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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.

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  1. “What’s that?”

    “It’s a shiny thing.”

    “I want it.”

    “You don’t even know what it does.”

    “I don’t care. It’s shiny…”

    • ^ except black and nothing feels like gun metal in your hand????
      And everything our uncle lends us is 1st class. US weapons are awesome.
      But yes, hmmmmmmmm black ????

  2. A large group of my friends have previous armed forces experience, Navy, Army, Air Force, Marines… They all tell me the same thing: “it ruined guns for me”.

    One friend (Army) told me about just burning through ammo on the range with a full auto M4. He says if they don’t use it all they won’t get as much next range day, so they just ran the guns until the ammo was gone. According to him, it was some of the most boring hours of his life. I still don’t understand how.

    • Image then the days in the late 80s (during Reagan defense buildup) when an 11B assigned to an Inf Bn was allocated ANNUALLY 220rd of 5.56. That included twice a year qualification at 50rd each.

      And the BS of hiding all the weapons in alarmed locked rooms, in locked racks. Not to be touched except on very special occasions. Drawing the Co M16s a two hour cluster. Hand over the little weapons card (better not loose than), then sign here. The Infantry Co had a total of 6ea mags with 5rd 5.56mm in each and a couple similar M1911 mags. Anything else took days of advanced planning and goatrope out at the ASP to draw additional ammo.

      I always pictured the WWII open bay barracks with the racks of M1 around the center posts.

    • I freakin’ loved guns in the Marine Corps. The M16A2, M249, M60, M240, not so much the M9, Mk19, M2, AT4 – all good. The only part of boot camp I enjoyed was sleeping and Edison range.

      When I was competing for platoon high shooter I got my ass chewed out for answering a shooting question of another recruit. Clearly the USMC was not interested in my opinions, so I just went back to blasting targets.

      School of Infantry was even more fun. It was like a 7 week run ‘n gun in the desert. The Mk19 and M2 were flippin’ awesome. Chucking hand grenades? Even better. Holding .50 cal rounds and running through tracer-induced brush fires was awesome. I got picked to blast a blown-out APC with an AT4 at 250 yards. The whole platoon cheered me because the first guy missed.

      The only thing that sucked was those nasty blanks. And cleaning guns for hours. And that time when the windchill was 68 below zero at Fort McCoy. Or 128 above at stumps. Or 40 degrees with non-stop rain and wind. MRE’s. And getting chewed out by the gunny for someone else’s mistake. Or doing loads of stupid, meaningless working parties. Getting lost in the woods for hours on a hike that’s “5 clicks.” Maybe not getting paid on time. Or not very much.

      Ok, maybe the military sucks. But shooting guns is awesome!

      • “Ok, maybe the military sucks. But shooting guns is awesome!”

        Now that made me laugh!

    • I think my military experience is what inured me to the call of full-auto gunfire. Not that I wouldn’t want to own, or just shoot, some full-auto weaponry, but it’s not a big attraction for me.

      • I’m a civilian and I don’t have any desire at all for full auto firearms. Beyond the idea that I don’t see a practical application for it, I simply cannot afford to feed them.

      • I’m the same about full-auto, and most of my military retiree buddies feel the same way. They are fun, but expensive to feed, have no real purpose. They turn expensive ammo into empty brass very quickly. However, if someone says “want to shoot it?” and they pass me a magazine or belt, I’m all over it. I said it is fun!

    • For truth. Following exercises and other training events, the 240 and 249 gunners would have to find themselves a cozy spot to expend hundreds of blanks. Fresh cans would appear as if from nowhere…

      Of course all of that crap would have to be cleaned up later. More than once saw an NCO with ammo cams and an E-tool heading for the woodline.

  3. Wish I could find the story about the UH60 crash/ire early in the war in Iraq. Paperwork the appeared indicated that it had something like 20tons of equipment on board that would have required a 40ft semi to haul it all. A lot of supply sgts cleaned up their property books in the unfortunate event.

    The Army runs on paperwork, not Cl V.

    • It’s not all that unusual for CONEX containers to go overboard from container ships. You would be amazed at the amount of equipment that was being shipped in one of those containers. As long as you have a properly prepared packing list and are willing to swear that it was all in there, no one will ask how you got three times the max cubes into the box! And the evidence is 10,000 deep.

