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February 9th, 2010
09:00 AM ET

A Soldier's Story: Army recruit's critical weapons training

Editor's Note: From the home front to the front lines, we're following one recruit's journey in our American Morning original series "A Soldier's Story." Today, in part five, Jason Carroll reports on the critical weapons training our recruit Will McLain needs to survive on the battlefield.

By Jason Carroll, CNN

For privates like Will McLain, the stress is not just about passing a weapons test. It’s also about coming closer to learning whether or not he will be deployed to fight a war.

It is one of the last hurdles to overcome before completing basic training – weapons qualification.

Before Will McLain enlisted, he showed me how to handle a shotgun back in his hometown of Rosamond, California. But shooting for recreation is nothing compared to what he’s doing now, where hitting bulls-eyes is just as important as avoiding sniper fire.

Will's shooting scores earned him a rating of marksman, but fell short of the score needed for sharpshooter or expert.

I asked him if there were times he thought he couldn’t do it.

“It wasn’t that I didn’t think I could do it,” he replied. “It was more like, dang, what did I get myself into. I got three years of this coming up, but to realize that you can make it through this, it’s kind of good to feel.”

For exercises to be as realistic as possible, some take place at night or during the day in a mock Iraqi village where they practice urban warfare training.

That is for now. Will and his company have five more weeks of training before they learn their next step.

“Each deployment is different for every person. Every now and then we sit them down and try to talk to them and answer their questions,” says Drill Sgt. Joseph Rix. “Most questions are ‘where am I going drill sergeant?’ And we won’t know that until a few weeks before they leave.”

“I think about it a lot. If I get deployed, it happens. It’s part of my job,” says Will.

I asked him if ever thinks of home.

“Everybody thinks about it once in a while, especially when you’re laying down in your bunk at night,” he responds. “For me, I'm 18, I'm going out into the world, I gotta realize this is what I need to do.”

Now that Will has completed his basic training he now begins his specialized training to be a combat engineer. Those are the soldiers who do everything from disarming roadside bombs to building bridges.


Filed under: A Soldier's Story • Military
soundoff (39 Responses)
  1. 1st Shirt

    I was told about this just the other day and I find it interesting. I went through FLW in June of "81" and like some of the others I remember it extremely well. Every branch of the Military has the "Best" or "Toughest" Basic Training but the trueth is its all the same. It all depends on the Individual on just how hard or tough it really is. True, its not like the 60's through the early 80,s where a DI was in your face non stop and driving a steel pot down on your ears, but its basically the same. I have seen alot of changes in the Army over the years, especialy the Soldiers. I want to tell all the parents who's child has joined any branch of service." THANK YOU"and for those of you that are about to join the ranks Thank you and good luck.

    March 10, 2010 at 7:21 pm |
  2. AJ

    This HAS to be the LONGEST basic i've ever seen. I went to basic at FLW in '97....looks like tons has changed....but come on CNN....show us the end, even marine boot camp doesnt take THIS long, unless he's a "hold over" or he didnt make it...

    show us!

    March 1, 2010 at 8:50 pm |
  3. Tim

    My son just left for bct at Ft Benning 2-10-10 for his 14 wk journey into the infantry. He is still in reception and is scheduled to start basic training on the 19th. Good luck to all the men and women who has stepped up to the plate to serve the GREATEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD the good ole USA. I will keep all our service men and women from all branches in my prayers. Thanks to all for your service.

    February 14, 2010 at 3:00 pm |
  4. First Armored 11C

    spec. al forces the M60 is no longer used by any active army units it has been replced by the M240B medium machine gun still fires 7.62 Nato rounds but is a few pounds lighter but not by much and no matter how much technology you have to project the fight farther out the battle will have to be finished by infantry on the ground and the standard battle rifle for any combat soldier Infantry, Scouts, Fisters, Combat Enginers is the M4 which is a great weapon if kept clean it will always work im an 11C which is infantry mortars in iraq right now and the M4 is a great weapon

    February 12, 2010 at 11:02 am |
  5. MSG Paine

    Spec Al Forces – The weapon in the picture is actually the M240 – The U.S. Army's medium machine gun, a vast improvement from the M60 machine gun. Additionally, The M16A4 is the standard issue weapon (the 4th generation, vs. vietnams M16A1), but over 90% of soldiers will deploy to OIF/OEF with the M4 rifle. Before youre critical, make sure your facts are straight.

