L to R: Sgt Currie, me and Sgt Nelson at the zero range. Its about 128 degrees in the shade in this photo!
Day 5....Somewhere in Kuwait, on the Iraqi Border. Our first few days here, have consisted mainly of in-process briefings on such riveting topics as sexual harassment and sexual assault awareness ( I wasn't even aware that this was a problem. It's too damned hot to even think of such things), rules of engagement and rules of force, and convoy movement. None of us were too eager to sit through one more briefing, as we were all eager to get down to the business of doing our jobs. Our Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment briefing was presented by a 1st Lieutenant from the unit that we were relieving. We quickly dubbed him Lieutenant Christmas. Lieutenant Christmas must have been the kid in school that everyone picked on...the kid then never quite fit in.....the kid that everyone punished in dodgeball. He has a certain sadistic streak to him where he finds it necessary to fill the enlisted mens time with meaningless, repetetive tasks, often with no thought or planning involved. Lieutenant Christmas constantly sought out and harrassed our Platoon Sergeant, at all hours of the day and night. Our Platoon Sgt remarked, "That guy's worse than my five kids on Christmas. He just wont leave me alone". Hence, the nickname, Lieutenant Christmas.
Late nights, and early mornings, coupled with temperatures in the 130's makes it extremely difficult to stay awake in the classroom, and the Z monster hit us all, making the audience of several hundred soldiers look like a bobble-head convention. Bottled water is consumed almost continuously to stay off dehydration. When the day time temperature hits 133 degrees, something as simple as walking the hundred yards to the dining facility will literally suck the air right out of your lungs and soak you through your clothes. The base will fly a black flag when temperatures reach dangerous levels. This means that soldiers, and by soldiers, I mean the back office, chairborne rangers we commonly refer to as "fobbits" (Soldiers that never leave the comfort of the FOB) take the day off. But not us. After all, there's still a war on.
By day 7, we were advised that we would be heading out to the range to "zero" our weapons. That is, make sure that our sights and zoom optics were accurate. We awoke at 4:00 AM and were bussed out to the range a half hour away. The line of thought here being that we would shoot in the relative cool of the morning. Relative cool for Kuwait at 5:00 AM was about 105 degrees. By 8:30 it was nearly 128 degrees. The RSO's (Range Safety Officers) gave us each 18 rounds of ammunition to zero our weapons with, and implored each and every one of us to do it with just six rounds. The faster, we got our weapons zeroed, the faster we could get off the range and back indoors. Zeroing a Colt M4 Carbine is no easy task. To do so, the shooter must put a six round shot group into a target roughly the size of a silver dollar at 300 meters. That's nearly 900 feet! Fortunately, I had zeroed my weapon in Indiana before leaving the United States, and was hopeful that neither my optics nor my shooting skills had deteriorated since then.
Wiping the sweat from my eyes with a towell, and pouring a second bottle of ice water over my head, I picked up my rifle and ammo, and made my way to my firing lane. The loudspeaker barked as the RSO instructed everyone to lock and load our rifles with a single 3 round magazine and engage out targets. I peered through my rifles optics, an ACOG tritium scope that magnifies the target three times its normal size at 300 meters with a 42 foot field of view. My 300 meter sillouhette target, which normaly would appear to the naked eye to be no bigger than a blurry dime, popped into view as if it were only yards away. I centered the red, glowing reticle on the center of the sillouhette, carefully squeezed off three rounds, removed the magazine, and set my rifle down. The RSO moved forward to check my target and moments later came back, instructing me to load three more rounds and fire again. "Damn!", I muttered under my breath. "It's gonna be a long day." I repeated the process, but despite my initial dissapointment, was confindent that I had zeroed in my first six rounds. This time the Lieutenant in charge of the range came back with my target in hand. "Sergeant Underhill?", he asked, smiling. "Yes Sir", I replied. "Youre good to go. turn in your target and get the hell off my range'. He then handed me my target. There in the center of my imaginary silver dollar was a 6 round shot group the size of a quarter. Target in hand, I jogged off the range to the ammo tent and turned in my remaining 12 rounds of ammunition before catching an air conditioned bus back to the barracks. "Now", I thought. "If only I can get the enemy to stand still like that while I shoot at him"............
Next week: The Udari Range, and the famed Highway of Death. 5 miles from the Iraqi border.