The Gunnery Range
When I was still under training the Navy put us through a small arms course and anti-terrorist training (although this was no where as in-depth that I figure it is now). It was based up at the Army reserve at the end of Whangaparoa Peninsula and we were based there for five days.
The first couple of days included hitting the obstacle courses, the biggest Flying Fox I’ve ever seen, and the obligatory “Gunner’s Run”, a movie style run with gear and in boots around the peninsula – everyone had to finish together (which isn’t easy when you have some absolute soft-cocks amongst you!).
The next day was spent on the gunnery ranges where we were taught the use of a multitude of small arms such as the 9mm Browning, Steyr, SLR, and SMG (Small Machine Gun, similar, but smaller, to what Rambo used). The Steyr had recently replaced the SLR as the standard weapon of choice in the NZ Forces (built under license in Australia) and is a fantastically simple, light and easy to use two-stage assault rifle – trigger half way back fires in semi-auto mode, fully depressed engages full auto, with a 30 round magazine. The heavy, old SLR it replaced looks like a fusion between the famed M16 Machine Gun and AK47 Kalashnikov. And the difference in firing is incredible – you barely notice the shot or recoil out of the Steyr whereas the SLA could leave you with bruising in the shoulder.
We got to use this standard issue on the long-range at three different distances – 100, 200, and 300m – aiming at a head cut out attached to a 2m pole that colleagues would hold aloft in a trench at the other end of the course. Nothing but the best in trust in our Defence Force! I shot 100% on the range, apparently the first Officer to do so in the RNZN. I think it would have earned me a beer, however we were on no-alcohol for the first six months of training! They did however let me fire the SMG with a full belt…I remember saying it was as good as sex!
That night we were to go into the field and act out some war games and other simulations – split into groups we were given a series of objectives within the boundaries of the Army Reserve. One such objective was to secure and defend a large oak (still plainly visible on Google Maps) which we did so for about four or five hours, and imagine our bemusement as we watched two Iroquois helos drop in about half a dozen Air Force Dog Handlers (dogs used for smelling out explosives etc) who were coming to ‘get us’!? They never did make it. And we were to have an even larger battle with them early the following morning night…
During our objectives we broke into shifts for watch and sleep and cooking our chow which is not easy when trying to conceal your position – things like oranges were banned (a lesson learned from Vietnam) as was smoking. Sometime about midnight we were instructed to covertly move to another spot deep in a gully and protect a river crossing. I was Team Leader on this one…
I took first watch (as a leader should!) with a mate, Brad. The others got some kip and I asked another mate, Tama, to relieve me after two hours. I remember finding a great spot in the rushes and settling down for what I expected to be a quiet night. About an hour later the night was shattered by thunder flashes (harmless explosion makers) and CS Gas (Tear Gas) cannisters exploding around us. I was asked what we should do, my reply was simple…”nothing”. Let them come to us, why reveal ourselves? The bombardment carried on for a full 20mins and then nothing. Then the radio came to life as our trainers tried to raise us which is when I knew it was them firing at us so I kept completely silent. They were amazed that we didn’t reveal ourselves; they actually thought we hadn’t made our objective and their intent was to flush us into the open and deny us any sleep or rest – needless to say they were impressed with our balls.
At the end of my shift, Tama came looking for me but couldn’t locate me in the dark, and I wasn’t responding to his whispers…probably because like any sharp watch dog, I was asleep!!!! Anyway, his calls to me got louder and more urgent until I finally heard him, pretending I was keeping shtum as I thought I heard someone approaching from outside the camp (Yeah, Right). We had a quick chat, and then i skulked back to the centre of our base in amongst a group of cabbage trees that provided us a perfect shelter. I got to chatting to a couple of the guys (one was in fact Julie, a girl) when all of a sudden I heard something behind us. I signalled the other two to arm up and be ready. And then there were more noises, all around us…then I heard Brad, still in his post challenge, “Halt! Who goes there!?” The noise coming from the other side stopped and I immediately ordered “Open Fire!” and all hell broke loose. Now I reckon I must have seen too many war movies as all anyone remembers next is me standing in the open, shirt off, gun at the hip firing and screaming “Die Mutha Fuckers!” – the moment got me I think. It was our friends from the Air Force again, they had heard Tama from way up on the road so sneaked into position, something that took them over and hour only to be wiped out by us!
We were then asked to move up to one of the old bunkers about three miles away for our last objective – we got there in quick time but our trainers were looking for some payback and threw thunder flashes into our concrete den – but they didn’t count on Brad who quick as a fl;ash (no pun intended) threw one straight back which exploded (literally) under the nose of one of the Lieutenants. He was not impressed!
That day, still lacking sleep we were to go to the gun range for 9mm training. This gun is the issued side-arm for Officers of the RNZN when involved in boarding parties on foreign vessels. Now this is not the easiest gun to use and I think only two or three of us scored higher than 50% – that bullshit where gangstas can shoot all manner of things holding a handgun is bullocks – the recoil all but ensures a 50/50 chance of hitting the ground let alone a target, especially one moving and firing back with machine guns!!! This gun had a habit of kicking back a lot, which made you drop the barrel for the next shot to compensate. I remember at one point being lined up with three others and asked to shoot at a target about 40m away. The 9mm has a 13 shot mag, (you can throw another into the chamber as well) and we were asked to fire at the target at arm’s length without stopping i.e. keep firing until expended. That was when it happened…
Carmen was a fellow Cantabrian who I met while going through the recruitment process and (I think) she was the first female to be accepted as a Seaman Officer, Executive Branch (I know, the jokes are endless not to mention ironic) – this in effect meant she was the first female, potentially, to be able to take command of a warship.
Anyway, she started firing and the barrel kept jumping up, she compensated with the following shots but was not having any luck, and ended up by the fifth shot of over-compensating and we all ran for our lives as she kept plugging live rounds closer and closer into the dirt. The Petty Officer in charge of the range started yelling over his shoulder to stop firing as he also ran for his life, but she didn’t hear – her last shot, without a lie, was fired less than a foot in front of her, a progression getting closer and closer until the mag was empty. She claimed she froze and didn’t know what to do…”let go of the fucken trigger” I think the Petty Officer was heard to say.