The Barney Fife Navy | June 6, 2001

WITH EVERY PASSING DAY the consequences of eight years of Clinton-Gore become clearer. The legacy that Bill Clinton tried to leave is unraveling across the globe. The Mid-East peace that he tried to shove down the throats of the Israelis has led to more death and destruction. The once revered federal crime-fighting federal agency, the FBI, is accused of failing to provide crucial documents during the Oklahoma City bombing trial. If all that is not enough, we are now learning the true story of our unprepared military.

The May 28, 2001 issue of Navy Times has a feature article with the title Five Bullets and Out. According to the article Navy recruits since 1997 have never fired one live bullet during Navy boot camp. Starting next month new sailors will shoot real bullets for the first time in four years at Recruit Training Center, Great Lakes, Ill. After a day of small arms instruction each recruit will squeeze off five rounds from a 9mm pistol.

The article goes on total training will double to a full day, but the number of trigger pulls recruits will get will be slashed in half. Recruits now get 50 shots on a laser M-16 rifle. Starting next month, they will get 22 trigger pulls total. The five live shots and 17 on laser weapons.

Due to environmental concerns the firing range at Great Lakes was demolished in 1977. Since that time all Navy recruits, 50,000-plus, have undergone weapons training on simulators. The 4-hour weapons' training was minimal: it included lectures, safety training, and shooting 50 shots on a laser equipped M-16. Shooting the M-16 laser was as realistic as playing in an electronic arcade.

Now recruits will shoot laser adapted Beretta 9 mm pistols and air-powered Mossberg shotguns. After spending the first half day in the classroom listening to safety lectures and taking 12 pulls with the laser firearms, the recruit goes to the live-fire range and learns to handle and shoot a Beretta. His shooting is only two rounds at a target seven yards away and three at a target 15 yards away.

The Navy says that any more firearms training or actual live firing for the recruits would require more gunner’s mate instructors. Currently 400 recruits are weapons trained daily. Yet while the military requirement for that many recruits is 54 instructors, there are only 43 instructors available to handle the load. Too few instructors and only five bullets per recruit, if it weren't so tragic, it would be comic.

Compare Navy training to the requirements for a Nevada concealed carry permit. According to the Nevada Chiefs and Sheriff Association criteria, the 8-hour course must include firing a minimum of 30 - 36 shots. A third of the total rounds fired at 3, 5, and 7 yards. The Nevada Pistol Academy, just outside Las Vegas, offers free courses for Nevadans, who wish to get a concealed carry permit. Their curriculum, taught by Frontsight, Inc. instructors, includes shooting 30 rounds at 7 yards to qualify.

My husband and I have taken several firearms classes at Frontsight; our most recent class was a 4-day M-16 course. During those four days we shot between 1500-2000 rounds each. We fired the weapon both in the semi and fully automatic configuration at distances from 3 yards to 100 yards. Even after firing all those rounds — most under the stress of time constraints, I really wouldn't feel comfortable in a military situation without more practice. It’s hard to fathom how those Navy seamen must have felt during last October’s attack on the U.S.S. Cole. It was reported that they were standing guard with zero bullets in their weapons.

That attack on the Cole has finally awakened the Navy to the need for more small arms training. 'The Cole, no doubt about it, was a wake-up call for us,' said Captain Trit Rigas, the Atlantic Fleet’s protection officer. Thus many in the fleet are taking the time and effort to promote weapons training — training that was almost non-existent under the Clinton administration. We can only hope that the Bush administration will review and greatly strengthen all military small weapons training.

During the Presidential campaign Al Gore kept reassuring America about its military readiness, we have discovered another Gore lie. We now know that the Clinton legacy includes a military woefully unprepared to defend against aggressors - be they lone terrorists or standing armies. Our military must be trained with real guns and real bullets; America depends upon it.

Tanya K. Metaksa is the former executive director of the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action. She is the author of Safe, Not Sorry a self-protection manual, published in 1997. She has appeared on numerous talk and interview shows such as "Crossfire," the "Today" show, "Nightline," "This Week with David Brinkley" and the "McNeil-Lehrer Hour," among others.