    Lastly, the Army has numerous systems that will project the attack far out to the enemy – ever heard of predator drones in Afghanistan? They save lives. The Training the soldiers get and the equipment they receive remains top notch and we owe them all a debt of gratitude for being part of an all-volunteer force that enlists knowing their going to be deployed.

    February 12, 2010 at 10:51 am |
  6. JW

    to "Spec. Al Forces" - not an m60 (just looking at the still shot) – it's an M240B

    to Maria - I think this article is referring to Advanced Individual Training (AIT) when they mention "specialized" training. Think of it as his job training. Basic training is indoctrination and orientation. As far as scores are concerned, yes – everyone has to complete a set of tasks, meet or exceed a minimum score on the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT), and have at least qualified with an M16.

    February 12, 2010 at 10:44 am |
  7. Brandon

    @Maria:

    Yes, all soldiers go through specialized training. After basic training/boot camp there is at least one extra training course tailored to a specific job code (for the army, the job code is referred to as an MOS – military operational specialty). Even the infantry MOS, 11B, has its own school: AIT, advanced infantry training, among others.

    @Corey:

    Just don't psyche yourself up too much. Stay in good shape, eat healthy, stay focused on your goal (treat yourself like a 'Spartan', perhaps), don't hype up your expectations and you'll do fine. Semper Fi

    @Spec. Al Forces

    They're slowly phasing out the M-60s for M240Bs, which are also 7.62mm machineguns.

    @Narfe Suico (and anyone else with similar concerns):

    While it's admirable to feel love for your son/daughter, you may want to consider keeping some part of that to yourself. Remember that they're going through a very challenging, life altering experience that requires all of their attention, patience and dedication; having to be worried about 'the folks back home' can only complicate things. Be supportive, and be concerned, but try not to be overwhelming like my mother was. :)

    SSG TONG:

    Oh heck yeah it does

    February 12, 2010 at 8:51 am |
  8. mike

    That would be the M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon or called the (SAW) not the m60. Only group i can think that still uses the m60 right now is the Navy Seals they normaly would have one in there squad. and its alittle differnet from the older m60.
    The M-249 would have replaced the older M60 becuase it shots the same round as the AR15/M16/M4/M16A4. The round it files is the NATO 5.56mm.
    Only weapon that is older then any of them. and we still use it would be the M2/M3 Browning 50cal and they use them from tanks to ships.
    There is newer weapon systems out there. but right now we will not see them for a long time with the Dems in power. They like to cut spending. and they have already done that. But thats all good we need the money for other things.

    Good Vid to. Gl in combat engr. training.

    February 12, 2010 at 3:02 am |
  9. SSG Nielsen

    A few comments. The weapon in the video is an M249 Squad Automatic Weapon or SAW, not an M60 which the Army hasnt used in about 15 years. Also as far as, " I got three years of this coming up," is not actually the extent of your enlistment. You have eight more years of this coming up, three years on active duty then at least three more in the reserves and the final two in the individual ready reserves or IRR. All Army enlistments are this way. Just had a buddy get off active duty after five and a half years joined the IRR and two months later was called up to his reserve unit to go do a one year tour in Afganistan. An enlistment in todays Army means you will deploy, not if you will deploy, but how many times. As an infantry Soldier over the next six years between active duty and the reserve time you will be deployed an average of three years.

    February 11, 2010 at 11:08 pm |
  10. Darren Freeman

    Quote by Spec. Al Forces. "I think I remember the weapon in the photo as an M-60 30 cal machine gun that was first used in Korea. We had them in Vietnam and they seemed ancient then. In all this time they haven't come up with a better weapon than this. No matter, the standard issue rifle is still the M-16, another holdover from a generation past.

    Give these soldiers a break. Painting a target for the aircraft is good,
    but why not give them new weapons systems that would project the
    attack farther out from the troops? If they can't see/find you they can't get you."

    It's called the M240B and used initially by the US Army in the mid 1980s. Also the standard issue weapon is the M4 Carbine with a multitude of optics/lasers/attachments. The M16A4 is normally only issued to Soldiers who are not exposed or expected to encounter the enemy. Usually support MOS' and personnel. Every Infantry or Combat unit I've seen issue M4's exclusively. In fact, Special Operations personnel started using something akin to the M4 in the Vietnam era, the CAR-15.

    Think/research before you speak.