  4. “Hey Sarge!” “Can you issue me a [widget]”?
    Sorry, I’m almost out of ’em.
    How many you got?
    Come on, just one!
    If I did that, I’d only have 23, Get outta here!

  5. Love this story. Flashback as S3A

    Returning from Gulf 1 armory accountability was tenuous at best. Turned in my 1911 (ran out of M9’s) with Israeli ammo in Kuwait but kept a copy of the card. Gunny came calling and was satisfied custody card was legit.

    Supply tried unsuccessfully to find a M60 for a year and XO assigned me to hunt it. 45 minutes later with a fax and a rotary dial phone, traced it to a supply ship in Diego Garcia. My reward…was assigned as the Armory officer.

    Inspected the book and it was a mess. Two missing sniper rifles. Tracked them down, found 40 yards from my office in a pile of non discript wooden boxes laying in a field. Took a month to reconcile the book. All present or accounted for and little sleep that month.

    • Not as sexy as two sniper rifles, but I had a similar case where I had to find a missing $3000 treadmill. The Morale Officer had lost track of it somehow. I had a hunch it was somewhere on our 270′ ship. Turned out it was in Aft steering; with ALL the other exercise equipment. He wasn’t happy with the conclusions I reached in my investigation report. When all you have is a hammer (paperwork) all your problems look like nails (paperwork).

  6. Why would someone want to swap out a Trijicon in favor of an EOTech?

    I’ve always thought the EOTechs were for the guys (like me) who couldn’t afford the good stuff.

  7. Anyone ever in a unit that lost a weapon? We were locked down for a long time. Our supply Sgt was court martialed for stealing the M16.. A year later some German civilain tried to sell it to one of our platoon sgts.

    Back in the early 90s Ft Hood had a whole bunch on NVGs come up missing from a warehouse. Instead of opening the cases the inventorying officers were just counting cases. One actually did their job and popped the cases. All gone.

    • Sister unit lost a set of NVG’s esrly on in deployment and we got the 3rd degree the second after the ladt one stopped. I was armorer for our unit, and we were moving around all the time. I beat it with a little diligence, grounded in the other units’s terrible luck, and a gloomy sense of inevitability of something many awesome serialized items[] not making it on the manifest. I wrote (on the inside cover of my log) (i’d post a pic but i missed that tutorial ) “LORD, as You have banished choas, so let us impose order.”
      + never, never, never, never, never, never skip the pre-mission prayer.

      • ^^^^^ Forgot a big HOOAH to the OP : )
        Bet you still catch yourself in a cold sweat sometimes, but then wuickly remember your clean hand-off and you quickly say a little prayer for those who have (or will) come after you. Good job ARMY.
        GODSPEED U.S.

      • At Ft. Bragg in the mid 70s I was doing ROTC summer camp. One of the other companies got locked down due to a missing M16. Seems that one of the college kids in a hurry to leave for the weekend didn’t want to have to spend the time cleaning his weapon to standard before leaving, and just threw it in the trunk of his POV. Never heard what happened to him, but our 1SG was pretty blunt about how stupid it was, and what would happen to us if we ever tried that.

        I assume if he was lucky if he was just given a dishonorable discharge, but he may well have gotten some time in the stockade first.

  8. Great story, thanks for sharing. From one 11B to another; thanks for keeping our troops in good working gear. I have no doubt that your job was under-appreciated.

  9. As a Person of the Gun, antis often accuse me of having some kind of delusional soldier fantasy, and suggest that I enlist if I want to “play with guns”. Why would I do that when I can buy better equipment that I actually want to own at my local gun show? That and not have to answer to some fat, smelly, ghetto bred NCO, to say nothing of the “generals” who tell us little peasant civilians that we shouldn’t own black rifles.

    • Agree but for different reason.
      I never had a bad weapon, or nco/o. Even those ghetto bred God Bless and Keep them.
      Can’t get better weaoons at the gunshow. Some here will cite “triggers” but they trade selectors and battle tested gear.
      Don’t think you need to enlist/don’t think you have a soldier complex for liking guns, do think you need to push back on anyone whining about your strong-like of guns.

    • Antis may accuse me of wanting to play out a “delusional Soldier fantasy”. I would like to reply, politely, that my back injuries from service overseas preclude me from continuing a rational Soldier reality.

