Monday, February 24, 2014

I Get To Carry a Rifle

OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea -- Senior Airman Ben Vincent guards the flightline during a chemical exercise here.
He is assigned to the 51st Security Forces Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Bradley C. Church)
As I mentioned the other day (here), I once was given the opportunity, no, the sacred trust, of guarding stuff at NATO Air Base Geilenkirchen in Germany. While I didn't have the awesome ride nor the magnificent M-2 .50 caliber machine gun which SrA Vincent has above, I did have an amazingly heavy German rifle to lug around for 12 hours at a time. Oh yeah, I had the MOPP* gear too. Which also had to be lugged around. Though sometimes I got to wear the MOPP gear. I'm still of two minds as to which was harder, lugging it, or wearing it. But we'll get to that.

German G3 Rifle (7.62x51mm NATO)

On the Security Augmentation Force (SAF), most of us carried the German G3. In the picture above, it's the one in the foreground, with the wooden stock. This rifle weighs in the neighborhood of 10 pounds. However, the longer you have to carry one, the heavier it gets. By the end of the standard SAF 12-hour shift, your rifle weighs (and this is an approximation) roughly 350 metric tonnes. Or thereabouts.

Now when guarding stuff during a NATO exercise, it is absolutely essential to carry your MOPP gear with you. Because if you have the sheer bad luck to be assigned to the day shift, you know that they are going to sound the chemical attack siren, at least once. You also know that they won't sound the "All Clear" for at least 2 hours after the initial "attack".

So odds are, you're going to need that stuff. And there will be exercise evaluators (or a$$holes as we called them) wandering about hoping (praying) to catch someone who is not fully "playing the game". Those types get to be declared "casualties" and sent off to a central holding point. Perhaps you're thinking "Sweet. Sent off. Don't have to play anymore."

Well, yes, that's true. But you need to factor in the a$$-chewing and the assignment to guard the perimeter fence on the opposite side of the base in the middle of the night on the next shift. Yup, immediately after the shift you just pulled as a "casualty". It pays to play the game according to the rules.

As a member of the SAF, I had the opportunity to guard three different places. During two separate exercises. The first exercise I had the day shift. Guarding a supply building. I was told to "stay out of the way" and "look busy".


During that stint, all I did was pace back and forth near the building. Grimacing at all and sundry and making potentially menacing gestures with my rifle. That was fun for a while. Then the attack siren sounded. Yes, the chemical one. Crap!

Rifle gets propped against a tree as I squirm into my MOPP gear. Once the mask is on I am now, to all intents and purposes, an armed Mister Magoo. Yes, the fellow below. Myopic star of stage and screen.

Mr. Magoo

For you see, I had the old style gas mask -

For which I did have eyeglass inserts (which would typically fog up and stay fogged up right after donning said mask) but didn't bother with. With them I was effectively blind due to the fogging issues and they would occasionally fall off, inside the mask. (The way they were mounted was rather awkward.)

Without them I could at least see somewhat clearly out to about ten yards. I could see shapes beyond that range. If I had ever been near a "real" war I would have been screwed. To put it bluntly, our chem gear (while allegedly effective) was cumbersome, uncomfortable and made one essentially 50% effective after a couple of hours. It was most certainly made by the lowest bidder. (Oddly enough, when I joined the NBC team, we used German-issue chem gear which was far better than the US variety. Though the mask wasn't as good, everything else fit better and was more comfortable. Unless we were on the vehicle decontamination team. Where we wore all-rubber suits. It's like having your own personal sauna. Which you can neither turn off nor leave!)

Fortunately I didn't have to menace anyone while I was wearing my MOPP gear. Primarily because most people stay inside (if they can) during these drills. So the a$$holes, I mean evaluators, can't spot them not wearing their chem gear. Not that I would ever do that. Ever. (There's no evidence and all participants were sworn to secrecy. Besides which, that was in the old days, on the flight line. Generally they left us alone during exercises as the jets still needed to get fixed, regardless of the games being played. Hhmm, there's another blog post right there. Again, I need to write that down somewhere...)

So that was my one time on day shift.

For the second exercise in which I got to simulate standing firm against the Soviet hordes (which had ceased to exist when I was doing all this) I was assigned to the night shift. Guarding the USAF clinic. For this I was instructed, "No one goes near the clinic without you challenging them and checking their ID cards." Awesome. I get to mess with medical types. They are of a semi-military nature, these medical types. We're not talking corpsmen attached to Marine battalions or your "out in the field with the grunts" Army medics. Nope, these are partially militarized doctors and nurses and their attendant flunkies staff.

