Sunday, 2 March 2014

The Things I Carry

"We have an event in a few weeks time and I want some volunteers. It will involve a 5 mile march and then shooting rifles at some targets."
The Chief Petty Officer in charge of new recruits announced to us one evening.
When I was in my 20s I enlisted in the Royal Naval Reserve. It was an excellent opportunity to get to know more about the people that I was helping during my day job and was a chance to do something completely different to sitting behind a desk every day.
Five weeks into basic training the CPO told us about a shoot and run event that was coming up against some of the local Territorial Army units. Any of us that wanted to have a go would get taught to shoot which I thought would be amazing. Seizing the opportunity I put my hand up.
We were told we'd hear more in due course.
Weeks went by and I heard nothing so I decided I'd not been selected.
The Tuesday evening before the event the CPO called a number of us aside and proceded to tell us the details for the weekend. I was puzzled and told him that I'd assumed I'd not been selected.
"You volunteered didn't you?"
"Yes, Chief"
"Well you should have realised that meant you were selected."
"But Chief, I don't know how to shoot."
"Don't worry, we can sort that out."
The following Saturday I nervously met up with some fellow recruits and some of the officers and we made our way the venue for the race.
On arrival we got into our kit. Combat fatigues and boots. I'd worn mine enough that they were broken in. One of the other recruits hadn't done the same, something we were soon to find out.
The officer in charge started us off and away we went. Five miles of fast walking and running held no fear for me. It was what was to come at the end that scared me.
One mile, went past, then two. Our pace wasn't that great, we kept encouraging each other. By the time we reached the third mile we had a problem. One of the other recruits was starting to limp and before long we had to stop and pull off his boot and sock. Blood coated his foot where his boots had rubbed and caused the skin to blister and then burst.
We patched his foot up as best we could and got started again. Four miles down, we were taking turns encouraging the poor guy. The senior officer has us form up into a marching order, two lines, each of us paired with another person. It looked a lot smarter than the rag tag group that we had been at times.
Our support and encouragement helped him to keep going, despite the pain he must have been in.
Finally we reached the finish and could catch our breath and prepare for the final part of the event. The shoot!
Now it was mine turn to be carried. I still had no idea of how to shoot.
One of the army reserves handed me a L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle. I'd most definitely never handled one of these. I'd handled a SA80 rifle but only while learning to perform marching drills. Now I had a rifle with live ammunition on my hands.
We were told that when ordered we were to run to the shooting line, lie down and fire off five shots. The safety was on the rifle so there was no danger of me accidently shooting someone.
"I don't know how to shoot" I said to the officer in charge of our team. "I've never fired a gun."
"OK, just carry the gun to the line and get down alongside me. Once I've fired my shots I'll have your gun and fire your shots."
Finally, someone had seen sense.
The officer in charge of the shooting section started us off and carrying a rifle full of live bullets I raced across the open ground, dropped to the floor and caught the ground with the end of the barrel. Seeing a small stone in the barrel I pulled it out.
A screaming demon appeared from nowhere and shouting at me.
"Put your safety on. Do not fire that weapon. Put your safety on."
I stared at the officer staring into my face.
"I've not taken the safety off, it's still on. I'm not going to fire."
"Put your safety on. Put it on" he yelled at me.
Finally the snarling creature reached down to flick the safety on and realised that it was already on.
I explained that I was only carrying the rifle so that one of the officers could fire off my shots. I wasn't going to be shooting myself. The magazine was removed from my rifle which was then taken from me and handed to one of the territorial army soldiers.
"Go and clean the barrel of this rifle" he was told.
As he disappeared the officer in charge of our team had just finished shooting. He removed his magazine and was handed mine. He settled down and fired off my shots.
With all our shots fired we were finally finished and were able to enjoy the rest of the weekend. Food and drink followed that evening as we were staying over for the night. We didn't win ourselves but one of our other teams came very close to winning.
I only ever carried a rifle a couple of times after that and that was while preparing for and taking part in a parade. If I never have to carry one again then I'll certainly not miss it.

Written in response to The Things I Carry writing prompt at Laura Davis' The Writer's Journey Roadmap.

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