The longer of my two guns. (Original image: Wikimedia Commons)
"All new recruits, proceed to check out your firearms."Our first real exposure to firearms came on our second day of training. Proceeding single file, we checked out our rifles, as well as a bayonet and scabbard (which doubled as a combat knife - or would have had it actually been sharpened), and two ammo pouches to add to our ever growing utility belts, each containing two empty magazines. The recruits in the firearms squad thrust all of these into our hands, before we all rushed back to the parade grounds.
As with the mess squad that I'd been assigned to, another squad of new recruits had been designated as the firearms squad - responsible for the upkeep, regular maintenance, and storage of the company's firearms. Although we would all eventually become versed in the basics of firearms maintenance by way of on the job training, the existence of the firearms squad (as well as the mess squad, equipment squad, and political warfare squad) was one of the consequences of the shortened one month basic training period - too many tasks to handle, with too little time and too few personnel. The preferred solution being to parcel out specific tasks to specific squads of new recruits.
Private firearms ownership is generally illegal in Taiwan, although most kids have had some prior exposure to the whole concept via computer games, movies, and military ed classes in high school and college. As for me, having spent most of my life in the US, I appreciated the option of owning a firearm, and appreciated even more the fact that I never felt the need to actually exercise it. Nonetheless, I'm no gun nut, and had only the vaguest idea of how to handle a modern firearm ("Insert magazine. Point muzzle away from self. Pull trigger.")
We were issued the T-65K2 assault rifle. Functionally and visually, it is similar to the U.S. M-16 assault rifle used in Vietnam, although the T-65K2 is also capable of firing in full auto. While some units now use the newer T-91 (similar to the U.S. M-4), the T-65K2 remains the mainstay of most reservist and non-direct combat military units in Taiwan.
Lined up on the parade grounds with our rifles in our hands, and our bayonets on our belts, you could feel the anticipation as the captain raised his bullhorn, ordering a vocal tally of the rifles in the company. This had to be done by each recruit belting out his number in incremental order and kneeling down after reporting. This procedure would be repeated every time firearms were issued and returned to ensure that all issued weapons were accounted for.
After the requisite three or four repetitions it took us to get this right, we learned our first SOP with the T-65K2: group firearms inspection, intended to ensure that the firing chamber was clear.
"Commence firearms inspection!" (驗槍開始！), the captain yelled.
"Kneeling down for firearms inspection!" (驗槍蹲下！), we shouted, holding our rifles with the butts down on the ground.
Naturally, the basic training version of this was unnecessarily elaborate, and required full group synchronization and recitation. We spent an hour trying to get this right.
Our superiors took great pleasure in ordering us to hold our rifles aloft pointed skyward while in a half kneeling position using only our left hand for extended periods of time, ostensibly to check whether there were any foreign objects in the chamber (「通視槍膛！」). Unloaded, the T-65K2 weighs 3.31 kilograms. After 10 seconds in this position, it might as well be 3.31 tons. Arms were shaking up and down the line, interspersed with yelling from the drill sergeants directed at recruits whose rifles were deemed to be less than near vertical.
Lesson: The Army can turn anything into a hazing ritual.
The SOP ends with the synchronized testing of the triggers of the now confirmed empty rifles:
"Fire! Fire again!" (擊發！再擊發！)
Sloppy rendition of the firearms inspection SOP, sans firearms.
It is worth noting that firearms are euphemisms for certain male body parts in many cultures, and Taiwan is no exception. The unofficial lyrics of one popular military marching song goes "I have two guns. One is longer than the other..." (「我有兩支槍，長短不一樣...」).
That evening, a group of new recruits decided to perform a group recital of the firearms inspection SOP in the company showers, complete with requisite sound effects. They had barely gotten to the part about test firing when a gaggle of drill sergeants burst in demanding the identities of those involved. When no answer was forthcoming, everyone in the showers was hauled off to the company office pending further investigation.