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Weapon safety.

In any type of job you do, there is always some sort of safety aspect to it. This story is about a weapon system that almost everyone in the Air Force is familiar with--the M16A2 rifle. It happened at Osan Air Base in South Korea, but it never should have happened at all. Why? Because the individuals involved had all been through Combat Arms classes where instructors cover the safe use and operation of the M16A2.

Back in 2001, a group of Security Forces were practicing Emergency Services Team (EST) tactics. This team is the military's equivalent to SWAT. They were on the range doing tactical movements, learning how to shoot and move. To be as real as possible, they were using live ammunition. When they finished up on the range, they were directed to the cleaning area to break down their weapons and clean them. This should only be done after all weapons have been cleared, which is something that is demonstrated in all classes.

For instance, the M16A2 has four steps to clearing. Step one is to make sure the weapon is on safe. Step two is to ensure the weapon does not have a magazine in the magazine well. In step three, you check to make sure the bolt is locked to the rear so you can check the chamber. The fourth and final step is to check the safety one last time. While performing all clearing procedures, you should be at a clearing barrel just in case a round should be discharged. This will trap the round inside the barrel instead of in something or someone.

Now that you know the basics of clearing an M16A2, back to the story. The EST moved into the cleaning area from the range and started to break their weapons down. It's not clear whether they stopped at a clearing barrel or if they cleared their weapons on the range. The EST was in the process of taking the weapons apart to clean them when there suddenly was a loud heart-stopping sound.

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SSgt Smith (not his real name) was responsible for a negligent discharge. He did not follow the four clearing steps and, as a consequence, discharged a round. Additionally, the round did not go into a clearing barrel as it should have. Instead it went right into the left forearm of one of his teammates (who we'll call SSgt Jones). The round entered the bottom of his left arm next to his elbow and exited through the top of his forearm.

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Initially, SSgt Jones did not realize he was injured. He jumped up with the rest of the class and turned to see who had fired the round. When one of the other teammates realized what had happened, he approached SSgt Jones and asked him to sit down. This happened at the same moment that SSgt Jones lost feeling in his left hand and looked down at his arm. When he saw what had happened, he blacked out. SSgt Jones was rushed to the hospital where he underwent major surgery to repair his arm.

We have safety guidelines in place to benefit all of us. They are meant to protect each of us from serious injury or even death. It is very important that each of us become familiar with all of the safety aspects of our day-to-day jobs. It's also important that each of us train all the new Airmen on the importance of safety in each respective work area. If just one person makes the choice to skip a step like SSgt Smith did, the consequences are very serious and can be life altering. Just ask SSgt Jones who has had to go through months of physical therapy to learn to use his arm again.

by SSgt Jack R. Constable, Jr., Holloman AFB, N.M.
COPYRIGHT 2007 U.S. Department of the Air Force
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Constable, Jack R., Jr.
Publication:Combat Edge
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2007
Words:650
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