PORT CLINTON, Ohio — In a soldier’s trained hands an automatic weapon looks right. It is powerful, fast, and reliable. But in my hands, those assemblies of mostly thumbs, the AR felt every bit as heavy as a lead pipe and as foreign as a lion in a petting zoo. Levers here, switches there, adjustable shoulder stock, and other stuff unknown to this guy who’s more comfortable with a vintage break open shotgun.
“Lock and load,” the solder commanded over the speaker from his command post behind a glass barrier.
The training session, kind of like an abbreviated introduction to combat shooting for dummies, kicked in and I rammed the magazine into the gut of the AR, switch the control lever to semi-automatic, and did other things the instructor said to do, important things I guess, then dropped to a kneeling position from which I felt somewhat in control.
“Get ready for targets from 100 to 300 meters and remember, you’ve got just 20 rounds in your mag,” came the next announcement.
We were in the army’s simulator, an indoor shooting arcade so much like a field exercise that real soldiers learn real skills here, using laser shooting weaponry that is in nearly every way as real as real can be. The semi-automatic rifles cycled after every trigger pull, recoiled like the real thing, and every miss and hit was electronically scored.
Recovering from severe embarrassment, our media group moved into an even more spectacular simulator to try our luck on machine guns and other mounted automatics.
Respect grows. My thoughts after the introduction to the simulators? Simply that my respect for our fighting forces is higher than ever. They learn how to use these same weapons with accuracy and efficiency. They tote heavy loads of ammo, fight in horrible conditions and too often come home scarred for life. They deserve respect and thanks.
Camp Perry, an Army base built around shooting skills and weaponry training, is home to the National Matches, in every way the World Series of shooting, offered through partnerships between the US Army, the NRA, and the Civilian Marksmanship Program. Every summer, thousands of shooters converge on Camp Perry to take part in one or more events that range from small and close to large and far.
Several media types were invited to experience the National Matches and while here, we’ve been hosted by various groups including the Army instructors and simulator operators.
Needless to say, I was more comfortable, and successful with an airgun than with a .50 caliber machine gun, a lot more comfortable but I do see how valuable the simulators would be in learning and upgrading fighting weapon skills.
According to the base commander, the resident staff at Camp Perry is relatively small but the base is always bustling with solders on site in for training.