*Where's Your Weapon?*
By: gvi
05 August 2005

An old joke has it that you can blindfold and handcuff an Army Private and lock him in a darkened bank vault with two bowling balls; when you opened the vault the next morning, one of the bowling balls would be broken and the other would be missing.

Trust me, PVT Joe or Jane Snuffy can find a way.

Many of you will read this and think "Oh, come ON, gvi, give me a break! This is common sense stuff!" Iíll admit itís something we all ought to know better about. Believe it or not, though, people leave their weapons unattended over here in Iraq, of all places, so I bring up the topic for the value of a lesson learned.

I work in a Post Office. One soldier came through today, sending her stuff home before she ships out. She mistakenly left her rifle, along with a backpack and other personal effects, in our Humvee, which looks almost exactly like hers. Donít know why or how, but there they were.

PVT Snuffy will find a way.

It wasnít until a couple hours after we closed that she discovered where it was. Fortunately, many of us stay after closing time, catching up on paperwork, or more often, goofing off on the computers. She ships out tomorrow, so you can imagine her relief upon recovering it.

Allís well that ends well, but the event raises some questions, the answers to which I believe are instructive to survivalists.

Whatís the worst that could happen?

Why does it happen in the first place, and to a SOLDIER, of all people?

What can we learn from it?

How do we ensure that this never happens to us or those in our group?

We all know the worst that could happen-thatís easy. The worst that could happen is for a bad guy (here or at home) to take your weapon and use it against you or your buddies. Frankly, I donít know which is worse; losing oneís life to oneís own weapon, or living with knowing that your buddies are dead through your carelessness.

But why did it happen? Weapon accountability is something Iíve almost never seen discussed as a survival topic. We seem to take it for granted that weíre going to have our weapon on us at all times, and here in Iraq thatís often the case. When weíre outside the wire, our weapons never leave us (although even there, Iíve been on one mission where a soldierís pistol was stolen right out of his holster).

But hereís a striking truth. Here in a war zone, as much as in a survival situation back stateside, there will be many times when a soldier is not within armís length of his firearm. He might be working on a vehicle in the motor pool, or listening to radio traffic at the TOC, or eating in the mess hall, or just hanging around his living quarters. At none of these times is his rifle likely to be in hand or slung behind his back.

Another factor is that, despite the fact that weíre in a war zone, in this war at least, soldiers donít fire their rifles too terribly often. Those of us in support units certainly donít-Iíve been in country more than half a year, and while Iíve been shot at several times, the opportunity to return fire has yet to present itself (God grant it doesnít!). A survival situation, a retreat especially, may well be quite similar. Most of the time, your firearm is less a weapon than a Damned Thing you have to carry around all the time. This leads to complacency.

Lastly, as in the case of this soldier, she had a big distraction-she was going home. Current and former soldiers here know how all-consuming the thought can be. When youíre "short," itís the only thing you can think about. Itís hard to concentrate on anything else. Other things can distract over here, too. My job description doesnít have anything to do with shooting at people, and when Iím sorting packages, I donít give my rifle a second thought. The same is true of most other soldiers; even combat arms soldiers lose track of their rifles when theyíre working on vehicles, doing a work detail, and so on. "Out of sight, out of mind." Survival situations can bring their own share of distractions, too.

Whatís this teach us? Very simply, it teaches us that even in a place where you would think your weapon is the most important thing you think about, it ainít. Highly trained and intelligent soldiers, being only human, will forget where their weapons are. No sense denying it. It happens here and can happen to you or me at home.

Now what do we do to minimize the likelihood of this happening to us? Thereís no one foolproof system. As a former co-worker of mine back home used to say that "thereís no such thing as foolproofÖthe best you can hope for is Ďidiot-resistant.í" There are common-sense steps to take, though, and they must be scrupulously observed.

The bottom line is for everyone to understand that people WILL misplace their weapons, and must train themselves into simple, common-sense habits that minimize the possibility of it happening to them. Team leaders must also understand this, and make accountability an important part of everything their team does.

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