While the "staff" (Air Force enlisted types) are as military as the rest of the Air Force (i.e. not that much), the doctors and nurses are simply medical types who received direct commissions due to their medical skills. I think they go to a two week school where they learn how to wear a uniform (training which was wasted IMHO) and learn about who had to salute them and who they had to salute. And how to salute, many of them never mastered that skill. (But that's okay, I've never, ever seen a fighter pilot who knew how to salute. Or cared for that matter.) So yeah, doctors and nurses were essentially civilians wearing uniforms.

So I started my shift to keep the clinic safe from the simulated (non-existent) Soviet hordes. Shortly after night had fallen, I saw my first two victims approaching. What appeared to be an Airman First Class and a captain, probably a doctor.

Now bear in mind, I'm semi-concealed in the shadows, trying to be stealthy and all. The doc and the airman had no idea I was there until I stepped from the shadows and barked "HALT! Who goes there?" In my best martial voice mind you.

I think the airmen may have wet himself, the doctor went from startled to indignant...

"What the hell are you playing at? You scared the sh!t out of us!"

"ID! NOW!" Said while racking the bolt back to chamber a round. (While all I had was blank ammunition, they didn't know that. Though the blank adapter would have been a dead giveaway to an actual military type.)

Now the airman is scrambling to get his wallet out. The doctor (bless his soul) is still trying to be all rough and tough.

"Now look here Sarge, we need to get into the clinic..."

"ID! NOW!" Rifle is now swinging to a rather menacing position.

The light finally comes on for the good doc and he produces his ID card.

"So what would you have done if I didn't show you my ID?" The doctor asked, politely this time.
"Well Sir. First move would be to put you on the ground with your hands behind your head. Had you refused or if the airman tried to jump me, I would have shot you both."

"You're kidding, right?"

"No Sir. I'm not kidding."

"So can we go in now?"

"Of course, Sir. Have a nice night, Sir."

The word got out. Everybody else coming to the clinic that night had their IDs out and ready as they approached the entrance.

NATO Air Base Geilenkirchen (Part)

Now that yellow delimited area to the left is the USAF Clinic at Geilenkirchen. That area to the right is the base headquarters (HQ). That wooded area in between is behind the NATO Clinic and is fenced in with a chain link fence topped with barbed wire. Sort of an invitation to stay out of said area.

So of course, while making my rounds around the clinic, while in the lower right part of the yellow bordered area, at (or around) 0300 local, I saw approximately 6 armed individuals climbing over the chain link fence.

I jumped into a convenient ditch (which provided cover and concealment) and brought my weapon to bear on those 6 individuals. (Who were making very slow time over the fence. Remember, it was topped with barbed wire.)

My first instinct was to bellow "HALT OR I'LL SHOOT" and then commence firing if they did not halt. My second thought was to call this event into the command post. Perhaps those were good guys doing something.

Command post responded with "don't shoot, we got this".

As I watched, the guys trying to go over the fence stopped their efforts and schlepped back the way they came. Seems they were pretending to be "Soviet hordes" and I (and my trusty G3) had stopped them in their tracks.

When it was all said and done, the Luftwaffe guy guarding the building across the street asked me, "What was that all about?"

Apparently his idea was to stand blithely in the middle of the road and watch the proceedings. I guess he didn't feel the need to get involved.

His sergeant disagreed. This worthy showed up as I was explaining to my German colleague what had just happened. The sergeant (Hauptfeldwebel if you must know) replaced the guy with an American and could be heard chewing the lowly flieger's butt all the way down the road. Yes, they were in a vehicle. The sergeant did not sound happy.

So, you may wonder, what was my reward for this brilliance in guarding stuff? Why, the second (and last) night of the exercise, I actually got to guard the command post itself. Wonder of wonders that I was entrusted with that responsibility.

But in retrospect I shouldn't be that surprised. After all, I had stopped the rampaging, simulated (non-existent) Soviet hordes on the first night. Who better to protect the command post?

But that was a long, long time ago. In a land far away. But it was somewhat fun. Though nowhere near as fun as Skip's adventures in the Shore Patrol. Not even close. Though Skip didn't mention any firearms in his story, at least I got to carry a rifle. (A big heavy rifle mind you...)

