“Now imagine a circle about ten inches around and at the center of it is your projectile as it flies downrange. Somewhere inside of that circle is what we refer to as the killzone.” I drew a circle representative of the maximum point-blank range with a dot at the center to represent the bullet. I risked a quick glance at my audience and saw a lot of bored looks but even more confused ones.
“Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of shooting.” I said taking another quick glance. Heads were raised and looked interested. Everything I did now was a delaying tactic. I could only hope that Sarah was taking advantage. “Ballistic coefficients are an incredibly important part of putting a round exactly where you want it. . .” I saw eyes roll as I turned back to the board and began writing out the formula for figuring out ballistic coefficient–or something close to it– and launched into a monotone and overly detailed explanation on the importance of ballistic coefficients and sectional density.
It was approaching midday and the men were already tired from their efforts in getting the trenches dug out for the range. Summer was nearly here and while the temperature didn’t get much above the mid 70’s, sitting out under the sun listening to the least interesting lecture to concern shooting ever given was definitely taking a toll on the men.
The women were going to have a much different program from the men when I got the chance to train them, but for now I needed every second I could get to make my plan come to fruition. No matter how well I got them prepared, I could only see death as our reward.
Fuck it. Win or lose I was going to make these men bleed. I was determined that they would have to claw and scratch like wild animals for every inch of ground they could gain.
Michael arranged a little treat for the men at lunch. While he had been off on his mysterious trips he had done some trading and came back with a case of macaroni and cheese as well as some prepackaged brownies. Great food for warriors.
I ate a little of the macaroni and avoided desert all together. A pit was starting to form in the pit of my stomach. Any plan I could come up with had to pass scrutiny by Murphy. I started to wonder how much the stress of worrying about something I couldn’t control was going to affect my leadership when it came time to drop the gloves and get to fighting.
This wasn’t the first time I’d experienced this. I’d never found myself scared while in combat– unless I had time to think. Right now time to think seemed to be the thing I had in great supply. I tried to recall the stanza from the Hávamál about fools lying awake at night worrying over a problem only to find themselves exhausted come morning, but couldn’t recall the exact wording. Wise words seemed cold counsel to a man heading to his last fight.
I pushed away from the table and loped off to the range . Shooting had always worked like xanax for me, relaxing me and silencing stray thoughts allowing me to focus. I barely noticed that as soon as I left the table the men I’d been lecturing stood up and wearily followed along behind me.
I had inspected the crates of Mosin-Nagant’s several times comparing barrels and finding most of them to be acceptable with only a few being almost to the point of needing to have new barrels. Set aside was one with the cleanest bore I’d found and it was this rifle I grabbed as I hit the range. I looked back over my shoulder and saw Donnelly a few feet away. I motioned him over and told him to hop in the trenches and take some targets with him. Donnelly looked dubious at my order but obeyed nonetheless.
I slid a round into the breech and stoof facing at a slight angle to my target with the rifle’s sling around my elbow to secure my stance. I felt light as a feather as I slid the bolt home and became aware of my breathing. I took three deep breaths and rode out the last one to the natural pause and squeezed the trigger. I didn’t even care that I hit the target, or the slight yelp from Donnelly I heard somewhere between the trigger squeeze and the impact.
I waited until Donnelly moved back to the next trench before taking my shot. My mind was a perfect blank, consisting of only enough information to work the bolt and squeeze the trigger. Donnelly made it to the last trench and began walking back and forth with the target offering me the chance to engage a moving target at 300 yards. The last round spent, I worked the bolt and watched the casing fly out and tumble to the ground.
Brass hitting the ground had to be my favorite sound. With my head now as clear as it was it was also the only sound. I came back to Earth and looked at all the recruits standing around staring at me with naked envy in their eyes. I slung the big Mosin over my shoulder and smiled at them all. I saw eyes watching me, hopefully. Expectantly. I crushed their hope.
“My target is 275 meters or a bit over 300 yards away. The bullet travels at almost 2900 feet per second. What is my time of flight?” I couldn’t recall if I’d covered this with them–external ballistics bored me and I loved pretty much everything about shooting–so the blank stares that greeted my question weren’t a surprise.
“All right, gentlemen go grab your rifles.” the blank stares dissolved as the men ran for the crates.
“I want ten men here on the firing line!” I yelled at the recruits standing at the crates inspecting the rifles. Slow movers caught my specially trained eye and I smiled “you three! Pick up these targets and get into the trenches!”
The men I singled out looked like they might wet themselves, but they took up the targets and spread out into the trenches. “On the firing line!” the ten recruits that had come first to the firing line snapped to attention. “First person to answer my question, gets to shoot! Now: what is my time of flight?” I counted to ten. “Congratulations gentleman, your failure to answer has just earned you a one mile sprint. Next ten step forward!”
The next few stepped forward rifles at the ready but not a confident look among them. “What is the ballistic coefficient for the 150 grain round fired from these rifles?” I saw a couple of them look around confused but one lightbulb stepped forward and spoke “Uh, .325? Sir?”
I tried to hide my surprise but I don’t think I did very well. I nodded “Commence firing.” I watched the men expend a magazine full of ammunition before I ordered the targets brought up. Of the fifty rounds expended eight had actually hit the targets.
“All right, secure your weapons and grab some pickets and get in the trenches. Next group, approach the line.” I thought I wanted them not to handle the rifles. but the more I thought about it I realized I needed the men shooting so that when the women took up weapons it wouldn’t raise too many questions from Michael. I didn’t intend to have the women running and doing crazy exercises I needed them to be as rested and relaxed as I could get them.
I let the men shoot in rounds and hoped the limited exposure I was allowing them would be enough. These guys were pretty terrible shots as it were. but like most men they were reluctant to admit or acknowledge their skills were sub par. I encouraged them as though they were the very image of Vasily Zaitsev and they ate it up even though the evidence was staring them straight in the face.
Every group of shooters exiting the trenches had to patch up their targets and hand them off to the group going in. This involved sticking a piece of tape over the holes made by the bullets which weren’t all that many.
The group I’d sent out for a run had returned and got worked into the lineup after they’d had a chance to cool down from the run. I didn’t want them learning how to deal with the adrenaline rush or pure panic of shooting in combat than they may have already gained.
Seeing the men getting battered by the heavy recoil being transmitted through the steel butt plate of the big Russian rifle was telling of a demoralizing all its own. They were men. They didn’t want to admit that the recoil from this relic was painful and in many cases almost more than they could cope with.
If I could keep this up. . .
I almost smiled. Hope is a dangerous thing to give a desperate man.