I'm at Fort Jackson, SC for "combat skills training," and that means shooting guns. I will be required to carry a pistol, an M-9, with me in Afghanistan. I haven't fired a pistol in seven years, and my first experience with the M-9 was not reassuring to anyone save someone I might be trying to hit. I was the medical officer for 3rd Battalion 12th Marines in Okinawa, Japan, and I decided that I wanted some small arms training. My Colonel loved the fact that I wanted to learn to shoot guns:"Yeah, Doc! We need to get you to the range!" So I find the sergeant charged with weapons training for my battalion and explain to him that I would like to go to the pistol range, but that I have never fired a pistol and need some instruction. Our exchange then went something like this:
"But, you've fired a weapon before, haven't you, sir?"
"No, sergeant. I have never fired a weapon. That's why I'm here. To get instruction and guidance."
"But, sir, you have fired a pistol before, right, sir?"
"No, sergeant, I have never before fired a pistol. So I thought that I would come here, to you, for instruction as I am assigned to the range next week."
I never got any instruction before the morning that I reported to the pistol firing range at 05:30 with my weapon. It was dark, but I found my sergeant and said "Sergeant, I think it's time you told me how to operate this thing."
"Sure, sir," he replied. "Now, you've fired a pistol before, right, sir?"
The range had about 30 positions on the firing line, not quite shoulder-to-shoulder but spaced tightly. A Marine in a tower behind the posts began barking instructions unintelligible to me, but with apparent meaning to my brothers-in-arms as they all assumed a position on the line. Anticipating confusion, I earlier had told a gunnery sergeant from my battalion that I really had no idea what was going on, and could I follow him and mimic his every action. He laughed and said "Sure, sir. No problem. First time on the range, huh? But don't worry, sir. You've fired a pistol before, haven't you, sir?"
The one piece of advice I remembered from the three minutes of training I received that morning was this: Begin your pull on the trigger of the pistol as you raise it to the target, as once you are aligned and ready to fire the decreased excursion remaining on the trigger will increase your speed of fire and accuracy. So I stood looking at the gunnery sergeant next to me and listening to more loud, unintelligible orders from the range tower; and when I saw gunny raise his pistol and begin firing, I looked downrange at my target and began pulling the trigger of my pistol and proceeded to put 20-25 rounds of ammunition into the gravel directly in front of my feet and the feet of the Marines on either side of me. My assault on this loose rock prompted my neighbors to stop firing their weapons and jump back off the firing line and away from the small meteor shower I was creating. The range safety officers took note, and ran to my position yelling "Sir, stop firing! Stop firing!"
I did stop firing, but I still cannot recall with clarity if I consciously ceased or if my ammunition clip simply went empty. All I remember is protesting, as I swung my pistol around like a drunken burglar, that I never got any instruction and didn't know what the hell I was doing. The safety officers calmed me but remained nervous themselves until they got me to holster my pistol. Then one of them removed the pistol himself, checked to ensure the chamber was clear of rounds, and holstered it again against my hip. One of the safety officers then noted my collar devices that identified me as a medical officer. He whispered something to his partner before asking me "Sir, did you receive any training before you came to the range?"
The remainder of the morning saw me firing nervously and wildly, but with enthusiasm, at my target downrange. And when we stripped our target sheets at the end of the exercise, my score designated me as "sharpshooter." I had no idea how I achieved that distinction, as I remember creating several small dust storms in the soil bank behind my target when I missed the board entirely. Later, though, the gunny next to me reported "Sir, I had some extra rounds, so I put a few in the middle for you."