Friday, December 25, 2009

Sherpas & Automatic Fire: The Shooting Range

“What is pain, sergeant!”
Smart-aleck response from one of my guys, after the sergeant asked him how his index finger felt following a drill that had us cocking our guns some 100 times as fast as possible, losing any skin on your finger that is not fully callused.

Much of my first month was spent on the shooting range, mastering the art of sending a bullet hurtling towards threatening cardboard cutouts at ever increasing range. Learning how to land five holes on a distant bulls-eye may sound like a fun bar game until you realize what a day of shooting means in the IDF.

For every bullet we fire, we spend thrice the amount of time setting up and breaking down the shooting range. It took me a good week of commanders ordering me to fall and play "wounded" until the realization sunk in that my role was punishment for allowing my gun to ride on my back during the frantic rush to set up the shooting range. The commanders were not impressed when I explained that years of carrying a saxophone on my back has left me with bad habits.

The real ordeal of shooting lies in the journey from base. Under the diktat of our officer's stopwatch, the iron pegs, cardboard targets, metal tables, mesh tents, endless ammunition and so much else is thrown on our backs and schlepped across the desert. Most days I am sure that the goal of our training is to ensure no Israeli will ever need hire a Sherpa on the post-army jaunts around Nepal.

My progress with the supposed goal of the training, becoming a cool-eyed marksman, has had no shortage of drama. Initially my aim was so poor, not to mention my sorry excuse for a shooting stance, that as punishment I had to receive extensive advice from our beautiful shooting instructor. Tough, right? The instruction must have helped because over the last month my shooting results have ranked near the top of the platoon. While the IDF has a few tips and tricks to improve soldiers' aim, my experience so far is that good shooting largely comes down to the intangibles, inner concentration more than maintaining the perfect posture we attempt to master in endless drills.

Minus the right concentration, hitting the target becomes the least of my worries. All my pretty shooting was for naught this week when my finger flipped the safety switch one click too far, past semi-automatic to the forbidden territory of automatic fire. Israeli soldiers are trained never to fire their rifles on automatic. The double boom from my gun shocked everyone. My officer was the first to recover, informing me as he suspended me from the rest of the day's drills that I am very lucky I had only two bullets in the magazine. The rest of the guy's soon turned the incident into another joke on my account, claiming I would now be arrested overseas for breaking international law (the various Geneva Conventions, in my defense, do not quite cover automatic fire!) and bequeathing the name "matzav sammy" to automatic fire.

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