Murphy's Law: June 1, 2002


After September 11, 2001, thousands of soldiers from the National Guard and reserves were assigned to help provide security in U.S. airports. Then the media discovered that these troops had unloaded weapons. This should not come as a surprise, as it has been a standard procedure in the U.S. military since the 1970s. After the Vietnam war, one of the generally unnoticed changes in the military was a reluctance to take chances. Giving a soldier, sailor, airman or marine live ammunition was considered too risky, especially the career of that soldiers commander. There was a practical aspect to this. Since 1900, the number of troops in the military who actually use weapons has steadily declined. Today, only about ten percent of the people in the military handle weapons as a regular part of their job. But many others have weapons (usually rifles or pistols) assigned to them. When our armed forces go off to a foreign battlefield, most of them have a weapon with them, "just in case." It's these people that tend to have accidents if they are on guard duty with a loaded weapon. At their home bases, security is handled by Military Police or civilian guards. But when the troops go off to "the field" (any place that is not their home base or another American base), they have to take their turn providing security ("guard duty.") This is what the National Guard troops are doing in air ports (you may hear some of them muttering among themselves about "all this goddamn guard duty.") Before the 1970s, commanders noted that in the vast majority of cases, guard duty did not require any of the guards to actually fire their weapon. And when the people on guard did fire, it was usually an accident. The commander got chewed out for "not having his troops properly trained" and saw his promotion prospects dim. So in the 1970s it became customary to not let troops "lock and load" (carry a loaded weapon with a round in the chamber, ready to fire.) The navy even dropped weapons training for its recruits (those who needed it later, got it on their ship, although they rarely got to carry or use a loaded weapon.) So in 1983, one reason the Marine barracks got bombed in Beirut, Lebanon was that the marine guards were not allowed to carry loaded weapons. When the USS Cole got bombed in 2000, the armed sailors on the deck were carrying unloaded weapons. So it should come as no surprise that National Guard troops in airports are carrying unloaded weapons. Careers are at risk, and you can see where the priorities are.


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