A Quick And Memorable Learning Experience

Over at OldAFSarge’s site, he is talking about the time he almost went into the Army, but for some stubborn recruiters. Don’t know why it stirred an unrelated Army memory in me, but it did.

Come to think of it, there was for many years a retired psychologist in my car club. He wasn’t just any psychologist, but worked with felons in the California Dept of Corrections. He told me that he thought I was an interesting study.

While I think the observation was funny, it’s probably best not to delve to deeply as to why he thought I was interesting .

In any event I remember – like it was yesterday – an incident at then Ft Ord and my Drill Sgt, Sgt Claiborne. He was a wiry guy, a Staff Sgt, just back from Vietnam.

We had just been in the Army a bit over a week as I recall. Just gotten our shots and issued uniforms.

Our fatigues, or what they call  now BDUs – Battle Dress Uniform, were that deep olive drab that told everyone we were right off the boat.

We had just been issued M-16’s with one empty 20 round magazine, and were standing in the parade ground listening to a talk about the weapon.

I was always a curious sort, and put the magazine into the weapon. I had been shooting since I was 12, and was comfortable around firearms.

Drill Sgt Claiborne was talking for another 15-30 seconds when his focus zeroes in on me at the front. With a magazine locked (but not loaded!) in the rifle. The silence is overwhelming.

He walks over to me and grabs the rifle.

Took the magazine out of the rifle, threw it halfway across the parade ground, and hands back the weapon.

All this was done without a word said.

The whole incident lasted maybe 30 seconds, but I remember it just as clearly today as 43 years ago.

He walked back to in front of the formation, and resumed his talk.

Taught me a bit about conformity and the need to “blend in” with the group.

And, of course, firearms safety the Army way.

And don’t draw attention to yourself in basic training!

And you?

Any memorable experiences?


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12 responses to “A Quick And Memorable Learning Experience

  1. edwardolsen


    I did not serve, but my stepfather told me a story about his first day at boot camp in the Army. Fresh off the bus, lined up in civvies — the draftees were asked who could drive.
    With visions of driving trucks in their heads, several stepped forward.
    The sarge then pointed to a pile of sand surrounded by wheelbarrows. He told them to move that pile of sand about 100 yards.
    Lesson learned! Never, never volunteer.

    • Bill Brandt

      Edward – that must be an Army tradition. Some weeks after my initiation with the Drill Sgt I learned to always get in a middle row of a formation. Keep quiet.

      One day after shooting at the range, a Sgt seems to get wind of us malingerers and orders the first 2 rows to step forward – last 2 rows step back.

      We were exposed.

      The other 4 rows are dismissed.

      He asks us in the middle row how many have driver’s licenses.

      About 5 of us can’t raise our hands fast enough.

      The ones who didn’t raise their hands are….dismissed.

      Starting to get the idea? 🙂

      For us 5, the Sgt tells us what we will be “driving” – huge push brooms – about 5′ wide with a leather harness that goes around the shoulders.

      We swept up all the brass on that beach-front rifle range.

      I had to laugh.

      After 4 weeks of mostly anonymity, they got me.

  2. Ken

    I Remember after a full first day of being shouted at and run to near exhaustion, the drill Sgt. Starts to focus on a rather rotund young man. They pull him out and have him doing the dying cockroach when he just goes limp. More screaming……no response. Two five gallon jugs of water ( it’s about 90 degrees this day) still no response, then one shouts to another drill, ” get an ambulance!” Long story short, he is packed up while they are doing CPR. Never saw him again, they never answered how he was, I was thinking, ” first day and they have killed somebody, what have I gotten into?” 23 years later I almost cried as I retired!

  3. Old AF Sarge

    We had a guy in my Basic Training flight who was a real loon. (Well, more than one actually.) One night he jumped out of his rack, marched down the aisle counting cadence and singing, then got to the wall and promptly stood on his head.

    We called down to CQ, they came and got him and frog-marched him downstairs. Never saw him again.

    Gee, I wonder why?

    • Bill Brandt

      That’s the kind of guy you’d worry about being at your side at the rifle range!

      I know at least at Ft Ord the rangemaster had, in the tower, an M-16 by the window – never asked “why” but I kind of had an idea…

  4. Ken

    Ha know, later in my career I could look back and see the reasoning behind all they did to the guy. Core strengthening, cardio, as well as help him fit in, not as the fat guy, but the one the drills would work over. I would like to think he survived just fine and went on to do great things. They never would tell us though.

  5. We got asked:
    “Who has a drivers license?”
    Those that raised hands got to run the buffers in the squad bay.
    At that time(1967), the issue weapon was the M-14.
    It was a wonderful rifle. I wish I had one, to this day.

