Full Metal Junket

How one intrepid reporter spent a weekend of military training with some youngsters and came back a soldier. Sort of.

Soon it is time for a unit composed of the seven teenagers and three reservists to march to the range. As instructed they have deployed foam cylinders into their ears to prevent injuries that could result in hearing loss. The sergeants order them to load five rounds into a magazine. "You will not touch your weapon!" hollers a sergeant. He then commands the group to assume the prone position on a blue foam mat. "Students, prepare your weapons!" he continues. Finally the long-awaited moment of truth arrives: "Fire at will!" he shouts.

Amid the hellish cacophony, the Marines watch their disciples like hawks, occasionally counseling them like mother hens. The apprentices have five minutes to fire five rounds from the prone position.

"Cease fire!" screams the sergeant after the time has expired. The sharpshooters eject their magazines, flick on their safeties, and lay down their rifles, barrels pointed downrange. They repeat the drill, this time with just 70 seconds to fire five times. "Now, students, get up and walk to your target!" yells the sergeant after issuing another ceasefire.

The gang that could shoot fairly straight: Sorvillo (left) and Carleton (second from left) hang with their platoon after a morning of M16 training
Kirk Nielsen
The gang that could shoot fairly straight: Sorvillo (left) and Carleton (second from left) hang with their platoon after a morning of M16 training

Standing in front of his target, A.J. Sorvillo is mystified. This is the second time Sorvillo, a wry, articulate 16-year-old from Fort Lauderdale, has shot an M16. Some of his rounds hit the target, but others did not. Where did they go? he wonders. "You did pretty good," he compliments a colleague, pointing at an array of bullet holes. Sorvillo hopes to be a Seabee after college. "I like to build things," he says.

As they walk back toward their guns, some of the junior marksmen wander. "Stay in your goddamn lane!" one of the sergeants roars.

The shooters spend the next 45 minutes firing from three other positions: sitting, kneeling, and standing, which tends to be the least accurate posture. Then the picnic ends.

Clutching their eight-by-ten-inch target sheets, the sharpshooters head inside the air-conditioned building to tot up their scores. They lean and sit on long stainless steel tables in a storage room. Score 140 points and you qualify as a marksman.

"You qual?" one teen asks his neighbor.

"Yep," replies his buddy proudly.

Carleton "qualled." He obliterated most of the black bull's-eye. Others were less successful. Sorvillo racked up 43; he offers a dose of realism. "Forget about the score," he cracks to his comrades, displaying his barely bullet-riddled target in front of his chest. "He's still dead."

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