I was either in, or worked for, the U.S. Army for over 30 years. During that time I had some experience with what ammunition guards were issued before going on duty. My brother brought my attention to a video, titled “The Wing” about F-15s in Bitburg, Germany, in 1981, at the height of the cold war. In the video you can see a Tech Sergeant being issued four magazines, all with rounds in them. He makes sure his chamber is clear and inserts one magazine. In the screenshot above (about 7:26 on the video) you can see the other three in his left hand. They are clearly 30-round mags for an M16 . . .
If they were loaded with 28 or 29 rounds each, I would be pleasantly surprised. It’s shocking that he was issued four magazines with rounds in them. It wouldn’t make sense to issue him four magazines with five rounds each, when he could be issued one magazine with 20 rounds.
The reason for my surprise is that, contrary to the movie, my experience has been far different. As this was a commercially-produced video made in cooperation with the military, the number of magazines may have been exaggerated for dramatic effect, disinformation purposes, or operational security.
My first experience with ammunition issued to guards was in California, six years before the video was made. I had been assigned extra duty as a military game warden on the Hunter Liggett Military Reservation. I wasn’t issued a weapon, but I carried my own, an Argentine Ballister Molina .45 that accepted Colt magazines. It was a decent pistol, and didn’t have the grip safety of the Colt 1911A1. My partner carried a Smith & Wesson Model 19 .357. We both carried them fully loaded with extra ammunition.
We had also been briefed about a potential threat. A tip had been recieved that elements of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) were considering a raid on an Ammunition Supply Point (ASP) somewhere in California. We received a report of shots being fired behind the ASP, and took our Jeep to investigate.
We didn’t find anything. The way back around the ASP was mountanous and long, so we decided to short cut back toward the headquarters area through the ASP and a guard stopped us with a hand signal. He pawed at his shirt pocket. We moved forward. He stopped us, and moved back the distance that we had moved forward. He pawed at his pocket; we moved forward. Everything was repeated. Finally, we got out of the Jeep, he made it be known that he needed to see ID. We tossed it to him as he wanted to maintain his distance. After verification, he let us pass through.
I was curious about the pocket pawing, and asked about it. It turned out that the guards were issued one .45 magazine with five rounds in it, and it was to be kept buttoned in the shirt pocket. Very Barney Fife and everyone that I talked to thought it was a stupid policy.
The next experience was in Panama, at the Rodman ASP abdout 1985. I do not think the guards there were Marines; they were some other brand and for some reason, Air Force comes to mind. They were allowed to carry one magazine for their M16s. Trouble was heating up prior to the U.S. invasion (Operation Just Cause). It wasn’t clear that Manuel Noriega intended to declare war, but he clearly said on Panamanian television that the country was in a state of war with the United States.
At Rodman, the guard were issued a magazine and five rounds were to be kept in a magazine pouch. If a guard did not have all five rounds at the end of his shift, the entire company was turned out to hunt for the missing round.
Guards were confronted by armed poachers several times. One SOF member (almost certainly a SEAL) was killed by a poacher while training on a night patrol at Ft. Sherman while I was there, but the policy didn’t change until the Marines took over security in the face of growing Noriega regime hostility.
There have been other instances in which U.S. military security personnel weren’t allowed to have loaded weapons, or allowed only limited ammunition in the face of a deadly threat including the bombing of the Marine Barracks in Lebanon in 1983.
I would like to know this: What experience did you have with ammunition issued to U.S. military forces on guard duty and were you ever issued more than five rounds of ammunition?
©2015 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.