Alexandra's Notebook

Out on the Range

One of the highlights of being stationed in Germany, on a front line base, was that, during a major exercise we were issued with fake guns. Yes, fake as in wooden, because, if we were really at war certain female members within the operations block would be able to carry a sidearm.

I’m not sure how this came about, but, once the decision was made (and not rescinded by subsequent Group Captains) wooden replicas were issued in our mock invasion exercises. All of which meant one thing. That while we might not be allowed to be issued with the real thing during said exercises, we still had to have training on the actual real weapons. And so, on a given day, I was sent along with a handful of other women to the range up by the armoury for weapons training.

You would think they would start us off with the actual hand guns we were going to use, but no, after going through over an hour of training films and an armoury sergeant showing us the various weapons; pistols, rifles, machine guns, and how to handle each one, we finally got out on the range to shoot.

The first weapon?

A machine gun. Why you may ask? Which is exactly what I did, my mouth working before my brain. The instructor explained he wanted us to understand how dangerous these weapons were, and just the kind of damage they could do. And proceeded to talk us through, step by step, one at a time, to fire one. No, not at a target as you might imagine. We had to take up an awkward stance, gun almost on hip, and spray the contents of the clip, left to right, across a series of sandbags piled about 20 feet high some distance from each of us.

Let me tell you, not one of us knew what the hell we were really in for. Those of us who manage not to fall over and kill everyone assemble, hidden behind a barrier, felt like we’d been hit hard, by a car.

These weapons are extremely heavy, they buck, recoil, and are notoriously difficult to control. A few of us manage a quick squeeze, a few fell backward on our arses. A few even hit a sandbag or two. But none of us really controlled the weapon for longer than a heartbeat. Thankfully, the offending weapon was gently taken from our cold fearful grip and made safe before the next victim stepped up to take her turn.

At the end of that session we were all fully cognisant of what it meant to shoot a weapon. And by the time we were handed a handgun, were respectful, alert and utterly focused on the targets at the far end of the range.

The whole course from beginning to end was over 4 hours, and by the end, I for one had a healthy respect for handling weapons. Oh, we also received a nifty certificate of weapons training that, still to this day, I have stashed safely away in a briefcase somewhere.