pink. Wow, Fluffy.”
My cheeks got a bit warm. I hadn’t meant for them to be seen by everybody. Stringer handed the paper back, I tucked it into my notebook, and, shortly after that, class was dismissed for the day.
I still love you, ma deuce. You were the best I ever had.
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