Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Five Rounds Standard issue for a U.S. Army Guard?


I was either in, or worked for, the U.S. Army for over 30 years.  During that time I had some experience with what guards were issued for ammunition.   My brother brought my attention to a video done about F-15s in Bitburg, Germany, in 1981, at the height of the cold war, only a few year before NATO won.  It is titled "The Wing".  In the video you can see the Tech Sergeant being issued magazines.  He is issued four magazines, all have rounds in them.  He makes sure his chamber is clear, and inserts one magazine.  In the screen-shot (about 7:26 on the video) you can see the other three magazines in his left hand.  They are clearly 30 round magazines for the M16 or variants.

If they were loaded with 28-29 rounds each, I would be pleasantly surprised.  I was surprised to see that he received four magazines with rounds in them.  It would not make sense to issue him four magazines with five rounds each, when he could be issued one magazine with 20 rounds.

The reason that my curiosity is aroused is that 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 earlier than the video.  I had been assigned extra duty as a military game warden on the Hunter Liggett Military Reservation.   I was not issued a weapon, but carried my own, an Argentine Ballister Molina .45 that accepted Colt magazines.   It was a decent pistol, and did not have the grip safety of the Colt 1911.  My partner carried a model 19 Smith & Wesson .357.  We both carried them fully loaded with extra ammunition.

We had been briefed about a potential threat.  A tip had been received 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 did not find anything.  The way back around the ASP was mountainous and long, so we decided to short cut back toward the headquarters area through the ASP.   The guard stopped us with a hand signal.   We stopped.  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.  He wanted to maintain distance.  After verification, he let us pass through the ASP.

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.  Everyone that I talked to thought it was a stupid policy.

The next experience was in Panama, at the Rodman ASP, 1985-89.  I do not think the guards there were Marines; they might have been Army, Air Force, or Navy.  For some reason, Air Force comes to mind.  They were allowed one magazine for their M16s.   Trouble with Noriega was heating up prior to the U.S. Invasion (Operation Just Cause), after a drunken Noriega had declared war in a Panamanian Television program.  It was not clear that he intended to declare war; but he clearly said that Panama was in a state of war with the United States.

At Rodman, the guard's issued 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 did not 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 were not allowed to have loaded weapons, or allowed only limited ammunition in the face of a deadly threat.   The bombing of the Marine Barracks in Lebanon in 1983 was one, others have been mentioned in the news.

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 issued more than five rounds of ammunition?

©2015 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.
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10 comments:

Anonymous said...

3 rnds in my 1911 in W. Germany 1975

svxr8dr said...

While Stationed at Ft. Carson CO. HHC 1/8 Inf. I was assigned to accompany a Hemmitt filled with the battalions 1911's for turn in and pickup of 9mm Berreta replacements. I literally rode shotgun with 5 issued rounds in a 30 round magazine inside an m16A2 circa 1990/91

Anonymous said...

I pulled Sargent of the guard in 1970 near Manheim Germany All of the guards carried completely empty M=16s and I had one loaded .45 clip for the weapon I had to carry. why don't you get rid of that stupid id system

Anonymous said...

I pulled Armory Guard in 1971 at Camp Lejeune. Three Marines, one M-16 and five rounds.

Anonymous said...

Yes, "five rounds" issued to guards was my experience as well, during over thirty years of service in both the active and reserve components of the U.S. Army. Especially during the Cold war. When I served in the Army in Germany in the late 1970's, all guards were issued just one magazine and five ball cartridges, no matter whether the weapon was a 1911A1 .45 caliber pistol of an M-16A1 5.56mm caliber rifle. No matter what the duty was either, such as pay officer, guarding ammunition or guarding classified materials or commo equipment. I always imagined this practice was implemented simply because it was easier for the unit Armorer to count out and keep track of five rounds per soldier (given the very human tendancy to follow the path of least resistance and to seek to avoid blame in all matters). Plus the whole matter of arming the guards was just pro forma anyway. At the time, the service leadership was much more concerned about preventing any negligent or criminal misuse of weapons and ammunition by their own troops than they were about repelling any serious terrorist attack. Particularly on "nonsensitive" sites or installatiions. For example, soldiers guarding the entrance gate to most Army posts in Germany were usually just issued night sticks druing this period. There were notable exceptions to this practice, such as units assigned to guard ammunition supply points (ASP), either on a permanent or rotating basis, where nuclear and/or conventional war reserve ammo was stored. After the Beruit Bombing in 1982, I had occassion to observe that the gate guards in Germany were carrying M-16 rifles. How many rounds they were issued I could not say. Have things changed since the 1970's? Well based on my experience in Bosnia and Iraq years later, I would have to say yes and no. The Armed Forces tends to issue much more ammunition to guards and other personnel in hostile fire zones, but the services still prefer to have servicemen carry their "bullets" in their "pocket", like Deputy Barney Fife, whenever possible. Consider the debate over whether soldiers should be armed on installations within the USA after the two different shooting massacres on Fort Hood.

Anonymous said...

Now a days, it depends on location. A few years ago, I pulled guard duty (Air Force) on the regular and we were issued seven 30 rd mags. When I went overseas, that particular location issued us an M16 with no ammo/mags during exercises! We were pretty much useless in that config.

Anonymous said...

3 rds for my issued 1911 pulling guard at NA14 (ammo dump)3 rds while pulling border duty also 78~80 Bad Hersfeld Germany 3/11th ACR

Neil Harris said...

In Prestwick Scotland in 1057-58 gate guards had 45's with no mags or ammo.

91B4S said...

'67? Truck going from Ft.Drum,NY, to Ft.Hamilton, NY, carrying medical supplies including MORPHINE needed armed guard. I volunteered so could be 3 days NYC. Issued M1 Gerand, and 1 clip (8 rounds)AP ammo. I was stunned! NOT permitted to load clip unless necessary. Felt like an idiot, and prayed no serious bad guys knew what was on board...like I, the drivers, and who knows who else already did. Beyond understanding. Worked out OK, but DUMB!!!

Anonymous said...

My dad was on an LCT during WWII. When the war ended, his "ship" returned Japanese POW's to Japan. His crew was issued rifles with no bullets to guard the POW's, so as not to start another war, I suppose.