    I noticed that the range towers had many bullet-holes in them.
    One day, when we were ordered to sit, with the rifle across our laps.
    A shot rang out.
    I looked around and noticed that ALL the cadre were on the ground, as low as they could go.
    They had seen this before.

    The dumbass troop that had fired the weapon was subject to enough humiliation that he may have killed himself.
    He was a dumbass draftee, knew nothing about guns, and had no idea about what he was doing.
    Oh, the good old days…

    • Bill Brandt

      I’ll bet generations of soldiers got taken in by that “Who has a driver’s license” bit!

      On the bullet-ridden towers – it just occurred to me – they were always riding us to use short burst on full auto (and didn’t the M-14 have that option?). That muzzle could get away from the unwary – wonder if that was the case. And how many have accidentally been wounded or killed?

      Don’t know if you ever heard of this story of Sen Bill Frist saving the life of Gen David Petraeus – shot with an M-16 in a training accident (haven’t found the exact circumstances)


  6. Capt Mongo

    Do note that all the kids went Navy 😉

  7. edwardolsen


    Wonderful stories. I have two more to pass on from my stepfather.
    The time he served was WWII, and it was the army air force.

    He was already too old to actually experience combat, so they put him on the firing range to teach recruits.

    I am sure you all have heard of slow primers….

    One day a recruit forgot his training and when the 45 did not immediately fire upon trigger pull, he turned to my stepfather, weapon in hand. THEN the weapon fired. To the end of his life, he had a smooth mark on his cheek where the slug grazed him. A fraction of an inch in the wrong direction, and I would never have known him.

    Second story — he got to know the armorers, and so learned of a an occasion when an officer was tasked with demonstrating strafing on the gunnery range. His aircraft fired through the prop, and the armorer in charge of his craft installed the synchronization cam 90 deg out of correct phase.

    The officer commenced his strafing run and promptly blew his prop off. Fortunately, he was able to dead-stick the craft to a landing that allowed him to walk away. My stepfather never heard of what became of the armorer.

    • Bill Brandt

      I’ll bet of all the things is Basic Training this is probably one of the most dangerous. Well, grenade throwing even worse. Simple operations that cannot be screwed up or serious injury or death results.

      On the range, because I’ll bet easily 50% or more like 80%-90% these days, have never handled a firearm before going into the service.

      I can remember when I was in – our rifles were so worn. About once a week, a simple cleaning wouldn’t suffice and they brought out a big tank filled of solvent to wash the bolts and actions. We’d all stand around the tank and clean the parts.

      And because the rifles were so worn, we were told to never intermix your bolt with someone else’s.

      You can imagine the gas pressures in that action as soon as the primer is ignited. I think it is in the 10s of thousands of lbs/sq inch.

      Anyway the law of 10% always applied and there was one incident where the bolt was interchanged, and next time it fired the action exploded in someone’s face. He wasn’t hurt seriously but it scared the stuff out of him.

      You think something so simple as keeping the muzzle pointed downrange would be simple to follow, but a moment’s inattention can bring disaster.

      That sorta reminds me of a similar story Edward, but years after I left the Army. Forgive me as this wasn’t service-related but some years after at a range.

      I wanted to learn about Practical Pistol shooting at my range, and to get your certification, you have to attend a day-long safety seminar.

      Practical Pistol is really a sport but it also teaches you combat shooting.

      You start at the beginning of a course, and as you go through you shoot at various unconventional targets – silhouettes in old cars, maybe pop-up targets.

      You are graded for both speed and accuracy.

      Needless to say, when you have people walking through a course with a loaded pistol, and people on the perimeter, the utmost safety rules have to be enforced. There are a half-dozen commands that are strict in their use of phraseology. Like aviation, there can be no ambiguity.

      With that setup done, I am at this safety seminar with my loaded .45 in line with other students. The instructor is an off-duty cop.

      All this was some years ago, and I haven’t kept up with PP, but the command was given to empty the magazine and un-chamber a round. (forget what the exact command was but like aviation it is a specific set of words. )

      You push the release button, let your expensive magazine drop and hit (for us) the gravel, and pull the slide back to un-chamber the last round. You let the round go to the ground.

      Anyway, the cop is in front of us like a DI, all the magazines have dropped, the slides pulled in unison and the shells are falling to the ground.

      Right near me is the sound of a round going off.

      The world stopped for a moment.

      The cop is looking at me with the “if looks could kill”, and he is ready to walk over and , well, I’ll let you guess.

      Once I explained to him that my ejected shell happened to hit a sharp pebble on the primer, I was somewhat off the hook.

      A bullet leaving the shell without all the pressure buildup of the action wouldn’t be nearly as fast, but I still wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end.

      Anyway I avoided an epic ass-chewing, considered myself (and the others around me) lucky for not having stopped the bullet, and we all learned a bit that day.

      We were lucky as was your step father!

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