The .50 Caliber Hammer: Why the “Hands Off” Approach Still Doesn’t Work for Joe
by Scott Faith
This first appeared in The Havok Journal August 2, 2014.
If you’re in the Army, you’ve probably already heard all about Joe.
“Joe” is a term of endearment used to describe Army personnel of both genders and all ranks, but especially the lower enlisted. The term can be used individually or collectively, but is most often used as a collective term. “Leaders, take care of Joe.” “Don’t ever screw with Joe’s pay.” “Joe loves hot chow.” “You never know what Joe is going to do next.”
Joe is a great guy. He’s the one that bears the brunt of the fighting, handles the crappiest jobs, and does the majority of bitching about it all. In short, Joe wins wars. It has been this way since the beginning of our Army, long before we were all known as G.I. Joes. Our Army would be nothing without Joe, and his earlier incarnations: ground pounders, dog-faces, doughboys… the list goes on.
As I said, Joe is great. Unfortunately, Joe also does some really dumb stuff.
I’ve been in the Army a long time, and I’ve seen Joe do a lot of… interesting things. Some have been worthy of a simple head-shaking, others required a double face palm. When I work with the young people who are going to be the future leaders of our Army I explain to them, “One of your primary duties is to help keep Joe from doing dumb shit.” That always seems to shock them, but it’s 100% true.
Examples of dumb shit might be hooking up with the First Sergeant’s underage daughter, taking out a loan for a five-year-old Mustang at 25% interest, pretending to marry another service member just to get the BAH, …or trying to use a live .50 caliber round as a hammer. More on that later.
In an era of EO, SHARP, extreme political correctness and general liberalization of our Army, leaders these days are too afraid to get into Joe’s business. They think that they’re being too intrusive or that they are interfering with their Soldiers’ rights if they make spot corrections or engage in hands-on leadership.
They think they’re getting into junior leaders’ business if they show up in the motor pool, the barracks, or training areas unannounced every once in a while. Basically, they think that a hands-off approach is best in our modern Army. They are wrong.
Being a hands-off leader briefs well (much like “I‘m an outside the box thinker!”), and makes the individual sound enlightened. Some Army leaders, particularly officers, use hands-off leadership because they are lazy. To them, all Soldier issues are “NCO business,” and they know that being involved means they have to tear themselves away from their iPhone and whatever passes for the O Club these days. Hands off is good because it’s cleaner. Or so they think.
But being a leader, a real leader, a combat leader, is always messy, and complicated, and time-consuming, because you’re dealing with people. Dealing with people is always messy, complicated and time-consuming. It’s also enormously satisfying when done correctly, and is the whole reason we assumed the mantle of leadership in the Army in the first place. If you don’t want to get your hands dirty with Joe’s business, helping him accomplish the mission, stay out of trouble, and be successful in life, choose another profession outside the military. Like, maybe the Air Force.
Here’s a little war story involving a literal “hand’s off” incident (you’ll see what I did there shortly) to emphasize the point:
During one of my deployments to Afghanistan, we received a Weapons Safety Message, more commonly known as a “Safetygram.” Weapons-related Safetygrams can be issued for a number of reasons, but the two most common types I came across were either related to a major weapon malfunction, or were due to what my old First Sergeant used to refer to as “operator headspace and timing.”*
In this particular case, it was the latter.
To sum up what happened, a young Army gunner in another unit was readying his .50 caliber machine gun for combat operations, but was having a hard time getting the pins into the weapon’s mount. This happens; the weapon is heavy and it’s a bit of a pain sometimes to get everything to line up like it is supposed to. But without the pins in place, the machinegun would not stay mounted. That’s kind of a big deal in combat.
Thinking that a little pounding would help, the young troop looked around for the nearest hard object that he could use as a hammer. Well, this is Afghanistan, so maybe a rock? That didn’t work. Hm… what’s something that’s small, hard, that fits in a hand, is strong enough to pound a pin into a gun mount, and that Joe .50 cal gunner is going to have handy?
Well, he’s going to have lots of .50 caliber cartridges. That’s right, for whatever reason, Joe decided to use a loose .50 cal round as a hammer to pound in the pins to hold his machinegun in place in the turret of his vehicle.
Those of you who understand how modern bullet cartridges work probably already know how this little story is going to end. For those of you who are not familiar, in general terms the way modern bullets work is that a firing pin strikes a primer on the flat end of the bullet cartridge, which in turn sets off the primer, igniting the propellant, separating the bullet from the cartridge and sending the bullet downrange. The percussion of a weapon’s firing pin against the primer is what causes it all to happen.
So yeah, you can use a .50 cal round as a hammer, but it’s not a good idea. Now, if Joe is trying to use a .50 cal round as a hammer, is he going to strike using the tiny pointy end, or the broader, flat end? Of course he going to use the flat end. Which in this case Joe did.
And of course the bullet fired.
(Continued On Next Page) <<WARNING>> Graphic content follows