Tales from the Smoke Pit: The Negligent Discharge
As usual, I’m early. The precision rifle class starts at eight, and I’m in the parking lot at seven. I always plan for unforeseen events (traffic accidents, earthquakes, sharknado outbreaks) that never seem to materialize. So I wait…
I go inside the range building and take a seat in what I think is the correct classroom. By five to eight I get concerned because no one else is there. I check around the range building and realize I’m in the wrong classroom. The correct classroom is full of dudes in all types of camo talking rifles, ballistic coefficients and other manly shit. Some are using “SWAT hands” to demonstrate clearing techniques. This is when you hold an imaginary AR to demonstrate something. Make sure you remove the imaginary magazine and check the imaginary chamber before doing so…
I nervously approach the unwanted seat in the front of the class. I pass a guy who isn’t talking to anybody. Or, to be more accurate, no one is talking to him. What stands out about him (besides the fact that he’s a social leper) is that he has the world’s biggest handgun on his belt. Along with the leper’s name I’ll leave out the gun’s manufacturer, but it’s a suppressor-capable .45 that could double as an impact weapon. Interestingly, there are signs posted throughout the building in bold red letters that state, “NO LOADED FIREARMS IN THE CLASSROOMS”. I make a mental note to avoid the guy with the Corvette of handguns.
The instructor arrives and tells everyone to pair up. Whoever you choose will be your sniper/spotter partner for the remainder of the class. Prior to my late arrival everyone got acquainted and paired off, except for Tackleberry and me. So, by default, we became a team. It was like the making of a bad “buddy movie.” Except in the end we don’t come together to solve a major crime or vanquish a foe.
Right off the bat we’re at odds. He doesn’t swear or drink and I like to do both, often at the same time. He has every piece of gear you can imagine, from self-aiming bullets to invisibility spray. I have a 15-year-old Remington 700 with a hunting scope I affectionately referred to as “the musket”.
During a stalking exercise we crawl through 50 yards of mud to get a view a target location from a ledge. I do a sketch and say, “Let’s go”. He says, “Hey, wouldn’t it be swell if we got the license plate of the truck in front of the target location?” I disagree, saying we got what we needed and that we should bug out before we’re compromised. He insists we sneak closer to the ledge. I see the evaluators point, clearly seeing us. During the debrief we learn all the teams were successful, except ours. I have to take the musket in the shower with me to get the mud off.
During live fire we do an interesting exercise. We are on top of the range building, the instructors put a plastic 55-gallon drum full of water directly below us, then invert a clay pigeon and float it on the top. The point is to demonstrate scope offset (distance between the scope and the barrel) and that a 90-degree angle doesn’t effect point of impact. Before the internet “weapons experts” spill their hot cocoa with petit marshmallows and cry about how unsafe this is, take my word for it, it was completely safe. As long as you did it properly…
It was simple: bring an unloaded weapon over the side of the roof, point it towards the water filled drum, load a round, fire, and make weapon safe. My partner decided to forgo the part about the unloaded weapon. Instead, as he brought the rifle over roof, his finger hit the trigger and
I don’t know the science behind it, but for some reason negligent discharges always seem much louder than normal gun fire. The 168 Grain jacketed boat tail round enters the roof and comes to rest somewhere inside the exterior wall of the building. Amazingly, no one is hurt and nothing serious damaged.
[Me and the musket during happier times…]
Surprisingly, they let him graduate. They give him a trophy: a piece of the wall with a .308 round stuck in it. He didn’t think it was very funny and showed his disdain. If it was me I’d have laughed my ass off, making self-deprecating remarks, happy that I didn’t get kicked out of the class.
Fast forward a couple of years and I’m competing in Urban Shield, a West Coast SWAT 50 hour endurathon designed to test tactics, teamwork, stamina and patience. This is the second year I’ve competed. I’m on double secret probation with my TL due to a case of Tourette’s Syndrome that overtook me the previous year.
I had talked back to an evaluator and my diarrhea of the mouth had caused us to get a bad score. The evaluator didn’t like the fact that I swore at a remote controlled robot. My TL had told me to use the robot to clear a room. I said, “Fuck the robot” and cleared it the old fashioned way. Neither my TL or the robot were offended (my TL was aware of my affliction and the robot was, well, a robot) but the evaluator’s feelings were hurt. I was allowed to be an assistant team leader this year under the condition that I didn’t shoot my mouth off again.
There’s a live fire exercise during the competition. A private training company runs it. From what I understand the company management has real Tier One special ops guys. Like a lot of those places though, they attracted “hangers-on”, guys with less than spectacular backgrounds who want to be associated with real trigger pullers. They’re attracted to the smell of Delta Force operators and Navy SEALs and try to glean glory from them.
