By some bizarre twist of fate, your favorite writer has been assigned (temporarily?) as a SAW gunner.
That, my friends, is the SAW.
"M249 SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon)
The M249 SAW provides crucial support for infantry units. The ergonomically shaped polymer buttstock contains a hydraulic buffer that allows gunners to maximize accuracy while maintaining high cyclic rates. In addition to the M249 standard features, it has a removable heat shield and flash suppressor."
Your typical belt-fed machine gun, using 5.56mm rounds, the same that the M4 rifle uses. Now we also know that after enlisting, I ended up as an Eleven Charlie (Indirect Fire Infantry - Mortar) and not Eleven Bravo as was planned. The mortar section is actually attached to one of the "line" (or 11B) platoons, for an indefinite period of time. Meaning I get to do more of the 11B work that I signed up for.Rant aside, yesterday all the SAW gunners and 240Bravo gunners were to go to a weapons range to zero and qualify with our weapons. Give me a little time, and I should be able to upload a short video for you. Yes, naturally I brought the camcorder.
I hadn't fired a SAW since basic training, and had never used the optic sight mounted on this weapon. So I pretty much started from scratch, not knowing a damn thing yesterday. I took my sweet time making sure my weapon was atleast CLOSE to zeroed (there's always a rush to do that and get it out of the way, so half the time I have to use 'Kentucky Windage' with my M4 later on).
Let me pause once more to try to describe the soul of the SAW. Its best compared to a very vindictive woman. And I mean VERY. She'll take complete control of you and make you her plaything and embarass you if you aren't 'assertive' and take charge. You've got to lean into it hard, and with your non-firing hand, pull it into your shoulder from the buttstock to try to keep it stable while it rests on bipod legs. Otherwise, your rounds will jump all over the place. Learn how to work with her, and she's a very great asset. Not for the squeamish, which is why its typical that they put it in MY confused and uncapable hands.
Each firing iteration, you load a belt of ammo and slap the feed tray cover down on it, pinching the belt in place, ready to rock. At first, we would load only one round, and fire three seperate shots like this to zero. Boring. I should shoot myself for even writing about this part. However, once you start firing in bursts, the magic unfolds and a blanket of warmth and fully-automatic security falls upon you, and all is great and wonderful in the land of the SAW gunner.
We first qualified on paper targets. The sight we were using has multiple horizontal lines, like the binoculars used to estimate distance. You'll see why I'm an idiot in a minute here. Anyway, we used the 800 meter line to zero on paper targets from 10 meters away. This somehow works out apparently. But once we shifted over to the pop-up target range, a friend misunderstood my question and said, "You used the 8 line to zero right? Yeah, so use that."
This means that I was using the 800 meter line for every target, regardless of distance. Someone please do me a favor and cue Carlos Mencia's "Dur-da-durrrr" noise. And I wondered why I wasn't hitting hardly anything. I began to wonder if I hadn't zeroed properly, or if I had offended God in some way, or maybe if I just sucked at life. The positive side of this is I got to unload a LOT of ammo that day. Eventually, between firing iterations, another friend of mine and I are talking and I ask him what the hell I'm doing wrong, and luckily mentioned the sight. He pointed out that the numbers next to each line in the sight correspond to a certain distance, and that's what you use to estimate where you need to fire. Exactly as I suspected but was too afraid to try before. I should be waiting tables, while wearing a crash helmet to ensure my own safety.
At one point, we were off the lanes for a while, slacking and waiting, being lazy. We left our weapons where they were so we could start up again immediately when needed. I'm almost positive someone messed with my weapon to be a prick, because the next time we fired, I get my sights on a target and squeeze the trigger. The bolt slams forward and the weapon doesn't fire. I don't notice this next part, but I have it on video. The barrel (which is removeable) shifts forward a small amount. I charge the weapon again and fire. This time, the barrel nearly jumps off the weapon. No freaking wonder it won't fire. And in the spirit of Joe Rumors, later on someone approaches me and says, "Did you find your barrel?" At which point I inquire as to exactly what the hell this apparently hallucinating individual is talking about. He says, "I heard it wasn't on all the way and went flying when you shot." This is where I employ thinly veiled sarcasm. I tell him that yes, as a matter of fact, it did take a journey with the cow to jump over the moon, and also pulled a feat similar to one seen in the original Superman movie, where it travels so fast that it actually time traveled and took out the Twin Towers a day early. My feeble attempt at squashing that rumor.
With this new gem of wisdom bestowed upon me, I was prepared to fire once again. I fetched another delightfully long belt of ammunition and jumped back into my firing bunker....thing. Target pops up, my friend calls out a distance, I put the respective line on it and fire a burst. Miss. Burst. Miss. Dirt clouds kicked up in little plumes, which is a perfect reference point for adjusting. Another burst. Target goes down. I fire another burst. Yeah, I don't know why either. Squeezing that trigger is like eating peanuts. You can't stop. Its glorious.
More targets pop up, and I hose them down with lead. A few bursts per target and they go down. One thing: when I'm looking through the sight of a weapon, I don't think about much else. Even if I'm pissed off or depressed because I'm doing horrible that day, its all put on hold when I'm shooting. Thank god for that, or else I'd really screw myself over mentally. So with this mindset, I'm not getting overly excited. Its damn near emotionless. I feel it afterwards.
From the tower, over the loudspeaker, an NCO announces which guys qualified and which didn't. He announces me as qualifying with a perfect score, and invites everyone to congratulate me, give me a slap on the back, and a punch in the kidneys. I brag. I invite all to worship me if they feel inclined to do so, in fact, I even encourage it. I then turn water into urine. After all, I HAD declared myself the Messiah of the SAW, after one day.
Tonight, I have to qualify night-fire with the SAW, so now just watch as I totally botch it up. By the way, I have NEVER cleaned a weapon so filthy. Thick carbon like you wouldn't believe. Wet black residue just caked all over everything inside it. Its obscene. The black tar of the seventh level of hell is all over that thing. But now I must return to work.