*MOPP = Mission Oriented Protective Posture. Think chemical warfare protective clothing. Think wearing this for hours at a time. Think hot, sweaty and absolutely cumbersome.


  1. Yeah, you guys and your reindeer games... sigh... PITA is what they were/are...

  2. The Navy has had some problems with unannounced exercises. One ship even fired two NATO Sea Sparrow Missiles into a Turkish ship because nobody told the Fire Controlman, who had just been woken up from a dead sleep, that this was a drill. It takes something away from the realism of the training, but it keeps people from dying. I think your guard duty would have ended quite badly had you shot first and asked questions later with those Soviet hordes climbing over the fence. Can I assume that you were either not carrying live ammo, knew it was a drill, or were ordered to call things in first?

    1. As it was an exercise, we were only issued blank ammunition. They didn't really train us to do anything other than how to fire and clean the weapon.

      As to the "hordes" going over the fence, it was a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand was doing.

      In a real-world situation, opening fire on those dorks would have been the correct response. Had it not been an exercise, I would have fired. I still think I should have, but knowing what would probably happen, i.e. me getting my ass chewed, calling it in was probably the "correct" move.

      The time it took to call it in and get word back against an actual competent opponent (think Spetznaz) would have resulted in most of the Wing Command Staff being butchered in their bunker.

  3. Interesting, Air Force using German rifles. Trust me, better than an M-14 (early issue).
    Shame on you; all those S-3 types worked very hard to come up with a realistic exercise. Just ask them.

    1. Remember, we were part of NATO. The Germans supplied the rifles AND pistols (the P-1, exact same pistol as the P-38).

      Yeah, S-3 types.

  4. Sr Airman Vincent needs to punch the bore of that Ma Deuce...

    When I was doing SECFOR in Kuwait we worked with the Air Force Security types at Ali Al Salem. It was kind of interesting to see the differences between the two operations. They had better infrastructure, but we were loaded for bear. When we rolled up with Mk19's and M2's mounted it always got their full attention - we normally ran with 240's and 249's. We also carried way more ammo than they did. Intra service rivalries aside we got along pretty well with them.

    1. The Air Force Security types can be very good.

  5. There's nothing as entertaining (after the fact) to Marine guards at a top secret installation as making the CO & CINCPACFLT go face-down in the snow because they weren't on the "official visitors log" for that day. Didn't take long for that incident to get around the base. At least the Marines got letters of commendation from the CO and the admiral later.

    But I like your story about catching the ravening Soviet horde climbing the fence. I'm still snickering over that one.

    1. I'd pay good money to see that.

      From a respectable distance, of course.

  6. Sidearms on Shore Patrol?
    Perish the thought.
    They gave us sticks... really hard sticks... to beat our foes into submission if it got that far.
    The only time we had any arms was standing watch on the ship.
    The bow watch had an M-1 Garand, the midships watch and Petty Officer of the Watch had 1911 Colt automatics.
    Only the midship watch was locked and loaded because he may, or may not have been guarding nukes.
    The only other time I came near a sidearm was when making a guard mail run.
    The only times I ever saw armed Shore Patrol was when they were permanently attached to an Armed Forces Police unit, as in the HASP (Hawaii Armed Services Police) in Honolulu or the AFP (Armed Forces Police) in San Francico).
    Those guys had all been sent for specialty training and were what we called a goon squad.

    1. Well, with a full magazine of 20 blank rounds, if the noise and flash of firing all those blanks didn't scare them off, I could always hit 'em with the rifle.

      Like I said, it was pretty heavy.

  7. Ah, I remember exercises in full chem gear at RAF Uxbridge in the early '80s. My take-away from that was a feeling of absolute compassion for the guys who had to labor in chem gear during the Gulf wars. It's one thing to live in chem gear in Old Blighty where the temps are moderate, even in summer, and QUITE another to have to wear that krep in the desert.

    I was a member of a Security Police augmentee team in the mid-'70s and carried a .38, seeing as how I was the NCOIC of the augmentee team... which was MUCH better than carrying a rifle around. I don't look back on those times with ANY degree of fondness, period, end of report.

    1. I couldn't begin to imagine wearing MOPP gear in the desert.

      Ooh, NCOIC of the augmentee team! Me, I was just a grunt...


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