They Scattered Like Quail

bragg_signIn 1970, I reported for Army basic training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina—home base of the 82nd Airborne and Army Special Forces.

As part of their training, basic trainees were required to guard base warehouses. These unarmed and untrained soldiers provided sport for inebriated members of the 82nd Airborne. The paratroopers would challenge, terrorize and rough up the slick-sleeved guards. To thwart the attacks, the army decided to provide the sentinels with nightsticks—providing the paratroopers with clubs. Later, higher-ups decided the trainees should carry unloaded M-14 rifles—which became souvenirs. Finally, someone got serious and the decision was made to provide the guards with birdshot loaded, twelve-gauge shot guns.

Prior to pulling guard duty, the trainees had to learn how to fire the weapon. No big deal for the boys who grew up hunting; but, a daunting experience for kids who had never seen a shotgun.Shotgun

Trainees were issued a shotgun along with six shells and instructed: “Men, take your shells and load them into the shotgun; then place the safety on; turn down range; chamber one round; and upon command, remove the safety and fire at your target.” Everything went well, until the fellow next to me chambered a round and pulled the trigger. It was like a South Georgia bird hunt: shot rained down as trainees, instructors and drill sergeants scattered like quail. A solid week of kitchen duty taught the premature shooter a lesson about following instructions.

The shotguns proved to be the right tool, when a sentry peppered the backend of a proud member of the 82nd with a load of birdshot. The word spread the guards were armed and the harassment ended.

I learned the importance of providing the right tools and training. Fewer heads would have been busted if shotguns had been provided to the trainees from the beginning. Instead, the Army equipped the sentries with nightsticks and rifles before coming up with the right tool.

Sometimes, we are guilty of expecting first class results with second rate equipment and training. The increased cost to get it right is far less expensive then getting it wrong.

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