    References:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M240B
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M4_carbine
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CAR-15#CAR-15_Commando_.28XM177.2FGAU-5_series.29

    February 11, 2010 at 8:39 pm |
  11. Dave

    I'm deployed now, on my 3rd combat tour, and the basic training needs to be tougher, longer and harder on the inprocessing soldier. We're here doing what most people think is the un-thinkable, but this is what you signed up for. My advice is, train hard, train often and get ready to deploy. It dosn't look like we are leaving this war anytime soon, so be prepared to deploy. Good luch Soldier..drive on!!

    February 11, 2010 at 8:23 pm |
  12. CWO Simon

    Pvt. McLain,
    Learn the lessons that they are teaching you well. They will come back to you when you need them most. Any stress you may feel right now will be miniscule compared to the stress you will feel once your "boots on the ground." Be true to yourself and your buddies, they have your back and you have theirs. You will soon be closer to the guys you serve with than your own family. Treasure this time.

    February 11, 2010 at 8:07 pm |
  13. A Tavarez

    I saw your footage on CNN the other morning, and it brouhgt back memories of being in boot camp back in 1975, and then my son back in 2002 at Fort Jackson. We feel for you and your parents. My son was deployed 3 months out of AIT to Iraq back in 2003. He made it back home safely but some of his friends didn't. I am proud of our service to this great nation, and we are proud of your service as well. May God bless you and your family. You are not alone!

    February 11, 2010 at 3:01 pm |
  14. Phil

    Duty Honor Country, serve with pride

    February 11, 2010 at 2:03 pm |
  15. Marine

    Corey,

    If you want to get an idea of what you will experiance in The Marines, don't watch this. look up the coupld good Marine Corps boot camp videos and watchn them. Army basic traing is, while still being somewhat challenging, alot more relaxed, less stressful, and less intense than the Marine Corps' basic training.

    February 11, 2010 at 11:49 am |
  16. 1LT

    FYI the weapon in the video is the M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon, commonly known as the SAW. It fires the same size round as the M-16, 5.56mm.

    February 11, 2010 at 11:49 am |
  17. 12B

    Spec. Al Forces
    What you saw in the picture was a M249 it fires a 5.56 round from a belt like the M60 used to fire its 7.62 round. It started being used in the late 80's to early 90's, we still had a lot of M60 still in use back then, I don't know if it is still around.

    February 11, 2010 at 8:23 am |
  18. army son

    The weapon is not a M-60, you are looking at an M240 B, it shoots 7.62mm rounds. It replaced "the pig" and is a good weapon system. Standoff distance is not an issue these days – with the counter insurgency, we need to be among the people to create a wedge between the insurgents and the population they use as cover and support. By the way, thank you for your service.

    February 11, 2010 at 7:06 am |
  19. Sarah

    Maria, yes, in the Army everybody must meet minimum standards in physical training, weapons, and other tasks. Certain jobs or positions have higher standards, especially if a soldier plans to further their career through elite groups such as ranger or special forces. A person can get chaptered out of the army for repeated failure such as inability to pass a PT (physical training) test (which are required at least every six months).

    The M30 is not a standard weapon, I'm actually not sure if anybody still has any. I've gone to school for and now work in the armorery where our small arms include M249s, M16s, and an M9. Most units here on Fort Bragg use M4s. I have worked with .50cals, MK19s and shotguns as well (through the army).

    February 11, 2010 at 6:12 am |
  20. Bob F

    The weapon in the picture is not an M60 machine gun as stated earlier. It is the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) which replace the M60 for most Army units 20 years ago. Also the standard "rifle" for the Army is more and more becoming the M4 Carbine, a shorter, lighter modification to the M16. The M16A4 is also a common standard rifle today. All recruits go through Basic Combat Training and Advance Individual Training (AIT) in a speciality normally of thier choosing. Once the recruit completes AIT they are awarded the Army Service Ribbon, symbolizing the transformation from civilian to Soldier. They may go on to even more specialized training, but ultimately they will go on to Protect our Country against all enemies foreign and domestic. Wil McLain thank you for your service, you and the men and women like you make us proud!

    February 10, 2010 at 7:33 pm |
  21. Jonathan

    @Spec. Al Forces: The weapon is a M240 MAG, which is a heavier, more reliable version of the M60. It has a higher Mean Rounds Between Stoppages and Mean Rounds Between Failures rating than the M60 (even the current M60E4), due to a heavier barrel and more useage of steel casement. It fires the same 7.62mm round as the M60, but has a faster barrel change.

    I would have been extraordinarily happy to receive MAG familiarization in BCT or AIT and prior to pre-deployment. Instead, we used the M249 SAW as our assault-type supression weapon.

