Samantha has returned from her vacation and continues with her description of Plebe Summer. She had two roommates, Ashley Carr and Danielle Tennant. As the de facto room commander, she took a special interest in both of them. The first time at weapons training signaled a coming crisis.
Let me tell you about Ashley. She was one of the smaller female plebes. Blond hair, blue eyes, great figure, she had been the homecoming queen for her high school. If I’m any judge, she was beautiful.
However, she was also spoiled. Don’t get me wrong, she was my roommate and I genuinely liked her, but the pressures of plebe life got to her in a hurry. I mentioned the rack making problem before. That was only the tip of the iceberg.
There was more to summer than the Physical Exercise Program and keeping quarters dust-free. There was seamanship training. There was learning how to handle shipboard emergencies such as fires and leaks. There was marching in formation which included M-1 rifles and bayonets on occasion. And there was weapons training.
When we returned from our first PEP, I was worn out, but both Ashley and Danielle were really dragging. I knew time was limited, so I got on both of them to hurry up. Danielle took it as if she knew it was important. Ashley, on the other hand, grumbled, “Leave me alone. Can’t you see I’m dying here.”
I finally coaxed her into action that day and the next and the next … . I didn’t welcome the job, but we were supposed to be a team so I kept it up. There were other minor breakdowns, but I regularly patted her on the back or hugged her and told her to hang in there. She did, but I could tell she was growing more and more frustrated. I hoped the first day of weapons training would bring some relief because it meant we skipped PEP. Instead, it brought a new problem.
Ashley was still shaken. “But I really believed he had shot himself. How was I supposed to even touch a gun after that?”
She was talking about what happened in the gun safety briefing. As the trainer was telling us guns were dangerous and to be handled with the utmost care, a pistol went off. A midshipman near the front fell to the ground, and his gun skittered away. The trainer immediately ordered us to keep our seats and remain quiet, while the detailers converged on the fallen mid. The silence lasted only a short time. Then a buzz started. “What happened?” “His gun shouldn’t have been loaded!” “How bad is he hurt?”
In a matter of minutes a siren announced an ambulance arriving. Everyone went silent again. The EMTs picked up the limp body, placed him on a gurney, and covered his face with a sheet. All the while, the head trainer kept emphasizing how we had all seen the importance of gun safety in action. “You see what can happen if you forget about safety for just a split second.”
Then, right as the gurney was about to be pushed into the ambulance, the supposedly dead mid sat up and waved to everyone. The reactions were everything from a loud sigh of relief to anger at having been played. We found out afterwards that he was an upper classman who volunteered to play the role, but an unforgettable impact had been imprinted on all of us.
The rest of the day continued with training in disassembly and cleaning of the guns we would use, sight adjustment, how to hold and aim the gun, and range safety. Finally we got to actually fire the weapons.
During the pre-fire gun handling I noticed that Ashley had problems immediately. It was as if she was afraid to touch the gun. The detailers got on her to hurry up, but that just made it worse. I finally had to intervene. Using the appropriate protocol to address the detailers, I got permission to talk to her.
“Okay Ashley, here’s the deal. Someday you may need your weapon to save your life or someone else’s. It comes with the territory of being a naval officer. That means you need to know that your gun is going to work and work right. That’s what we’re learning here.”—Actually, I had already trained on the civilian version of the M9—“Think of it this way: as long as the gun is disassembled, the only way anyone can be hurt by it is if you throw it at them. You need to learn this, so grit your teeth and do it.”
I guess my persistence with her over PEP was enough. She smiled at that image. She went back to work and finished the day. Her scores weren’t impressive, but at least she completed the live fire.
After her outburst in our quarters, I took her shoulders and turned her so I could see her eye to eye. “But you did it,” I emphasized. “You faced that demon and overcame it.”
She grinned weakly and wiped away a tear trickling down her cheek. “I did, didn’t I?”
But I knew I couldn’t always be there for her.