Saturday, October 2, 2010

There's a place and time for everything

Danger - Basic Training Story Dead Ahead!

So no kidding, there I was......

In Army Basic Training, one of the last GI Joe things we did was the grenade range.  We spent the morning learning the parts of a fragmentation grenade, the proper sequence for arming and throwing the grenade, and practicing our throws.  

Interesting fact:  American hand grenades are shaped like baseballs so that they will feel like a familiar object to American teenagers.
The way our grenades worked was that first you removed a safety clip from the outside of the grenade that kept the pin from coming out accidentally.  You then grip the grenade  firmly, evenly, and constantly so the spring loaded "spoon" stays up against the body of the grenade.  After you pull the pin, the spring that holds the spoon is released, and as soon as you let go of the grenade by throwing or dropping it, or stop holding the grenade tightly enough, the spoon will move enough for a striker to start the 5 second fuse in the grenade.  Normally, the spoon will fly off when you intentionally throw the grenade, but the spoon only has to move a fraction of an inch to release the spring and set off the fuse.  When the fuse finishes burning, it sets off the explosive in the grenade and kaboom. 

Since the fuse can start burning without you letting go of the grenade if you don't hold it VERY firmly, or milk it by gripping firmly then easing off then gripping firmly, a lot of emphasis is put on holding the grenade as tightly as you can and still maintain control of it.  Before even giving us practice grenades, we were drilled and then tested individually on properly taking out a grenade, preparing to throw it, gripping it, and throwing it.

After the mid-day meal, we were put through a qualification course with practice grenades.  A qualification grenade is a solid steel sphere with two holes about 1 inch across drilled across from one another.  In one hole, the head of a grenade is screwed in. There is no explosive beyond the totally legit fuse and blasting cap in the grenade head, which would explode with a loud pop so we could know how long the fuse in a grenade burns when we used them.  We practiced preparing grenades for use and throwing them at targets such as machine gun nests, concentrations of pop-up targets, and vehicles.  Eventually, we were tested on our ability to accurately drop, toss, and roll grenades into these targets.  Those who could do at least a minimum number of these targets correctly went on to the next stage, live grenades.

As we lined up to march to the live grenade range, I watched our drill sergeants take turns calling home to speak to their wives on the range phone.  I watched men who had routinely handed live ammunition to armed men who hated their guts without batting an eye call home to say goodbye.  They were all worried that our class, mainly made up of truck drivers and MI weenies, would manage to kill or injure at least one of them when handed a live hand grenade.

We were marched to the range, and we filed into a bunker at the rear of firing (throwing?) line.  On the side of the bunker that faced the fighting positions we would be throwing grenades from was a thick plexiglass wall that allowed us to observe other soldiers throwing their grenades.  I was far enough back that I was able to watch several groups of soldiers cycle through the range before it was my turn.

As we got ourselves situated in the bunker, we saw our drill sergeants go out to the fighting positions.  For once, their beloved brown drill sergeant hats were not in evidence.  They were all wearing kevlar flak vests and kevlar helmets.

Each trainee was suited up in a kevlar vest, and issued two live hand grenades, which he placed in the grenade straps of his ammunition pouches.  He was then marched individually out to a fighting position, where a drill sergeant paid personal attention to where the trainee's hands were in relation to the grenades.

What was supposed to happen was this: On command from the range tower, the drill sergeants and trainees would enter their fighting positions.  After getting clearance from the tower to proceed, the drill sergeant would tell the trainee to take a grenade out of his ammo pouch and remove the safety clip.  After that, the drill sergeant would instruct the trainee to "prepare to throw".  The trainee would grip the grenade firmly, put his finger through the ring on the pin, and bring both hands together up to his chest.  On command to throw, the trainee would pull the hand with the grenade in it to the back, push the hand holding the pin in it forward, pulling the pin with it, and then loft the grenade down range.  The trainee and drill sergeant would then duck down inside the fighting position until the grenade goes off.  The procedure would be repeated for the second grenade, and then the trainee would return to the bunker and another private would be suited up and sent out.

Didn't always happen that way, even when everyone was trying to do their part.  Evidence of this was the the holes blasted in some of the fighting positions by badly thrown grenades.

As I watched the first cycle go through, their first grenade went well.  No problems.  On the second grenade, instead of heaving the grenade for all he was worth, one of the privates rolled it off of his fingers like Magic Johnson trying to do a lay-up.  The grenade went almost straight up, bounced off the edge of the foxhole, and rolled about five feet forward before exploding.  The drill sergeant in that hole saw what was happening, grabbed the private, threw him on the floor of the fighting position, and threw himself on top of him.  It was supposed to be to block harm from the private, but it looked more like an Andre the Giant power slam.  After the tower cleared the range, that particular private pretty much lived in hell for the next few hours as that drill sergeant followed him around and did everything he could to make the young man contemplate his own death.

The second cycle went through pretty much according to the book.  We were all fervently reminded to "throw the !#$!!#$! thing like we !@#$!@#$ meant it".

Then it was my my turn.  I suited up in a flak vest, stowed my grenades, and trundled out to position number 3, the position where Private Slipinschitz had finger rolled a grenade earlier.  The company senior drill sergeant had taken over that position after the drill sergeant who had had a grenade almost land on him was sent back with the offending private.

We went through the procedure by the book for the first grenade.  Acquire the grenade, prepare to throw, throw, duck. 

While waiting for the tower to clear us to throw the second grenade, I thought about the man in front of me. The senior drill sergeant had taken a bit of a disliking to me when I had hurt my ankle and had to be driven by the company driver to and from ranges and classes for a few days. This man had ridden my butt for the past 7 weeks.

I didn't want to hurt him.  Even as immature as I was, I knew that he was really only doing his job.  But the temptation to mess with the man who had made it his job to make me miserable was too much.

The senior drill instructor looked me in the eye and barked "Acquire the grenade!"  I pulled out my second grenade and removed the safety clip.

"Prepare to throw!"  I placed my thumb through the ring on the pin, and gripped the grenade firmly in my right hand, bringing both hands up to the center of my chest.

"Throw!!!"  I threw my left hand forward and my right back.  Half a second prior to throwing the grenade, I looked the senior drill instructor in the eye and shouted "So Sergeant, where you from?"

I then heaved that grenade just as hard as I could and threw myself on the floor of the fighting position.  Before I heard the explosions of our group's grenades, I was landed upon by a very angry senior drill instructor.

We were the last group, and we marched back to where our gear was stacked to be searched for grenades or grenade pieces (no souvenir grenade pins) and then marched back to our bivouac site. At least, the rest of the company marched.  I on the other hand did the half mile in a series of 3 to 5 second rushes with several yards of low crawl through the grass and gravel in between.  By the time I caught up with the rest of the company, I was filthy and bleeding, and my uniform was torn in several places.

But I never stopped smiling.


Christina LMT said...

That's an AWESOME story, DaddyBear!
Thank you for sharing. It cracked me up. :)

DaddyBear said...

:-) I wasn't always the calm, respectful, giving individual I am now. I was once young and foolish......

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