PFC Joel "Stay-Puff" Martin. My .50 gunner
Preparing to call out targets to my gunner in the turret behind me. That's Mike Frazer, my driver, in the background.
Training at Camp Atterbury was unlike anything that we had expected it to be; early days passing seamlessly into longer nights, little sleep, bad food, and short tempers brought on by spending way too much time together in enclosed areas with little outlet for frustration. Okay, the bad food and short tempers part was pretty much right on the money. Camp Attebury turned out to be more like the boy scout Camp Geronimo that I remember from my youth, except with explosives and live ammo. Any time that you get to shoot holes in things, and blow them up is a good time. Atterbury was woefully ill-equipped to handle the 5000 plus soldiers that it suddenly found itself inundated with on the eve of the largest Nevada National Guard mobilization in that states history. The army did its best I suppose, with the resources it had at hand. I mean, Atterbury had been scheduled for closure just two years prior until an Indiana Congressman convinced the Base Closure Committee to spare his state. Thus, I'm sure, ensuring his re-election for years into the foreseeable future.
Stay-Puff and the big .50
Overall, I have an exceptional crew on my gun truck. My Driver, 28 year old Specialist (soon to be Sergeant) Mike Frazer, is quiet and reserved, and mature beyond his youthful years. His purpose is to maintain our truck and drive us from point A to point B, and back again, hopefully in one piece. I need only to point Mike in the direction of our HUMMVEE every morning, and know that it will be out in front of the barracks, staged, gassed and ready to go. Mike is a great comfort to me behind the wheel. My Gunner is 20 year old PFC Joel Martin, affectionately known to the rest of us as Stay-Puff. Joel is a mountain of a man, and its hard to remember sometimes that he's only 20 years old and younger than both of my older children. Joel weighs in at nearly 300 lbs! Add to that his body armor, and assorted pouches and extra ammunition, and Joel resembles an entire weapons system with a pulse, not a young soldier on his first deployment ready to rain down death and destruction with our .50 caliber machine gun. To put it simply, Joel is shit-hot behind that gun! Our first day on the gunnery range, Joel hit not only 10 out of the 10 targets at distances of 600 meters, but he flat tore them up! Not an easy feat with a weapon system as large as a .50 caliber machine gun. You don't so much shoot the gun as you do make love to it. The .50 cal is a massive weapon, capable of tearing down entire structures, and reducing vehicles to shredded wrecks and people to misty pink clouds of DNA. In free-gun mode, that is, the gun is free to swivel and traverse as you please, it tends to shoot low and climb, so the trick is to "walk" your rounds up to the target, then, watching your tracer rounds race towards whatever you're shooting at, hold the gun on point, until you have destroyed and/or killed it. Not having much experience with the .50 cal, I was totally unprepared for its awesome power. Our first day on the live fire gunnery range had been long awaited. Our training would consist of driving slowly along a prepared path as I was directed via radio to various pop-up targets. As the targets presented themselves, I would yell up to Joel in the turret and call out the target, distance and direction. "Joel! RPG team and enemy truck, 300 meters, your 9 o'clock!" What happened next could only be described as both a religious and simultaneously erotic experience. Joel reacted instantly, swinging the turret around, and hit the butterflies, or trigger. The gun exploded in a staccato cacophony of sound. The entire 15,000 lb up-armored HUMMVEE rocked to the rythm of each 7 to 10 round burst. Loose links and empty brass shell casings, each 6 inches long, spilled into the space next to me from the turret, bouncing off my left shoulder and clattering to the steel deck. Others rained down on the roof, spilling onto the hood. I watched as angry, glowing red tracer rounds shrieked towards the target, knowing that between each set of tracers were 4 other unseen rounds. Each round slammed into the earth in front of the target plowing a trench towards the imaginary enemy until they found their mark. The earth exploded in geysers of dirt and sod, and the imaginary enemy RPG team was sent packing to Allah. I gasped uncontrollably in both awe, and respect for what I had just been a part of. The 9 remaining targets suffered the same fate as the first as Joel became Death. No longer would I ever again look at him as just a 20 year old kid on his first deployment. He was now my own personal instrument of chaos and mayhem, and after watching him in action, I knew that nothing could touch us.