It was great fun in the beginning. Things were exploding all around me and I was just blasting away at the targets and being the careless indiscriminate little dangerous baby goat soldier that I used to love to be. The noise was carrying me away and the smell of gunpowder pleasantly sharp like needles where my nose turns into my forehead and my eyes sizzled. Before very long the guns almost acted on their own. This was especially true of the shotgun. She is the same one that we use today. I have yet to meet anyone so calming or nurturing nor as faithfully reliable or consistently predictable. She can give more confidence than the best of Kentucky whiskies sometimes.
I remember something sliding toward me from my right when the sergeant blew the whistle and said, “Cease-fire! ” That is when I knew I was a three time no-go and would not be graduating that day. I would have to repeat the entire course or go back to the unit a failure.
So I stopped, unloaded, and made the shotgun safe. I placed her on the ground gently and took one step backward and stood at parade rest, hands behind my back, eyes straight ahead. I was well winded with my nostrils flaring like a racehorse and my heart trying to break free from my chest. I could not see what it was that we shot because it was now behind me and I was not yet allowed to look. I was plenty worried because I knew he always asked.
He asked me what I shot and why and how many times and I sure as hell didn’t know. The shotgun did most of it of her own impulsive accord. The same way a rabid coyote bitch protecting a two-day dead pup from an innocent branch falling off a rotting mesquite bush might, she bit and bit and bit again. It wasn’t my fault. Something approached from the right and she protected the pup. I looked at her for an explanation but she would only say, “Remington 870 Pump, Sergeant Major, US Army 0065389.” I did not like that answer, but I suppose all one can do is respect her for it.