  10. This is perhaps the most accurate description of what it means to be an arm’s room NCOIC that I have ever come across. Those poor bastards, I always had the utmost pity & respect for them. But never would I have wished that duty on anyone I remotely cared about.

    I can commiserate here; I was our unit’s Motor Pool tool room NCOIC, which meant I was signed for millions of dollars worth of tools, diagnostics, POL, one very beat-down M35A2 tool-truck, and an equally beat down CUCV contact-truck. In fact, I could cut & paste my experience into Mr. Gray’s article, and it would describe almost exactly how I lived….. the exception being that I didn’t have a green XO as my boss; instead my motor sergeant was a very old-school E7 that even Top was intimidated by. I didn’t have just a few minor ulcers, I had small-scale Vesuvius brewing in my gut, and eventually I developed the temperment to match it. Whenever I opened the tool room for business, mechanics acted like it was occupied by a subhuman monster who would snatch them out of their boots if even a single hex-wrench or 5.5 mm socket was missing. The reason being that if a mechanic lost something, the metric f**k-ton of paperwork to replace it and send up a statement-of-charges simply zapped my entire day.
    But the job did have it’s perks; naps in a dark, quiet & cool sanctuary, the tool-truck to use as my house while in the field (which had it’s own 5k gen set), I was the unit’s M2 gunner, and it exempted me from a lot of shitty details during the business-day that other NCOs didn’t want.

    But the job did totally ruin my prior love of tools & wrenching on Jeeps. Before the Army, my huge Craftsman rolling box filled with lovingly cared-for tools was one of my prized posessions; now I have a small plastic Walmart tote that I just dump crappy Discount Auto tools into. And if something needs to be fixed beyond an oil-change or brake replacement, I gladly spend a little more to have some other mechanic do it.
    But at least the Army didn’t ruin my love of guns; so I have that going for me, which is nice.

    • “Before the Army, my huge Craftsman rolling box filled with lovingly cared-for tools was one of my prized posessions; now I have a small plastic Walmart tote that I just dump crappy Discount Auto tools into.”

      Glad I’m not the only one…LMAO

  11. A new supply SGT found an M9 in the racks in the vault (back CONUS) that a report of survey had been completed over a year ago for it’s combat loss. That was an interesting investigation.

  12. Different story but similar vibe – I got a job working in a gun store thinking, “cool, I get to play with guns all day!” but as soon as I started training I realized I’d made a huge mistake. Guns just happen to be the product for sale, the job is actually keeping track of mountains of paperwork for the ATF’s de facto registration… I mean simple background check system. I quit after two days of that crap, so I still like guns.

  13. “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?”

    But OP, if a MAC-10 fires 1100 rounds per minute, how many rounds will it fire in a 3-second burst?

  14. Fun stories. But this one is from an Air Force Intel guy who got to play armory guy for a while.

    Back in Desert Storm I was stationed at Dhahran AB, and for the last 6 weeks I was there I was the unit armory guy. My OIC thought we could take the armory’s office spaces for our intel vault; the CO thought so too, as long as we took the armory too. Joy.

    The armory was a single-wide trailer, about 1/3 was the office and the rest the armory. When I got there to take over, the outgoing guy handed me an empty clipboard and a set of keys. No inventory, no hand receipts. I never signed for a thing, and no one ever asked me to.

    My initial inspection of the armory was fun. I found racks and a few crates of, and I cannot make this up, low 4-digit serial number Colt M16s with three prong flashhiders. A little over 100 of them, all with assembly lube still on them and unfired as far as I could tell. The guys at Dover (the unit’s home station) must have cleaned out the warehouse to find these weapons. And crates of 20 round mags for them, also completely unused. Oh, if only I had a larcenous nature, I could have had a bitchin’ collection.