    I also notice the soldier is carrying an M4 carbine rather than an M16. Perhaps you did not notice the collapsible buttstock that is unavailable for the M16 rifle.

    @Maria: All soliders (enlisted or officer) in the Army are required to meet certain standards. These standards are called GO/NOGO standards. In other areas, there are certain requirement levels. Marksmanship is one specific area that is leveled among multiple weapons (Rifle, Pistol, Grenade, Carbine, etc).

    For example, to qualify with the M16 rifle, a minimum of 23 of 40 targets (marksman) must be hit during your evaluation at a range of 20 to 300meters. 30-36 is sharpshooter and 37+ is expert on pop-up targets.

    The requirements for Machine Gun (M240) are markedly different and include control of burst patterns, and engaging singular or group targets at a range of up to 800meters.

    The "specialized training" referred to in the article is the Additional Individual Training, or AIT for short. It is where the soldier learns his or her Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) or job. Basic Combat Training (BCT) is where the soldier learns to be a soldier - movement, shooting, and communication/tactics.

    @Will: congrats on BCT completion and good luck at AIT.

    February 10, 2010 at 3:51 pm |
  22. SGM (ret) Hall

    Basic training is the hardest thing most Soldiers do in their lives, changing from being a civilian to being a Soldier. You have already done more for your fellow citizens than most Americans will every do. I applaud your willingness to serve and offer you the following advice, "keep your head up and your feet dry". Hooah!!!

    February 10, 2010 at 3:24 pm |
  23. TAB3-75 Sua Sponte

    Spec al Forces : Dude the M60 was not a Korea weapon. We copied a German WW2 design in the early 60's. It is no longer active duty and has been replaced by the GPMG. The weapon in the pic is a squad automatic weapon M249 or SAW. The GPMG & The SAW are pretty good weapons. The standard issue combat rifle is the M16 A2 or M4. Both weapons are significantly different from the M16 of VietNam era. While the debate over 5.56mm vs 7.62mm range hot & heavy, truth is that a 5.56mm round will do what you need to do w/ it. Special Forces hunh? what group? Someone who was SF would not have said what you did on your post. Sorry – go back to reading war novels.

    February 10, 2010 at 2:52 pm |
  24. Larry J.

    My son joined the Army when he was 17. He trained as a combat
    engineer. When he left home for basic training it was the first time
    he was away from family and friends and I think that was the
    toughest part. It definitely was hard on me, so I know what he must
    have been going through. Plus......in basic training he cannot
    call home and you cannot call him. I understand the rule. My son is
    a very mild mannered person who cares deeply for people and his
    country. The military changes a person, as is necessary. No matter
    what kind of person you are, the military trains you to be a killer.
    Unfortunately, a necessity. My son left home a boy and returned a
    man. My son is my hero.

    February 10, 2010 at 2:09 pm |
  25. justin

    Spec Al Forces: Even though most of our technology in weapons is a holdover from 2 generations ago they have been updated. For instance the M-16 once notorious for jamming has been mainly fixed up in that regard as well as adapted with shorter barrels for urban warfare, thermal scopes, forward hand grips, thermal lasers, grenade launchers, foldable stocks etc...I mean the military was still using the 1909 browning 45 up until the 1980's. If it works, it works, you know? Everything will be unmanned warfare in the next 20-30 yrs anyway thats where all the research money is going.

    February 10, 2010 at 1:35 pm |
  26. steve

    I did my basic at FLW in july-aug of "68" and I sure do remember asking myself the question "WHAT DID I DO TO MY LIFE " as alot of us did. One of the hilites of my cycle was attending a Bob Hope style show called "Operation Entertainment" where comedian Richard Pryor did a routine about a recruit and a drill instructor. It felt so good to realise that somebody understood the kind of "HELL" we were going through. Now all these years later I look back and chuckel. I hope Wil has the opportunity to purchace the high school annual type book detailing his experience if it is available, so someday he can laugh too.

    February 10, 2010 at 1:06 pm |
  27. Grunt 0341

    There is only one boot camp in this world and it's on Parris Island, South Carolina ... USMC

    February 10, 2010 at 11:53 am |
  28. sk3kidz

    I am so proud of this young man, and all the men and women who are serving our country. My son is a Sgt in the Army and has been in for 3 years now. It was tremendously challenging for the whole family in the beginning, but we got through it. He's been to Afghanistan and back twice now, and is away in yet another location now. We miss him, and we worry, but he is a strong and remarkable young man,, and we are all so proud. For Will's family I offer my prayers and the experience that allows me to let you know that, while it may never be easy, it does get better. Be safe Will, and be proud. You are doing a remarkable thing.

