Married to the Rifle: National Guard Soldiers’ Critical Piece of Equipment

By Mark Geary, Reporter


By Tracey McCullough

CAMP RIPLEY, MINNESOTA – Iowa National Guard soldiers deploying to Afghanistan later this year will face danger every day. That’s why they’re getting used to defending themselves now while they train at Camp Ripley, Minnesota.

As soldiers line up for breakfast around 5:30 a.m., few words interrupt the quiet calm. Some will train well-beyond midnight. Rifles stay by their side as they sink their teeth into waffles, bacon and eggs.

“It’s a big issue if you leave it around. It’s a sensitive item,” Private First Class Cody Osburn of the HHC 133 and from Anamosa said. “You kind of get used to it.”

Master Sergeant Brian Smith of the 133 Medical Platoon and from Iowa City said, “I guarantee that when you get overseas, you’ll want to have that weapon near you at all times…It becomes your new best friend. It’s just part of the training.”

Back outside, the firearm travels with troops as they shave in the bathroom or use the toilet.

“It gets soldiers comfortable with the weapon being a part of their body,” Staff Sergeant Paul Hansen of the HHC 133 Infantry and from Waterloo said. “Think of it basically as another arm.”

Inside the barracks, other National Guard members prepare to head out on their mission for day. Of course, no one will leave without their weapon.

“It’s the only thing you have to protect you and all of your men,” Specialist Michael Mathis of the HHC 133 and from Clarksville said. “I feel better knowing I have it.”

Private First Class Nathen Cunningham of the HHC 133 Scouts and from Cedar Falls said, “It’s probably the most important piece of equipment we have.”
During training exercises, soldiers actually use the rifle. No one ever lets it out of their sight.

“If you lose it on a mission or something, then the enemy can pick it up and use it against you,” Cunningham said.

Just about the only time soldiers get separated from their weapon is when they shower.

“You have a ‘battle buddy’ that will watch your weapon for you while you shower. When you come back, you’ll watch their weapon,” Smith said.

Every weapon has a unique serial number to help soldiers distinguish them. Many troops also add on special attachments or adjustments to make rifles more comfortable and easier to tell apart from comrades.

Soldiers know their mission in Afghanistan carries a heavy burden. By the end of the training, few even notice the weight of the six-pound item that could save their life.
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