Jan. 22, 2008 

Without a shot; Camp McGregor, NM


The "cha-chink!" of a pistol bolt being drawn and released is distinctive. It's often used with menace in many a scene of a movie thriller. The bad guy is about to plug the hero, or a helpless victim. He has that thousand-yard stare, and draws back the slide of a semiautomatic pistol held black in his hand, and releases it. "Cha-chink!"


Even if you don't know about guns, it's apparent that there is something menacing about it, something that readies the gun to be fired, a hot plug of lead burning a hole right into the heart of our hero.


It's a sound I've heard every day, all day, all around here at McGregor. The men and women of the Thunderbirds, Oklahoma's National Guard, walk around the base with weapons always strapped to the side or slung over their shoulder. It's practice for the real thing about to happen when they fly across the big pond and take up positions in Baghdad and surrounding environs.


They have to carry them all day, every day, at all times, and never leave them in the bathroom, or next to the table in the mess hall, or leave them in their room when they go jog or lift weights. All the time, all day, no matter where they go, they have to have them.


However, they must clear them every time they enter a building, according to the regs. What does that mean? Well, they are required to remove the magazine, or "clip" as it's colloquially called, which is the thing that holds the bullets in the gun. Then they have to draw back the slide, which is the mechanism that feeds the bullets into the gun when they shoot it.


That yanks the live round out of the barrel " the part you don't want pointed at you, ever " and tosses it out. Once they do all that, the gun is empty and they can take it in the building.


There are 55-gallon drums filled with sand outside the buildings just for that purpose. After removing the magazine, the person with the firearm points the barrel into the drum, and draws back the slid to make sure it's completely unloaded. "Cha-chink!"


Why do they point the gun into the barrel? Well, guns sometimes go off. Sometimes, the soldier will be talking to one another, routine, routine, routine, blah, blah, blah, and occasionally someone will jack a round into the chamber, or forget to take it out, and "BANG!"


Because they are pointing the gun into a barrel full of sand, the round buries itself in the sand instead of that soldier, or his buddy's head, or the fender of the Humvee, or the reporter who is also in line to get into the chow hall. The others all laugh at the guy who cooked off the round, and then his supervisor writes him up, or not, or puts him on duty guarding the latrine, or makes him run around the tent doing press-ups with his rifle, saying, "This is my rifle, this is my gun, this one's for shooting"¦." Or some such.


Right now, all the guns are unloaded as they haven't been ordered to keep them loaded yet. But that's coming. Oh yes. Maybe by the time you read this, most of them will be on their way to Iraq. And it will be very, very real.


Interestingly, about half these soldiers or more have already had the day-in, day-out life with loaded guns, in Afghanistan and elsewhere. And a few of them even guarded the latrine.

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