    I had a pallet of M60s that “fell off” a C-5. At that time, we were getting 40-50 cargo birds a day offloading on our ramp, and the if the unit that was receiving the cargo wasn’t there to pick it up we would push the pallets of guns, ammo, etc over into the sand to make room for the next plane. (the Army sometimes forgot to pick stuff up, but the Marines were smart and had 4 guys living in the hangar who would show up for every plane and get the Marines’ cargo – and sometimes the Army’s too) So at some point this pallet of M60s was pushed off into the sand and no one came looking for it. Sweet. Its also how we got 6 brand new HMMWVs to drive around for about a month before the Army figured it out. At one point about a week after I took over the armory I found a pallet of .50 BMG ammo under a tarp behind the hangar; best guess is it was there for several months and no one made a big deal over it. (the pallet of Stingers, on the other hand, had general officer attention when it went missing – turns out the Marines had picked it up when the Army didn’t)

    My day at the armory was pretty easy; open up at 0700 and close around 1700. Aircrews delivering cargo or troops would stop by and drop off their weapons for overnight storage, usually a .38 special revolver with no holster and 18 rounds of ball ammo in a Ziploc baggie. One captain came in and handed over an MP-5; seems that his base had run out of .38s. Not a hand receipt anywhere to be found. All of these crews were coming from Dover and going back to same the next day. Sometimes they would forget to pick up their weapons on the way home, so after a few weeks I had a file cabinet drawer full of .38s with no paperwork. It all sorted out, though, because sometimes a crew would come in to drop off weapons and one would say they forgot to get their weapon back last week when they were leaving. So I would reach in and hand them a .38. File cabinet was empty after another week or so. (I’m pretty sure that part was against some reg, but it all evened out, right?)

    There was also a locker with personally owned weapons that guys had deployed with. One guy, who everyone called Francis, had deployed with a 8″ .44 magnum and a knife that could have qualified as a sword in the middle ages. Francis would pick up his .44 and big honking knife before he went on shift and would return it when he got off. He did that for a while, until the night he was on the flight line during a SCUD attack in full chem gear. He had the pistol out and was threatening to shoot down SCUDs with it; the weapon was confiscated and he was taken to the special tent where we sent people to get the cool drugs and a couch session. (as I recall, the SPs dog-piled him pretty good)

    When it came time to rotate home, my successor was a real armory guy (an air force one) and he about lost his s**t when I handed him the empty clipboard and the keys. I had never done an inventory either; no one ever asked me to, and momma didn’t raise any idiots who lived to see adulthood.

    • The article reminds me so much of the Army. Not just the arms room, but so many other bureaucratic processes that can turn something fun into a chore. Thank God the Army isn’t responsible for procreation, because they’d have regulations, paperwork, and inspections that would just ruin sex!

      The Army didn’t ruin guns for me, but it sure put a damper on handguns for a while. The canned M-9 qualifications were just no fun. It took most of the day just to get out to the range, get set up, and shoot the slow, boring, monotonous qualification tables, then clean up/tear down the range, and get everybody back, then the goat rope of turning in weapons and equipment. At a civilian range you can spend as little or as much time as you want, and you don’t have to wear a helmet, pro-mask, (body armor), LBE, etc., At least at rifle, machine gun, and hand grenade ranges the action was a little more engaging.

      It did ruin camping and flying. As a kid, I enjoyed camping, but after the Army, not so much. And flying – once you’ve flown attack helicopters, putzing around in a Cessna 182 straight and level seems kinda boring (to me at least). Actually, delete the “kinda” in the previous sentence.

      On a side note, when I was a young officer I must have been one of the few company commanders and staff duty officers who actually checked the serial numbers on all of the weapons during inventories. Good God, it took HOURS to inventory the arms room. I saw some other guys in and out – they just counted weapons and made sure the totals for each type matched the books minus the weapons signed out. It’s a risky strategy to just count total weapons – looks like it almost always works out, but if somehow weapons have been mixed up and you have the wrong serial numbers on hand, it’s a potential career ender.

  15. I always said, the Military has a way of ruining the fun of shooting guns, camping outdoors and “sky diving”.

    Another note, I did notice my Company’s armor always looked like he was going to lose it mentally.

  16. Should’ve been a 91F (Small arms/artillery repairer). All the fun of dealing with and maintaining all sorts of firearms, but with the added benefits of being authorized to detail disassemble every weapon, make repairs, and not having to deal with the accountability and sensitive item side of an armorer. Best part is since 91F’s are a higher level of maintenece by regulation we cannot be unit armorers.

  17. You forgot the best part of being in the cage. During chemical warfare exercises you don’t have to go into Mopp level 4!! I loved my time as NCOIC of Arms and Equipment, but our unit in Turkey only had 125 soldiers. It’s easy to count to 125.

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