    February 10, 2010 at 10:54 am |
  29. CPT B

    The is world full of challenges, but of all the tools we train our soldiers on, from laser designators to the M4 carbine, the most valuable one in the real world is one between their ears. You can reach out and touch someone at a kilometer with the M249 SAW that McLain is training on in the video, but solving problems with your head will get you a lot further, especially in his potential future line of work.

    Stay safe, the sandbox is a challenging place with a lot of different people, not all of them on your side.

    P.S.- To Spec. Al Forces, the M60 was not Korean War vintage and we no longer use them. McLain is using an M249 SAW, a weapon that we started using in the '80s. As far as our rifles, I have seen exceptions, but we now use M4s and the occasional M16A2 that were all produced after Vietnam. They're not perfect, but at least they were all made after I was born!

    February 10, 2010 at 7:20 am |
  30. Spc. Andrew

    Good luck Will, Thats a 249 SAW by the way.

    February 10, 2010 at 7:16 am |
  31. Bob S

    Great video!

    February 9, 2010 at 9:56 pm |
  32. SSG TONG

    Pvt. McLain, my word of advice to you is to take everything one day at a time. Also, the best way to cope with stress during your basic training and advanced individual training is to remember that it's all going to end soon and life in military does get better.

    February 9, 2010 at 9:54 pm |
  33. James Rhoads

    Assome one who has been there and done that, I feel that it was not
    only an honor to serve our country ,but a duty. I am proud of our young people who are now protecting us all. Yes, when we train in the military we train for one purpose only and that is to be ready to
    go to war if we need to. The U.S. military is not some summer outing
    like the scouts or YMCA, it is to learn how to stay alive in a combat
    situation. We are trained to protect ourselves and our unit. most
    civilians think our soldiers are in day camp. The military is not
    all brass bands and parades. It is a serious and deadly bussness.
    Every one who finishes basic and advanced training is going to
    at some time during their enlistment be sent some where they
    would rather not be. Enlisting in the military is saying " i'M ready
    to go be tested.

    February 9, 2010 at 9:52 pm |
  34. Narfe Suico

    I'm so proud of Will.I was just there in Fort leonard for my son's graduation last week as a combat engr. I understand Will's Mom's feelings.I was like that at the beginning,I can't sleep at night thinking what's happened during the training. When he started writing me and telling me that he had fun I felt happy.He really has changed.I see him having lots of friends in training the fact that he was a very quiet type of person and shy .The only thing that made me upset was when right after graduation they where shipped rightaway to their next assignment. Bus was waiting for them outside.Good thing his order was to go to Fort Bliss, what a relief!

    February 9, 2010 at 9:49 pm |
  35. Spec. Al Forces.

    I think I remember the weapon in the photo as an M-60 30 cal machine gun that was first used in Korea. We had them in Vietnam and they seemed ancient then. In all this time they haven't come up with a better weapon than this. No matter, the standard issue rifle is still the M-16, another holdover from a generation past.

    Give these soldiers a break. Painting a target for the aircraft is good,
    but why not give them new weapons systems that would project the
    attack farther out from the troops? If they can't see/find you they can't get you.

    February 9, 2010 at 9:30 pm |
  36. Corey

    I should watch this I plan to join the Marines after High School and this might help me to see what I'll face in Basic.

    February 9, 2010 at 8:57 pm |
  37. SFC Howard

    Will I know you can do it...Just like all those other Soldiers who went before you. Learn everything stick you what you learned and learn to depend on your buddies, you are there for them and they are there for you....WHOA!!

    February 9, 2010 at 8:22 pm |
  38. Maria

    I'm curious to know if all recruits go through specialized training, or they must earn minimum scores in some trainings.

    February 9, 2010 at 8:22 pm |
  39. ronvan

    While an interesting and important story for alot of people, as it progresses you get to the point of speculation & "can I or not". Most combat soldiers, infantry, etc., at some point has to come to grips with the fact that, "I might have to kill another human being". NO ONE can answer this question until that soldier is faced with a life altering decision!
    Only training, discipline and God will determine the answer, one that you have to live with for the rest of your life, IF you survive! I have no doubts that our soldiers have the ability to complete their mission!

    February 9, 2010 at 5:56 pm |