It was Summer 2012, and I was in the Crewman Qualification Training (CQT) phase of the SWCC training pipeline.

Part of CQT included going to Camp Pendleton, CA, to partake in two weeks of weapons training; the first week was dedicated to small arms and the second week to heavy weapons.

The first week went pretty much, as expected, delivering a generous share of beat downs complemented with a healthy dose of sprints up a miniature “mountain,” often with full kits on, in the 100-degree heat. If nothing else, it built character — not like we really needed to build much more “character” at that point.

For the second week, we moved to a heavy weapons range: .50 caliber rounds have a tendency of destroying small arms ranges.

The way this range was designed was that we were on top of a plateau of a hill, the plateau was in the shape of a peninsula surrounded on three sides by a valley down below. At the bottom of this three-sided valley, there was a notable amount of vegetation (hang onto that fact). The weapons mount trailers were lined up on the edge of the plateau. We would be shooting at targets across the valley, to the next hill over. There were 19 of us students, staying in a ‘Nam style tent, at the end of the peninsula, surrounded on three sides by the valley.

One of the shooting ranges of Camp Pendleton.

After arriving at the heavy weapons range, the first day was occupied with setting up the weapons on the trailer mounts. The arsenal included single and double barrel .50 caliber machine guns, single and double barrel M240 machine guns, MK 19 grenade launchers, M79 and M203 grenade launchers, and the GAU-17 aka, the Mini Gun. While that was going on, everyone was also working like the student bitches that we were: unpacking all the ammunition; and attaching the ammo belts together and staging them in cans, so when the time came, we could efficiently start shooting through thousands of rounds.

By about the time the sun was going down, we had wrapped up the bitch work (for the time being) and commenced sending rounds downrange. Mind you, we were students, and historically the most common way for SWCC students to get rolled back in training during CQT was by committing safety violations during weapons training, specifically with heavy weapons. The rule was three strikes, you go home. As a student, you can imagine the instructors were in no mood to show mercy, even at the smallest mistake. Needless to say, we were like a bunch of little Girl Scouts, walking around on rotten eggshells.

The night was uneventful and we capped it off with getting on our hands and knees and picking up the thousands of brass cartridges and steel links that had been dispensed, separating the .50 caliber and 7.62 mm casings, and building more character along the way.