Readin’, Writin’

August 21, 2008

No visual art recently, but here’s a little taste of the (non-fiction) book I’m writing:

Sgt. C  presses the 9mm Beretta hard against my left shoulder and pulls the trigger.  I know (or at least I’m pretty sure) that it’s not loaded because of the “no live fire” rules for most of the training out here, so neither the gesture nor the lack of a click you would expect really bothers me, which I suspect disappoints Sgt. C and the other guys in the truck a little bit but I’m too fascinated by the feeling and sight of a military-issue handgun being pressed into my left shoulder and fired (or, not) to really care.

            I’m in the truck (not a pickup but a large truck of unknown purpose that you climb a ladder and enter into via the back door) with Sgt. C, Sgt. W and a guy I’ll call Sgt. Domino for reasons I’ll explain later because here I am, embedded media, dropped off at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Dallas in eastern Fort Irwin / Fake Afghanistan without any more guidance than to “be media” and to try to get interviews with the higher-ups.  And even though both Public Affairs and this unit (the 6-4 Cav out of Ft. Hood) knew I was coming, nobody seems to quite know what to do with me, and I’m not all that sure myself, so getting shown “a cool new feature” of 9mm Berettas is, I guess, the kind of thing that goes on when you’re “media” and you look really inexperienced and green. 

            It was surprisingly easy to be able to be fake media in Fake Afghanistan (the place is usually Fake Iraq, but they’ve brought in a whole different set of actors for this particular training round)—all I had to do was call and ask.  By pure coincidence, the CG (Commanding General) of the place, General Pittard, wanted to start embedding the likes of me with the troops for increased simulation realism anyway, so it was a case (again) of wandering into something at the right time.  Being that this is just the early stage of the program, though, and the weird circumstances of the weather, i.e. an intermittent 70mph dust storm, nobody seems quite sure what to do, though everybody does seem a little bored, which maybe explains why I’m able to see and hear things on this first trip that I won’t even get near when I return in the future.  (I’ll get to what, exactly, in a moment, but being shown how a Beretta works is a good example.)

            I’m wearing Sgt. C’s flak vest and attached gear as he’s sort of shooting me, and when I wobble a bit under the weight as they put it on (it has all of Sgt. C’s stuff still attached to it and Sgt. C is himself a big guy, big meaning not just massive but mountainous, so the vest weighs upwards of 60 lbs.) all three guys in the truck have a laugh.  The vest-wearing came at the end of a long and unexpectedly frank interview about what the guys did out here and out there and how they felt about it, and as Sgt. C pulls back the tip of the gun from my shoulder it’s clear both that 1) I’m something of a novelty for them and 2) they could really use a laugh.  This is fine by me, because my main worry was just being ignored, so the fascination with which I’ll be greeted over the next two days is, while slightly alarming (I am not that interesting of a person), also helpful in terms of getting me over my hesitations about approaching people because they, just as often as not, approach me.

            But the cool thing that Sgt. C has just demonstrated, he explains, is that an automatic safety comes on when you press the tip of the gun to someone’s shoulder or any other body part, preventing the gun from accidentally going off point-blank and spraying the head of whomever you’re holding a gun to across a few feet of space wherever you happen to find the need to subdue and/or intimidate someone by holding a gun to his or her head.   The catch to all this, Sgt. C explains as he pulls the gun back about an inch from my shoulder, is that all you have to do is pull back about an inch from whomever you may want or need to shoot and the safety goes off, and I look down at the tip of the Beretta as Sgt. C pulls the trigger again and this time there’s a loud click, leaving me thinking that even though there’s a no-live-ammo rule at the FOB, it would maybe have been good just to double-check.

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