Today we were all set to have a 3×600 yard mid range match. We had a great turn out, beautiful weather, and hardly a whisper of wind. The recent rains had brought both beauty and destruction to 103 Wilcox range, but we had a plan and a means to overcome the inconveniences of mother nature. Or so we thought.
Today was also going to be ‘On The Job Training’ for myself as a fledgling Range Safety Officer. Dave Ellis, John Hermsen, and Mike Jones were all coaching me on my freshly earned position as a club RSO. Of the many things I had to learn in earning these credentials was an understanding of the reach of our projectiles and where their flight might take them. A ‘Surface Danger Zone’ is constructed and it defines a perimeter that our projectiles will come to rest within. Sure, the impact berm is right there and takes the brunt of our volleys of fire. However, a quick flip through the USMC Range Safety Pocket Guide will quickly show that ‘Distance X’ – the farthest an M118 ball projectile might travel – to be 5,288 meters or roughly 3.3 miles. A ‘Cone Type’ SDZ set up for M118 ball ammo (7.62 x 51) with multiple firing points clearly illustrates why we don’t get to shoot 30-06 or 300 Win Mag at Wilcox Range:
Why is this important?
It turns out the day before an exercise among the green fields and bogs of mud back behind Wilcox range 103 ended with a military vehicle stuck and abandoned for recovery efforts to take place at a later time. As a matter of fact, that time was 10am February 25th – a good two hours into our scheduled match! More importantly, said vehicle was less than 3.3 miles away and in the SDZ for Range 103. And for that reason, LONGRIFLE (our range control operations center) could not grant us permission to go hot.
With the range already occupied, fees collected, waivers signed, and all targetry on deck and ready for hoisting we didn’t have much of a choice but to sit and wait it out. Maybe they would get to the stuck vehicle and find it easy to dig out? It was a gamble not everyone would make, but a large number of us decided to stay and wait it out.
Certainly we had all come to shoot, and it didn’t help that the flags slept in while we shuffled around the firing line. I don’t recall any of them waking before 10am!
Sadly, by 10:45am the recovery effort had yet to commence. With no end in sight of our cold range status, the match directors called the match off. Understandingly, we all come together for these matches in a rush and fight our way to the firing line among a pile of other priorities. However today’s delays provided some time to talk and share stories, memories, and information. It was a good time to catch up with a shooting companion or recall the names and faces of those you typically only pass on the way to turn in your score card. For myself it was that and more, as there are lessons learned in both success and in defeat. I was able to see how LONGRIFLE worked closely with our group to keep us informed in an adverse situation. It was also a good reminder that we are guests of the Marine Corps and that it’s main purpose is to train Marines. Leaving that vehicle behind and getting those involved home safe is clearly the priority. Keeping the crew who had to recover that vehicle safe was too. In all of this, maybe some ways down the track, these Marines will recount on the lessons learned from this incident and manage to steer clear of the danger in future where it counts – on the front line. If that day comes, and someones loved one gets to come home because of it, I can’t think of a better outcome for our sacrifice.
Besides, I can tell you from first hand experience, the ammunition expenditure report becomes very simple on days like today!