There I was, knee deep in hand grenade pins, the Soviets rolling over the hill in T72 tanks, me with only a P38 and the pucker factor of a gnat’s ass.
Wait. Wrong story. Back up, let me try again.
There I was, knee deep in a triple canopy rain forest, birds screaming in the trees, death adders making the long grass tremble as I trained Papua New Guinea soldiers in the correct way to fire and break down an Ultimax 100.
Yeah. That’s the story I was looking for.
It was the early 1990s and I was on a several month tour in Papua New Guinea. Among my missions was to assist in training Papua New Guinea (PNG) soldiers in advanced infantry techniques. One of the interesting things about the PNG defense forces was that they didn’t have a national weapon. They used all sorts. Some carried M16s. Some carried AK-47s. Still others carried British SA-10s, with its fixed optical sight system. On this particular day in the 110 degree jungle somewhere near the Kokoda Trail, a platoon of irregulars was testing the Ultimax.
Now I’d never seen the Ultimax before. To me it looked like something out of World War II. Although it looks arcane, it fires 5.56mm rounds, with very little recoil, and has a 60 round drum. Firing it, I sort of felt like a high tech, old time, Chicago gangster. I was able to break it down and piece it back together pretty easily. Made in Singapore, this 5.56 variant had fairly common gas-operated bones.
When it came time for my platoon of PNG irregulars to fire, down came the regular U.S. bull’s-eye targets we used in the U.S. military, and up went paper images of afro-headed insurgents, complete with leering grins on their comical faces. I loved it and found it so much more ideal than our regulation targets. Now we could aim at a specific limb, or area of the torso, providing a higher degree of aiming rigor. I called the range to control, got everyone ready, issued ammo, then called for fire.
Limbs crashed. Leaves fell like confetti. The screaming of the birds disappeared. The targets remained unscathed.
Glancing at the irregulars, I noticed for the first time that they all looked a little bit intimidated by the weapon. Then I looked at the weapons they’d brought. Fifty-year-old shotguns. A few .30-.30 hunting rifles that could have been used by Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. That’s where recognition stopped. I saw surgical tubing affixed to old shotguns, bored out to load pungi spears. I saw hand pistols with springs and coils—something that could have been a steampunk weapon of a cargo cult. I saw machetes, a spade sharpened into a deadly point, and what looked like a Samurai sword—which, as it turned out, it was.
I approached the stacked weapons and picked up the machete. It had a different feel to it. I asked aloud if anyone had used it. A Trobriand Island corporal approached and took it from me. It was his.
“Last time was on my captain,” he said.
I looked for an eye twitch or any indication he could be pulling my leg, but his face remained open and still.
“You used it on your captain?” I asked.
He nodded, a smile breaking across his face. “Yes. Yes.” Then he waved the machete and the others cheered.
You know when you want to ask a question but you know you shouldn’t? If you’re like me, you don’t often listen to that inner voice. “Why the hell did you do that?” I asked.
“He took the sixty.”
“He took the M60. He’s captain. Corporal takes M60. Captain no take sixty.”
“So you hit him with that?” I said, pointing at the machete.
“Cut his arm,” the corporal said. But then his countenance brightened. “But it’s okay. I cut it off here,” he said, laying the edge of the machete across the center of my forearm.
I slowly removed my arm from danger and nodded. What was I to say? How was I to make this a teaching point? Finally it came to me. I cleared my throat and said, “I suppose that’s one way to get him to give back the M60, but now you have to help him tie his boots.”
We spent the rest of the day working on the Ultimax. Soon, the irregulars were aiming like pros, sewing rounds across the paper torsos of their afro-headed targets. Every now and then, I’d take a look at the irregular weapons they’d stacked, reminding myself of the challenges that can be faced and happy I hadn’t decided to carry the M60.
Machete image via exquisitur’s Flickr.
Weston Ochse’s last name is pronounced “oaks.” Together with his first name, it sounds like a stately trailer park. He is the author of nine novels, most recently SEAL Team 666, which comes out in December 2012. He lives in the Arizona desert within rock throwing distance of Mexico. For fun he races tarantula wasps and watches the black helicopters dance along the horizon.
Read all posts by Weston Ochse for Criminal Element.