Read part I here.
A few hours later we were allowed back onto the range, cleared hot to commence our night shoot. There was still fire in the valley and it had spread across the terrain, but it was considered under control.
As before, we shot into the night, firing all of our weapons, including parachute flares from M79 grenade launchers. In case anyone has been living under a rock their entire lives, flares are hot and burn, that’s their only function. Common sense would probably tell you that hot flares can cause fires; if this is what you thought, you are correct. Well, that fire in the valley that was “under control” slowly started growing again.
We finished our night shoot and began prepping ammo for the next day, it was around midnight. All of the instructors had left except for two who were assigned to stay with us that night.
When we began pulling the ammo out, we made the beautiful discovery that some moron in the armory had successfully ordered .50 caliber sniper rounds for our .50 caliber machine guns, for the third day of shooting. .50 caliber sniper rounds, when delivered in ammunition cans, are not linked together, which makes sense considering sniper rifles are not belt-fed weapons. This presented an inherent problem since our M2 Browning .50 caliber machine guns were very much belt-fed weapons.
The instructors ordered us to begin linking the sniper rounds together so that they could be used: we’re talking thousands and thousands of rounds here. Thank God we still had the links that we had picked up the days before.
This went on for hours. It felt like the scene out of Happy Gilmore when Ben Stiller was yelling at grandma to keep knitting after she complained that her hands hurt.
To soothe the pain, someone kept replaying Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” song on the loudspeaker. On that hill, that night, everyone knew the words to that song. A dance sequence may or may not have also been created. What happens at Pendleton, stays at Pendleton.
The fire was still going strong and at this point had traveled around the tip of the peninsula and surrounded the range on three sides. We headed to our tent to go to sleep: it was almost as bright as daytime due to the burning fire. I asked the Class Leader if maybe we should go check one more time with the instructors about staying in the tent for the night.
Personally, I had already decided there wasn’t a chance in hell that I was going to go to sleep.
Not five minutes went by and the instructors came running down. “Get out of the tent! We gotta load all the laid out ammo into the box truck and get out of here!”
Here we go again.
We literally started just heaving hundreds of .50 cal and 7.62 mm ammo cans into the back of a box truck, so they wouldn’t all explode. All of those functional CrossFit workouts really came in handy that night.
The fire was on three sides of us and growing by the second; to say we were hustling would be an understatement.
Finally, we loaded up the box truck, jumped into vans and got the hell out of there. About the same time we were leaving was when the fire trucks came rushing up the range road.
We spent the last few hours before daylight catching a nap in some barracks.
The next morning, two instructors and three students, including myself, drove out to the range to assess the damage. Because of all of the exploding 40 mm grenade rounds, Marine EOD also graced us with their presence.
Upon arrival, the valley was still smoldering and the hillsides were completely charred. Our tent and gear were covered in burns from flying embers and what appeared to be some shrapnel holes.
We then looked down the hillside, which now had zero vegetation coverage. It was like Easter Sunday: there were unexploded “golden eggs” everywhere! For those of you that don’t know, “golden egg” is a slang term for a 40 mm round, due to the golden rounded projectile on the front-end of the cartridge. Well, our jaws dropped. The EOD guys were in disbelief. I am not pointing fingers, but that range was primarily used by Marines. With a little basic deductive reasoning, we came up with an educated guess of who could have been sending all these rounds down the hill over the years, but like I said, not pointing fingers.
You could tell this same thought process was going through the EOD guys’ heads as they backed off and started whispering to each other, realizing they had pulled the short straw on having made this discovery.
The trip was a success. Some guys even got new gear out of the deal since their stuff got roasted.
My biggest two takeaways from this story: “Call Me Maybe” was and still is an absolute hit; and water bottles can’t put out wildfires.