You know the type. They say things like, “I train with dudes who used to be in The Unit” or “One of my partners from DEVGRU showed me the best way to do a tac reload”. They also talk about what they’re “running” (as in, I’m running a LWRC upper with a Daniel Defense lower. It’s what the guys in “The Squadron” are carrying).
There, amongst the rest of the groupies, is my old sniper partner. He’s decked out in the latest tactical color being worn on the SHOT Show runways that year (I think that year it was Coyote Tan, maybe Ranger Green, I don’t remember). He has on a helmet that kind of looks like the non-ballistic type you can buy for $50 at Cheaper Than Dirt, the kind favored by Air Softers. As an aside, I love Cheaper Than Dirt, but they do sell some whack ass shit. Remember the Glock bayonet?
To top it off he’s wearing a shemagh around his neck that matches the color of his ensemble. So I don’t want to be the guy who says, “If you didn’t deploy you can’t have a shemagh” but I think it can give the false impression that you have been in combat in the Middle East when you haven’t. They’re pretty common now so my personal prejudice is pretty much unfounded but, in this particular case, it appeared to be part of a costume. Like the kind you buy at a Halloween store, complete with a “tactical vest” made of plastic with a toy hand grenade hanging off it.
So, every year at the live fire we get yelled at. The instructors tell us we should have zigged instead of zagged. In previous years when we zagged we got gigged for not zigging. They tell us (and most of the other teams) that we suck. We need to work on our TTPs, CCPs, SOPs, GFYs, BFFs and so on. At the time I was one of the few military guys on our SWAT team so I’d try to translate to the rest of the group, but even this jargon was over my head. Bottom line, whatever we did they just didn’t like. The instructors would embrace their inner Senior Drill Instructor Gunnery Sergeant Hartman and yell at us. “JESUS H. CHRIST! WHAT IN THE FUCK WAS THAT?”
During the debrief I feel the Tourette’s coming on. I fight the words trying to escape, as we get our annual lambasting from the instructors. It’s like throwing up in your mouth and swallowing it! All right, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s hard to keep my mouth shut.
Then it happens. My old sniper buddy chimes in. He chastises us for, you guessed it–not being safe! He talks at length about how we “lazered” each other with our fingers on the trigger.
I’m a little loopy with fatigue at this point so I figure I’m on MTV’s Punked and that Ashton Kutcher is going to come into the tent and let me out of my misery. Everyone on my team is looking at me. My Team Leader is shaking his head, giving me the, “Don’t you fucking do it!” look.
Much to my own surprise, I don’t say shit. The whole scene is so comical I have to control the urge to laugh at loud. I think my partners were just as surprised as I was. I think they were probably a little disappointed too. They knew the back story behind the, “range building hunter” and had probably looked forward to a good verbal tirade. Sort of like driving by a car crash with blood and mangled bodies everywhere, you can’t help but look. But, pointing out the obvious to the oblivious is like yelling at a chair when you bang your shin on it. We finish the debrief and move on to the next scenario.
[As a disclaimer, if there are any lepers, people with Tourette’s, or petite marshmallow fans reading this please don’t be offended and call me names in the comments section. We’re starting to live in a humorless world where no one can poke fun at anyone else. Laughter can be the greatest way to overcome barriers and prejudice]
Mad Duo, Breach-Bang& CLEAR!
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About the Author: Nicholas Perna is a former Army officer from the 82nd Airborne turned Army Reservist and police officer who has (among other awards) been decorated for valor in the line of duty and a recipient of the Officer of the Year Award in his department. An EMT and current street crimes supervisor, Perna has worked detectives, patrol, street crime suppression, counter-gang, counter-narcotics, SWAT and in numerous other billets. As a police officer he’s worked collateral assignments as a SWAT Team Leader, Firearms Instructor and Terrorism Liaison Officer; while active duty he served as an airborne medical platoon leader, company commander, battalion intelligence officer and battalion OPSO. A combat veteran, while serving in Iraq in ’03 he led a team of SOF soldiers conducting psychological operations as part of Joint Special Operations Task Force Arabian Peninsula. Perna has previously been published in SWAT Magazine, Soldier of Fortune, Havok Journal, Police One, Guns & Weapons for Law Enforcement, Counter Terrorist Magazine, the NTOA’s Tactical Edge, the CATO Quarterly journal, the Homeland Security First Responder Network and other places. We don’t know him well enough to make fun of him yet, but it certainly seems like he’s a candidate for grumpy old man jokes like Hernandez and Reeder, and you can rest assured we’re trying to get picture of him as a boot 2nd Lieutenant.