A Twelve Gauge Shotgun Was The Right Tool

In 1970, I reported to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for Army basic training. At that time, Fort Bragg not only hosted a basic training school but was also the home base for the 82nd Airborne Division and the Special Forces; so, there were a lot of really tough dudes there.

One of the requirements for basic trainees was to pull night guard duty to prevent thefts from base warehouses. These unarmed and untrained soldiers provided great sport for members of the 82nd Airborne who had too much to drink at Fayetteville bars or the enlisted men’s club. With nothing else to do, they would challenge, terrorize and often beat up the slick-sleeved guards. The Army, in all its wisdom, decided to provide the sentinels with nightsticks, providing the paratroopers with a weapon to use. Then the higher ups decided to provide unloaded M-14 rifles, which became souvenirs.

Finally, someone in command got serious and the decision was made to provide the guards with twelve gauge, Remington pump shot guns, loaded with birdshot. The first Saturday night they were armed with a live weapon, a sentry peppered the backend of a proud member of the 82nd with a load of birdshot and that put an end to the trainee guards being harassed.

To be able to carry them, the guards had to learn how to use and fire a Remington shotgun. Now, for the boys who had grown up hunting this was no big deal; but for the kids who had never even seen a shotgun, it was an experience. I remember when it came time for me to “qualify” with the Remington. My squad was taken to one side of the range where we were each issued a shotgun and six shells. As we stood in a line facing the instructor, he loaded a shotgun and instructed us on what we were going to do. “Men, you will take your shells and load them into the shotgun like this, then you will place the safety on, and turn down the range, chamber one round and upon command, remove the safety and fire at your target.” Well things went well until the fellow next to me instead of setting the safety, chambered a round and then pulled the trigger. It was like hunting in South Georgia, bird shot raining down as instructors and drill sergeants scattered like quail. A solid week of kitchen duty convinced the premature shooter never to make that kind of mistake again.

Not only how to march, the Army taught me other lessons; one important one was, if you expect a job to be done, make sure you provide the right tools and training. If the shotguns had been provided to the sentries when first instructed to guard the warehouse, fewer heads would have been busted. Instead, the Army equipped the sentries with nightsticks and rifles before coming up with the right tool. Sometimes, we, too, are guilty of expecting first class results with second rate equipment and training. The increased cost to get it right is often far less expensive then getting it wrong by “making do.”

“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” – George Patton

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