Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Range Day

So I took some of my new guys out to an ANA firing range the other day for familiarization training with an AK-47. Mostly I went just for fun and as chance to get out of the office. The language barrier prevents me from being an effective trainer* to Afghans. I've picked up a few words and phrases and can usually make myself understood in Dari, but that's a long way from what's needed for proper firearms training.

*That and the fact that I've only had familiarization training on the AK-47 myself, and that was fifteen years ago.

Not a big problem, since we have a former ANP commando on staff as the senior instructor. The General went along as well, mostly for his connections with the ANA staff, but it's The Lion* who provides the bulk of the instruction to the new guys. So while he ran half a dozen new recruits through the nuances of a Kalashnikov and The General sat back and smoked (my cigarettes, as usual), I observed and offered what few pointers I could remember from my own familiarization training way back in the day.

*The Lion (I've added his profile here) is the single best addition I've made to this company since I got here. He's a former member of the highly-regarded ANP counter-narcotics commando battalion and has fast-roped into most of Afghanistan's hotspots. Like most professionals, he's quietly confident and a top-notch instructor.

In general, Afghans have a fearsome reputation for marksmanship. Stories abound of mujaheddin snipers picking off Russian colonels at ranges in excess of 800 meters. Even more impressive when one considers that the typical sniper rifle of the mujaheddin was a rebuilt, bolt-action .303 Lee-Enfield that probably belonged to their grandfather.

Well, there may be some talented snipers out in the provinces, but the guys we recruit from in and around Kabul are, to put it mildly, less than excellent shots. That's not because of any lack of talent or appitude. It's just that to be a truly great marksman requires years of disciplined training and experience. The city-folk here simply don't have that. For most of them, familiarization training is the first time they've ever fired a weapon and it shows. The most difficult (and most important) thing on Range Day is making sure they don't suddenly turn around with a loaded weapon. More than once a new recruit has hit the target and spun around in triumph, only to send the instructors and other recruits diving for cover.

On this day, the level of skill ran the gamut from "natural shot" to "more dangerous to himself than to the target." The weak ones will get better with practice,* the strong ones will send out to Kandahar or Paktika to be PSDs. The reward for competence in Afghanistan is to be sent out to the worst parts of the country and given the most difficult job.

*Did I mention that The Lion is a superb instructor?

We were using a man-sized silhouette at 100 meters as a target. Not really an effective choice, since few engagements in the private security industry take place at that kind of range. Static guards generally don't have that kind of sight line, and PSDs would be lucky to detect a threat at more than 50 meters. A distance of 100 meters (about the length of a football field) is simply beyond most peoples frame of reference. They don't pay attention to things that far away, unless they're standing in a guard tower with a clear field of fire.

Anyway, 100 meters was the chosen range and if you can hit a target that far away, you can usually hit something closer. The high score was 9 out of 10* while the worst of the bunch hit nothing but rocks and sand.

*One of those "natural marksmen" that is so annoying to the rest of us who actually have to try.

When we were just about finished up, The Lion turns to me with a magazine loaded with 10 rounds of 7.62mm and gets this shit-eating grin on his face. I fail to realize what's about to happen until The General puts out his (my) cigarette and calls over the entire group. Then it dawns on me. These guys expect me to shoot, and from the expectant grin on all their faces I can tell that they expect me to miss a lot.

They've apparently been waiting for an opportunity to test me to determine if I'm worthy of the deference that they've shown for the past two months. Even The General, normally an amiable chap, has a slightly predatory look about him, as if he's about to confirm his worst suspicions. Only The Lion looks guileless; I think he actually believes that I will blow away the target without even looking. Bless him for his loyalty.

In a situation like this, with my credibility and thus my authority on the line, I can't really appear to hesitate despite the fact that I have limited confidence in my ability to actually make a good show it. So, muttering something about how I'd prefer an M-4 or an M-16, I lock and load and get into the firing position.

At this point, I'm desperately trying to remember everything the instructor said oh so long ago, but the only thing running through my head is the breath-exhale-hold-fire mantra that was drilled into me at Fort Knox and Fort Lewis back in the early 1990s. Something about taking an accurate sight picture was there as well, but I couldn't quite remember how to do that exactly. Mostly I was just trying to keep my breathing under control and wishing I didn't smoke so many cigarettes.

Well, whatever I did, it must have worked because I shot 8 of 10 with my first magazine. I don't mind saying that I was pretty chuffed about it, although I tried to act all casual as if I do this every day before breakfast. At 100 meters, a man-sized silhouette looks about the size of a post-it note, so I was happy to hit it at all.

I think everyone was suitably impressed, not that I managed to hit 8 of 10, but that I managed to hit the target at all without shooting myself in the foot. Confirmation of that came when we got back to the compound. Within a few hours word got around the American may actually have some idea of what he's talking about and maybe, just maybe, is not some overpaid sissy whose sole job is to talk on the phone.

See? Like I been sayin', I got skills.

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