A Well-Timed Face Plant
by Ed McAlister
During Swamp Phase, we were moving to do a raid and I was humping the M60. The M60s we used in Ranger School had all seen hard service, and this Pig was on its last legs – gas tube was loose, the trigger mechanism’s leaf spring would fall off if you winked at it, the sere was worn to a nub. No weapon likes to eat blanks for very long, and this one had been digesting them for years.
The RI that day was a wizened, salty old Philippine-American Master Sergeant, a Vietnam veteran with a Silver Star, three Purple Hearts, and anger management issues. He had fierce black eyes and about 1% body fat; he looked like a living bullet. He had been pissed off at the entire platoon all night and we marched and countermarched for hours; probably slogged 30km to go 5km; in his considered opinion, we were all low-bred and sorrowful pieces of steaming excrement, unfit to scrub a Ranger’s latrine. Or words to that effect; none of us were tabbing out at this rate, and he hoped we enjoyed our stay in the swamps because we were all going to do it again if he had any say in the matter.
There was OPFOR all around, and the idea was we needed to be stealthy (or at least as stealthy as zombies can be): get caught out by the OPFOR, fail the patrol. We moved in wedge formation and came to a red clay road, halted, and sent a fire team across to secure the far side. My role was to move out about 20 meters south and set up security for the road crossing. I unfolded the bipod, dusted the sights and feed tray with a shaving brush, and staggered out with my ammo bearer Ranger buddy and started moving cautiously toward a spot that I thought would cover the approach to the crossing site.
I got about 10 meters from the rest of the platoon when my ammo bearer got hung up in the wait-a-minute vines all around our feet, did a pirouette worthy of a prima ballerina, and lurched into me, causing us both to fall face first, with my forehead whacking the carrying handle.
I would swear to a merciful God (although I could be wrong) that I had good trigger discipline and didn’t touch the trigger at all, but as soon as I splattered onto the forest floor, the weapon erupted in a continuous, runaway-gun roar. I – or more accurately, the beat up old pig – belched an entire belt of blanks in less time than it takes to tell it. So much for stealth, and I visualized my chances of a Ranger tab dissolving into the ether.
To my shock, we immediately got return fire from an OPFOR ambush set up roughly 5 meters from where I took the face plant. To their credit, the rest of my platoon took immediate action and assaulted straight across the ambush by squads. I managed to cram another belt in the feed tray and got busy laying down more grazing fire.
After what seemed like an hour, but probably was about three minutes, the RI called a halt to the festivities and declared the mission a success. “That’s the way you pull freaking flank security, dammit; don’t wait for orders, don’t ask for permission, just unload that long-ass burst right into them. Good eye Ranger, way to react to contact.” Major-Plus Spot Report for Ranger McAlister. I thought it would be bad form to let him know it was entirely accidental.