HIGH EXPERT PAY-BACK

 
                    2nd Bn, 8th Marines at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (January-June 1966)
 
 
My first deployment as a young second lieutenant platoon commander in Fox Company was to the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Two of our battalion's letter companies, supported by half the crew-served weapons from H&S Co, were present to provide defense for the Leeward side of the naval base. The other half of the battalion provided the defense for the Windward side. Mid-way through our six month deployment we would trade places with the other half of the battalion.
 
As background, I should point out that while at The Basic School I was the recipient of the Major General Merritt A. Edson  Markmanship Award for shooting the high aggregate score with the rifle (M-14) and pistol (.45) in my class of 300 plus officers (Basic Class 5-65). At the time it didn't dawn on me that there would be a penalty to be paid for such an indiscretion, but pay dearly I would. This story was just the first installment.

                                                        

                                             Guantanamo Bay Cuba Leeward Point Runway
 

There was a significant population of guinea hens along the runway at the Leeward side Air Station. They represented a threat to aircraft (either being struck by aircraft or being sucked into the air intakes of jet engines). Safety being paramount, the CO of the Naval Base decided the guinea hens had to go and he ordered that a shooting party be formed to rid the area of the birds.

The shooting team was made up of a Navy Captain, several Commanders, some Lieutenant Commanders and the naval base's Master Chief Petty Officer. Our battalion was asked to provide a Safety Officer. On this occasion it would be "that shooter", Second Lieutenant Ruffer.

I dutifully presented myself on the appointed day at the hangar that was to be the assembly point for the shoot, introduced myself, and then conducted a safety briefing. Among the topics I covered was the absolute requirement that no weapon be loaded until I said "Lock and Load"; that all shotgun muzzles be pointed down range (the direction of movement) at all times; that all shooters remain abreast during the shooting party's advance paralleling the runway; and that each shooter had a 90 degree fan to his direct front (45 degees left and 45 degrees right of center) in which he was permitted to shoot. We then moved out near the runway where I formed the shooters up on line in the area between the runway and the taxiway on the east end near the channel entrance to the Bay. Our initial direction of movement would be to the west between the runway and the taxiway. We would return in an easterly direction between the opposite side of the runway and the Caribbean Sea.

We hadn't gone more than 50 yards when a commander shot at a hen almost 90 degrees across our front and the Chief fired at one on his flank (he was on the end of the formation). I stopped the group, had them unload their weapons, and conducted a second safety briefing. Within minutes of resuming the shoot a lieutenant commander fired almost ninety degrees to our direction of movement and that's when I ended the shoot. When a commander challenged my authority to do so, the Navy Captain stepped forward and, much to my surprise, supported me.

When I returned to Fox Company I told my CO what had happened and he called the Bn XO. Apparently, the XO had already heard the news. Believing I was about to be reprimanded for being impolitic, I was handed the phone and was told by the XO that the Bn Cmdr received a call from the CO of the Naval Base applauding my decision, particularly in view of the fact that I was the junior officer present (by a wide, wide margin).

 

There were future installments to be paid, i.e. Captain of the Battalion Rifle and Pistol Team; OIC of the Regimental Rifle and Pistol Team; Block Officer, National Matches, Camp Perry, OH; OIC, organizational marksmanship training; Coordinator, Inter-service Rifle and Pistol Matches. It wasn't until I achieved field grade rank that the account was paid in full. 

Semper Fi,

 

Jack Ruffer

 

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