Fire in the Hole
Of all the special sounds of
warfare that we were exposed to in Vietnam, the sharp crack of rifle fire is
the one that we respected most. This awesome sound meant that our enemy was
close by and trying to kill us, and we quickly learned to respond
automatically by returning the fire and taking cover. Although we soon
became experts at all of this, my first on-the-job-training session with
Bravo Company was on weapons safety and it certainly did not go according to
There was a great deal of emphasis on weapons safety in our unit because accidental discharges of individual weapons not only alerted the enemy of our position, but statistics showed that they also caused many friendly casualties in Vietnam. In a nutshell, accidental discharges were unprofessional, extremely dangerous and not tolerated by Bravo Company troopers. To avoid any misunderstandings about enemy rifle fire when we test fired our weapons, it was standard operating procedure to alert everyone first by repeatedly shouting “fire in the hole”.
Accompanied by several other newbies, I arrived at Bravo’s field location with the log chopper in mid-May 1968. The company was at their night location and receiving their normal resupply of hot food, mail, ammunition, sundries packs, replacements, etc. It was a peaceful looking scene with troopers going through the chow line, eating their food, reading their mail, preparing their foxholes, or taking it easy after a long day on search and destroy operations.
After meeting the Company Commander and receiving our platoon assignments, a senior NCO was tasked to brief us on some important field procedures. You will probably recognize our instructor - a highly respected cigar chewing and battle-seasoned sergeant who started off with a demonstration on weapon safety. Most folks would think that being in a combat zone meant that you were always prepared for a firefight with your weapon set on the full automatic fire. Our old-timer patiently explained to us newbies that only the point team was allowed to have their weapons set on automatic fire, and it was Bravo Company policy that the safety was “on” for everyone else. The reason for this was that a trooper can stumble or accidentally discharge his weapon, and this could result in killing or maiming his buddies.
Our instructor recommended that we make it a habit of holding our rifle by the pistol grip because it provided quicker response time with easy access to the safety switch and the trigger. He took one of our weapons to demonstrate how easy it was to flick the safety on an M-16 assault rifle from the “safe” position to “full” automatic while holding the rifle with one hand on the pistol grip. Holding the rifle above his head with the muzzle pointed up, he demonstrated how you can readily carry an M-16 with your hand on the pistol grip, finger on the trigger and with your thumb on the safety. In less than a heartbeat, literally, you can flip the safety to full automatic and rip off a half a clip of ammo, which is exactly what he did but without alerting everyone with the required “fire in the hole” warning.
While the very impressed newbies stood calmly and maybe considered clapping in appreciation for this skillful demonstration, all hell broke loose among the 120 troopers in the Bravo Company area and it was no longer a peaceful scene. The sharp crack of rifle fire caused these troopers to throw away their chow and letters in a hurry as they grabbed their weapons and dived into their fighting positions. Needless to say, our red-faced instructor quickly ejected the clip from the rifle and began shouting repeatedly “fire-in-the-hole”.
Prepared by Pete Genecki
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