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  • Fire At Night...

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        Thursday, July 10, 2008

    Fire At Night...

    You owe it to yourself to wangle a visit to an American artillery range at night. Especially if they are practicing 'troops in the open, fire for effect' drills and suchlike. When the KARUMP! KARUMP! starts, and rounds streak outward, and the far horizon lights up in flashes like God is angry, and bringing down the fire and lightening, well...

    When the ground under your feet is juddering and shaking, and it feels as if Gimliesque dwarves are hammering your boot-soles from just underneath the earth, and you have to bend at the knees, and hold your arms out to retain your balance, as each big gun fires in its turn, maybe a second...or two apart. And most of these are combined arms drills, with targets coordinated between tanks, 155 howitzers, heavy mortars, along with 81mm's providing flare illumination, mixed with HE.

    And, oh My Dear God, who could think to stand against this? Tankers are weaving long serpentine lines of tracers downrange, both .50 cal and 7.62 coax, and the wall of lead going out is magnificent, and terrible, and nothing grows there, ever again.

    And I and my company were formed into a column of twos, called to attention, and marched along just under a berm where multiple tanks were parked in a line, and given the command "Forwhordddd, Martch!" And we did. They had been kind enough to allow us our ear plugs...

    The Gates of Hell opened above us, and I doubt the tankers even knew we were there. The tank commanders started rockin and rollin with their .50 cals, and big hot brass came tumbling down the bank, and then the big guns began to kick off, one at a time, in rapid succession, all down the row, as we marched, at shoulder arms, bayonets fixed.

    BOOM! and the entire tank would raise up some, and the bore evacuator would pump out a huge belch of smoke that would waft down and over us, and then the line would begin to belch like angry dragons again, a constant stream of high explosives thundering out and ripping the air not more than 20 feet above our heads. The pressure wave felt like a wooden oar being slammed across your shoulders.

    What we thought was snot running down our faces, we later found to be blood, running out of our noses. Your cheeks would flap back when the main gun fired, and make you grin, whether you wanted to, or not. I used just my eyes to peer out from under my helmet, and watched the spectacle.

    My words are too poor to describe such a thing. Perhaps one word works: Majesty.

    To their credit, our NCO's went with us, then gathered us up at the far end, and had us use EE (Escape and Evasion) techniques to get back to our camp in the woods. Part of our orders were to stay hidden from the MP's that guarded this section of road, and the artillery range. For two days. We did it.

    As squads of us staggered back into our camouflaged tent area, we all noticed that each of us was black with gunsmoke. We left our clothing draped over our tents, crawled in, and left consciousness behind for awhile.

    What do we call that, children? Yep...

    Good Training.