38. Splinters


Blessed be the LORD, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle.

Psalm 144:1

We were arrogant pricks in RTT. Most of the Marines in standard platoons and pretty much all of the Navy guards hated us. Without shame, we’d burst out of our little corner, wearing our cool gear, flight suits, and spray-painted kevlars, while shouting a phrase I’d taken and morphed from the one and only douchebag, White Goodman, the psychotic owner, operator, and founder of Globo Gym in the movie Dodgeball. “We’re better than you, and we know it!”

Our supreme egos inflated further when Dad notified us our platoon would receive an additional thirty thousand dollars of funding from SWFPAC. He held a conference with the senior guys for input on equipment we could use to submit a writeup to the chain of command for approval. After chewing on the offer for some time, they came up with an answer.

“Well sir, as a combat veteran, you know all too well how loud and chaotic firefights can be, and the importance of communication when all hell breaks loose. Because our main objective is to secure these large, metal buildings, we believe the noise-reducing benefit of suppressors would greatly aid our effort to perform our duty properly.” 

Captain Smith paused for a moment as a thoughtful smirk, suppressing elation with downward-tilted lips. “Very well. I think I can make that happen.”

The guys were stoked when they finally received their Knight’s Armament suppressors about a month later. During our next run to the range, they lit up targets in relative silence as each resounding blast was reduced to a mere tick. Some of the guys tried ammo dumps on full auto with better groups because the suppressor also reduced the recoil. 

Once the range finished up, the cool factor of suppressors fizzled out quickly. When the time came to disassemble and clean their weapons, the shooters were shocked to find the guts of their rifles plastered with carbon.

“Holy shit, its a fuckin’ mess,” Manazir complained.

“Awwwww…” Danson moaned. “My bolt’s caked.”

Not only did the suppressor reduce the noise and recoil, they discovered the disappointing side-effect that the mechanism sent double to triple the carbon blowback into the upper and lower receiver of their M-4’s. With the excess of black sludge stuck in the guts of their weapons, they decided to shelve them for future ranges. As one who was bummed for not receiving a suppressor, my inward jealousy turned to internal laughter as they continued their weapons maintenance long after I’d finished.

While shooting with the team, my mindset shifted when I began abstracting the act of bullets flying at paper to my own life. Rather than beating myself up for minor and major mistakes, such as a bad shot, I endeavored to keep my cool, recalibrate, and make the next move on a mentally clean slate. Not only did this prevent self hatred for stupid errors, it prevented arrogance for successes. Just because I was on point for one shot didn’t mean I’d nail the next. Both condemning myself for an error nor resting on the laurels of success would help me. Every minute was a reset, a recheck, a time to undo the past and prove the future and remain humbly focused on the present. 

 I applied this to the shooting range. Training with a pistol surrounded by a bunch of dudes who’d shot thousands of 9mm rounds, I’m doomed to underperform them. Therefore comparing my scattered shot group to the shooter to my left or right would be a fool’s errand. They’re going to be better, that’s a fact. I had to learn to brush it off the shit talking I received and focus on my target. Ensuring I improved was all that mattered.

Me pretending to be cool at a range

Though I wasn’t bad, my tightest shots were terrible compared to an average spread of an assaultman. Were I to remain focused on comparison, I would be unable to recognize the achievement of even my best group, feeling a sense of defeat rather than victory. So, not only did I tune out the past, I tuned out the noise to my left and right, remaining vigilant to observe my own errors as well as my progress, correcting my mishaps and celebrating the little wins to fuel my desire for continued improvement. Though I sought to shoot as good as the guy next to me, I didn’t dwell on the immediate gap in skill. So when it came to tracking my progress, rather than comparing myself to an expert, I compared myself to myself.

Manazir and me peeking our head into a building cleared for training.
Don’t know who took this or why, but yes, I’m doing what you think I’m doing.

One time we brought our M-1014’s to Fort Lewis, Tacoma. Shooting these semi-automatic shotguns was always a blast… pun intended. We drew enough ammo for the two squads that would attend. At the last minute though, third squad got hung up with pulling additional security. So we each burned through double the ammo. Between about thirteen guys, we each cracked off around sixty buck shot and forty slugs. Dad didn’t want us to shred the plastic silhouettes, so we aimed at rotten, toppled over trees, some of which were ten feet tall. Sighting in with the slugs, we sent slivers of wood flying and cut down a few stumps after several volleys of lead.

Prepping for training. From left to right: Danson, Wright, Me, Krupa

The next morning at the range, Danson arose out of his sleeping bag to answer a phone call. In his crackly voice most closely resembling Beavis, Garcia spoke perplexed on the other line.

“Dude, the parking lot is on fire!”

“What are you talking about? Are you hung over again?”

“Well, yeah, but seriously. I woke up to a bang, and looked out the window. Its fuckin’ burning!”

Unsure of what to think of Garcia’s comment, we later found that indeed, the parking lot near the barracks was on fire. Danson’s old Toyota pickup spontaneously combusted due to old wiring. The flames must have burned for quite a while because nobody realized what was happening until one of the tires burst. The flames spread to Wrights Ford F150. Each truck’s engines were completely destroyed. Thankfully the small base we bunked at had a fire station a stone’s throw away and the fires were contained in a matter of minutes.

One of the coolest ranges we did was a breaching range. The guys crafted a stand-alone wooden door frame that we brought up to a clearing in the backwoods of Bangor with several extra plywood doors. The breachers1 created several different charges while we DMs tucked ourselves away in an elevated, wooded position nearby to simply watch the carnage. Once a charge was placed on the door, the assaulting squad posted about fifteen feet away with the frontmost Marine holding up a ballistic blanket to protect them from shrapnel. Once the charge detonated, the guys rushed through the door.

One of the charges combined C4 with a few IV bags. Though the bomb only punched an eight inch hole in our feeble wooden door, if it were metal, the pulse of the water pushing the blockade would send it flying. The largest and final explosive was dubbed the Ghostbuster bomb. Apparently, this lengthy charge composed of six pounds of TNT equivalent C4 could disintegrate unsuspecting apparitions floating too close to the doorway. We DMs huddled about one hundred fifty yards away and could feel a light gust from the blast. The Ghostbuster charge, which is intended to breach reinforced concrete, disintegrated the plywood door into splinters.2

  1. Breachers are the ones who craft and place and detonate the explosives on a door that needs to be breached. This is the primary way of assaulting a building, as it contributes to the three fundamental elements of CQB: speed, surprise and violence of action.
  2. Danson made a film of our exploits in RTT. The final scene features the Ghostbuster bomb splintering the door. The small plastic piece he points out is the initiator fortuitously flying past the camera.

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