By Matthew Gray
When my brother and I were young men, we were both obsessed with guns. Our favorite book was an encyclopedia of weapons. It covered the first rocks and clubs of ancient man, all the way up to what was cutting edge at the time of publication. It went into detail of the major small arms of the world, as well as chemical weapons tactics, even the proper detonation altitude of a hydrogen bomb to have the greatest effect with the least megatonnage . . .
We memorized much of this information, mostly calibers and the cyclic rates of fire of various small arms. Those were our favorites. We used this information mostly to annoy family and friends while watching action movies. Any time a gun was on screen, we would shout out its name, and usually give a brief background on the weapon. My mother would sometimes get frustrated that we could remember such things, but not remember our multiplication tables. Oh mom, isn’t it obvious that a MAC-10 that fires 1100 rounds per minute is so much more interesting than math?
Fast forward a few years, I had joined the Army as an Airborne infantryman. After my first deployment I was approached by our company armorer and asked if I would like to be the arms room assistant. I said yes without thinking. The idea of being in a room full of guns, optics, night-vision, doodads and whatnot was pretty much a dream come true. It was the closest I could get to being the guy from the Tremors movies who had an awesome basement armory. Shortly thereafter I joined headquarters platoon, and began my duties in the company arms room.
Armorer is the most tedious job I have ever had — by a very large margin. Accountability is your job. Making sure everything is in its place, and when it leaves the cage, ensuring it comes back. Hand receipts are holy scripture. If an item is missing, but you have a hand receipt, no worries. If an item is missing and there is no corresponding hand receipt, you start losing your mind. The fear of 1SG climbing inside of your “fourth point of contact” (airborne speak for ass) is a powerful motivator to do your job properly.
I eventually replaced the head armorer when he left the Army. It was a great and terrible time. I was the boss of something, but that also meant I was the boss of something. Being the assistant was awesome, doing the job with only a portion of the responsibility. Now it was all on my shoulders.
Five million dollars of weapons, optics, night vision, and everything else that an infantry company needs to operate. Every day I would wake up, fearing that my commander and 1SG would find me out for the fraud that I really was. Due to an otherworldly fear of messing up and an unhealthy paranoia, I never made any serious mistakes, actually being awarded on multiple occasions. The craziest thing is, I wasn’t anything special. All I ever did was follow the regulations and procedures exactly.
In the Army, following the rules is sometimes considered to be quite difficult. So, if you actually do what you are supposed to do, you stand out as somewhat exemplary, especially in the world of armorers. Mistakes in the arms room can be devastating. Missing weapons, stockpiling ammunition, inaccurate book keeping, all things that could get your arms room shut down. If your armory gets shut down, everyone knows. Everyone tends to include your brigade sergeant major. He/she is the last person you want paying you a visit that doesn’t include a re-enlistment or award ceremony.
It was all these fears and horrible consequences that kept me on the straight and narrow. Which meant double and triple checks of all equipment. Get good counts on everything, log it in my paperwork, then lock up and leave. Upon arriving at home, I would start worrying. Worrying I miscounted, something wasn’t there. Always fearing a surprise inspection. Stress became my new best friend, and even caused a few small ulcers, when I was 24.
Counting all those weapons almost ruined military small arms for me. I used to think they were so frickin’ cool! Now they were just barrels I touched as I counted. Guys in the company would come up and start talking about various guns and equipment we had. I became so underwhelmed with our gear that I would get irritated.
“Hey can I draw out a M240B and 200 rounds of ammo!?”, I would hear almost daily. It was the lamest joke in the army. Then there were the guys who wanted to put their personal optics on their weapons. They were pretty much the worst people ever. Issued optics is one of the things the army did really well, in my opinion. Aimpoint Comp M3 and M4, ACOGs, and Trijicon red dot sights were all very good. But no, sergeant so-and-so just played Call of Duty and he wants to put an EOTech on his weapon, Ugh.
Barring a few minor annoyances, being the armorer had some pretty sweet perks. I took long lunches. I could take naps on said lunches in a pitch black cool arms room, and no one would know I was there. I could hide out for extended periods of time down at the maintenance bays, shooting the breeze with the guys who fixed all the equipment. My boss was my executive officer, and they were usually young and didn’t know anything about arms room procedure. I could tell him anything, and as long as everything was going smoothly, he would never question me.
I never had to labor alone, I could always get a bunch of guys to help lift and move heavy crap. Granted, when dealing with a lot of untrustworthy Joes, you had to keep an eye on them when they were in your cage. Things have a tendency to grow legs in the military…especially expensive things. Thankfully, I never lost anything, and had a smooth property book transfer when I left the arms room.
I have since recovered from my crippling armorer paranoia, and I still think military armaments are the bee’s knees. And I would still love to have my very own buried shipping container filled with guns and ammo, even if I had to count all the guns every day.