Hap's Corner October 2015

Published 10/11/2015


I was desperate to get out of the infantry. It is not that I ever been to the field in the ten years I was a member of “The Queen of Battle.” I had been attached to Company C, 1st Battalion, 169th Infantry in Middletown, Connecticut-the famous “Middletown Charlie for administrative purposes and then detached to the Connecticut Army National Guard’s Rifle Team. I only saw the inside of the redbrick armory and its rickety leaky drill shed on the rare occasion when I needed a piece of worn equipment replaced or the even more infrequent full company muster.

When the old Adjutant General, the long time patron of the Connecticut Guard shooting program, retired his successor was less avuncular to what was jealously perceived by many other Guardsmen as the privileged and pampered prime donne marksmen. The new AG would allow us to continue to march as before but we would now have to also drill regularly with our assigned units and could no longer shoot on drill status.

I was willing to so this but I wanted to do so in a unit closer than the 90 minute drive to Middletown. I fished around and found that the Connecticut Aviation Classification Activity Repair Depot (AVCRAD) (1109th) in Groton, just 30 minutes from home, had openings. I called for an interview and soon found myself sitting in the august presence of Sergeant Major Al Deschamps. With some apparent misgiving the genial short stocky balding soldier mulled over the fact that I had no schooling in any of the aviation unit’s technical specialties and wanted to transfer in grade. Little did I know he was setting me up for he secretly coveted winning the state small unit shooting championship and wanted me, and a few more of my desperate comrades, in the AVCRAD .

Looking at the unit’s manning board he said “I see no vacancies on our Table of Distribution and Allowances that fit your qualifications.” Springing the trap he commented, “All I have is a slot for a Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Warfare NCO.  You wouldn’t know anything about chemistry, would you?”

Grasping at the proffered straw I blurted out, “I teach it at the high school level.”

“You will have to go to a state Military Occupation Skill (MOS) school to earn the MOS but you can do that in lieu of drill” he magnanimously offered. We shook hands and I was free of field gear, Meal, Ready to Eat-three lies in one phrase, and a 90 minute commute.

A month later I sat in a classroom listing to an instructor drone on about the scintillating subject of smoke operations. My mind was a million miles away when the word “wind” broke through my reverie.

He had probably delivered the lesson a hundred times and was as likely as bored as me. He went on in a jaded monotone, “The weather condition with the greatest impact on smoke operations is wind. Both wind direction and wind speed play a significant role in almost everything that deals with smoke operations.  Basically, there are four different types of wind directions that affect smoke operations: head winds, tail winds, flanking winds, and quartering winds.”

“Holy mackerel!” I thought perking up, “He is talking about shooting. Just maybe I can learn something of value.”

As he discussed tail and head winds, flanking winds, and quartering winds I was reminded of an incident involving a shooter I once knew.

He was a keen, but less than skillful, prone shooter who had trouble shooting in a quartering wind for as long as he could remember. One day during a match the wind started to shift, quartering from five to seven and back again. Giving in to his doubts, the parsimonious nature inherent in all prone shooters, and the darker angles of his soul he decided that shooting his best match ammunition in those circumstances was, for so many reasons, just a waste.  He reasoned, perhaps rationalized is a better term, that he could shoot a nine just as well with his practice ammunition as the good stuff. 

Deciding to use the lesser grade ammunition, he pulled the box to him, took out a round and dropped it onto the loading tray. He was startled by a reassuring deep voice from on high assertively and confidently intoning, “Use your best ammunition.”

Figuring that the voice was divine intervention, and any advice from such a source should be heeded, he placed the round back in the box and pushed it away.  Reaching into the loading block full of his knot lot he retrieved a round and pushed into the chamber.

He closed the bolt, checked his natural point of aim, took a breath, and started to apply pressure on the trigger as the sights settled. The voice from the sky forcefully interrupted him for a second time booming an instruction, “Dry fire a shot first!”

Not wanting to ignore the celestial coach he let out his breath, carefully opened the bolt, retrieved the round, and placed it back into the block. 

He closed the bolt on an empty chamber, checked his natural point of aim, let out half a breath of air, applied pressure on the trigger, heard the firing pin click, and reached for a round of his best ammunition.

As he settled in to deliver the shot the voice from above interrupted him yet again.

This time it quietly said, with a pronounced sigh of resignation, “Use your practice stuff.”