Twice in my life I had to hold onto something as though my life depended on it.
In my fraternity, Sigma Alpha Mu, at American University, I had to protect my book bag because of the fraternity secrets it contained.
In the Army, I had to protect my weapon because of the power it holds.
If you have never served in the military, weapons are treated with the utmost respect. The language we are trained to use when talking about our weapons is different, if you haven't noticed, I have yet to use the word gun.
At my reserve unit, we spent countless hours cleaning our weapons. Particularly bad days were when we spent four hours cleaning the M-4s only to have their cleanliness rejected by a speck of dust on the pinky of the Armory NCO.
Down Range your weapon was your life. Entire bases would be shut down if a single weapon was lost.
How about accidentally firing your weapon?
An accidental discharge was a huge deal. Everyone heard about it. You were shamed by the entire battalion. Accidentally discharging your weapon is like receiving a DUI. It's a permanent scar on your record.
After the war, I felt a bit naked without my long gun. I didn't much worry about my side-arm. The M-9 annoyed me because of the lack of firepower and the fact that the springs in every magazine I had were warped from overuse and I couldn't keep more than five rounds in the mag for fear of jamming.
But I did miss the long gun.
After BRM in basic, Command Sergeant Major Bruno told us that we were now soldiers and once a soldier always a soldier, HOOAH.
My weapon was a part of my identity. I have since had to let that part of myself go. I achieved this freedom by examining the aspects of myself that were and are useful independent of my ability to kill.
What I now understand about military weapons training is that all the bullshit we had to go through was teaching us to respect life before we earned the responsibility to take it.
Training with the rubber duckies, the dime on the front site, the stupid video game simulator, the constant scrutiny by the drills about muzzle awareness.
They weren't teaching me just how to kill at 300 meters, they were teaching me to respect power.
This respect does not seem to have transferred over into the civilian sector. In all the Newtown coverage, I've seen countless examples of civilians proclaiming their right to bear arms without understanding what they are talking about.
I saw a YouTube video by a young civilian woman who calls her AR-15 (civilian version of M-4) "Sprinkles". She calls it that because of the way it sprinkles shell casings all over the ground.
In America we are very sheltered from the realities of war. Consequently, what a 5.56mm round does to flesh as compared to a 7.62mm, has meaning only in our minds or in our video games.
The reason I had a hard time letting go of my weapon was that I had a hard time believing I was still powerful without it.
What I have since realized is that power did not come from my weapon, but how my weapon made me feel less fear.
What I now understand from meditation and constantly monitoring my internal environment is that fear can be managed from the inside.
In other words, I realized that my power comes from my ability to be calm and decisive, or patient and observant.
These characteristics are powerful independent of a weapon.
As service member these characteristics are inside you.
I think it's partly our fault that civilians like our weapons so much. They hold us in such high regard that it only makes sense that they'd want to emulate our weaponry.
Well SMBRs having understood what these weapons are really designed to do, maybe there is a different example we can set.
I encourage you to share what you remember about your intensive weapons training. Why it was so strenuous and severe.
Share your stories about your weapons down range, their lethality.
In doing so, try to make it clear that these weapons are not toys, not for fun, or for just having around the house in case of a zombie apocalypse.
Our power comes from who we are inside, not from what we carry.
Guns don't kill people, but guns don't save lives either, people do.
This post was guided by the 41th stanza of the Art of Peace, a book written by Morihei Ueshiba
Armor Down now has a website. Check it out.
Like the AD Facebook page and I'll email you the PDF of a book called "Mindfulness in Practical English".
Lisa Wimberger's meditations:
Grounding Your Armor
Riding the Sun
Thrive as a civilian.