Small arms, that two word phrase can mean a number of things to various people. If you are a male body builder, it is a derogatory statement! If you are a young, slim, woman, it may be OK. But when I was a young Gunner's Mate, it brought disgust to mind. Small Arms, those weapons that did not reach the horizon. Small, Arms, those guns everyone wanted to shoot. Small Arms, those mechanical beats that caused me more work that pleasure!
That's right! I hated to hear that we were going to shoot small arms! I hated it when the Captain shot his, actually the Navy's, rifle on the bridge underway. And the thought of a security force made up of various ratings, running around the ship with loaded Small Arms, brought terror to my heart! Then, in the middle of my career, the Navy decided to establish a qualification program for Small Arms. Early in this program, we would pack up the Small Arms, Ammo, and 60 or so sailors who never shot a rifle or pistol, in buses and ship that mess to a firing range. There, we were instructed in the art of target shooting. At that time we were trying to qualify sailors, with NO Small Arms training and NO practice time, to shoot bulls eyes with a 1911A1 .45 caliber auto loading pistol at 50 yards!! Then we did the same inane exercise with the M1 Garrand, only at 100 yards!! Hell, half of these Pee Wee Herman looking kids couldn't SEE the target, well enough hit it. Again, at that time, you held the pistol with ONE HAND! Your other hand was in your pocket, on your hip, our up your ass, as you preferred. The M1 was fired standing, sitting, and prone.
Again, you have to picture this class "A" cluster _uck! Sixty men, who had never held a pistol or rifle, most of them with the upper body strength of a six year old, with NO familiarity with the weapon and NO training well enough practice, trying to qualify. Obviously it did not work.
Then, some brain surgeon came up with a shipboard qualification program that used a very small target at 1000 inches to simulate the 50 and 100 yard targets. Most ships had to set this up on their flight deck. There were many bullets bounced on the deck by those same "Sharp Shooters"! However, this program was somewhat more successful because we did not have to transport men on buses! Instead, we were underway and they were a captive audience!! It also permitted more training time and some practice.
I remember when I was the GMG Detailer. There was a meeting about Small Arms Training that I attended representing the Gunner's Mate community. There was a Marine Corps Colonel, trying to sell the idea of requiring, that's right, REQUIRING the Navy to qualify every sailor as at least a Marksman on service pistol and rifle! In my usual tactful manner, I told the Colonel that he was full of shit! His argument was, the Marine Corps does it! I reminded him that Marines LIVE with their weapon and MARINES main duty is to be a rifleman. Then I told him that Small Arms on a ship made no sense! He was enraged! I told him that all any ship needed for Security Forces was a 12 gage shotgun! At this point I should explain. Think about this. A sailor with a full automatic M16, or today's M4 with three round bursts, running around below decks on an all steel ship! The first burst he fires WILL miss and the passage way will be showered with ricocheting rounds, probably hitting the guy who is supposed to defend the ship! A shotgun blast, with lead shot, won't do that and a shotgun makes everyone a marksman at 20 yards! His reply was, how are you going to take out a enemy sniper in a tower, 100 yards from where your ship is moored. I said, SIMPLE, I will train the 5"/54 around and blow up the tower with the sniper in it! He gave up and I sort of won. I won in that we did not have to increase our Small Arms training. I lost because we still have all sorts of weapons on the ship that are not required.
Why are all those machine guns, automatic rifles, and pistols on ships today. It is left over from when each ship had to man and equip a Landing Party! That's right, a 13 man Landing Party, with tents, canteens, mosquito nets, watches that glowed in the dark, K-Bar knives, mess kits, and all the equipment a World War Two soldier would carry into battle. I am willing to bet this equipment is still stored in some dark locker on each sip, rotting away!
Now, with the Pirate problems and Navy ships using Boarding Parties, some pistols and CQB Rifles are required. But that Boarding Party is a small, self contained unit that is much easier to train and probably much more motivated that PN3 Schmuckatelli!
Now, onto WHY I disliked Small Arms so much. Every time we shot them, and we did not shoot just one rifle or pistol, it was 7 or 14 rifles and 7 or 14 pistols, plus the machine gun ot the day, M 60, .30 cal. BMG, .30 cal. BAR, and even the .50 M2 BMG! After everyone had his fin, I was sitting in the Armory, detail stripping all of those weapons, and cleaning them as clean as they were when they were brand new! Why such a need for clean? The Post Fire PMS Card (R-2) required it, and in those days, SURFPAC and SURFLANT had PMS inspections. If you missed on step, or did not completely do the check on each weapon, and the PMS Inspector caught it, you went to Captain's Mast and lost a Pay Grade, Money, and Liberty Time!! Believe me, advancement was hard back then and I was NOT about to be reduced in grade because of dirt in the gas tune of am M-16A1! And of course, cleaning Small Arms was done after all the work on the 5"/54 was complete! I spent some late nights, with some good Gunner's Mate friends, sitting on the cold steel deck of the Armory cleaning weapons until the wee hours of the night. We would tell Sea Stories, drink coffee, and laugh. I miss those times now.
Now that I am retired, I love rifles and pistols and shoot them when I can. I love to teach new shooters, especially young people. I guess I mellowed on Small Arms. But then, I don't have to clean 14 of each gun, every time someone else wants to shoot!