Live Ammunition Practice



At the close of last semester the graduate student who had been working part-time with our  international students had to leave. The next semester she would be doing her practicum in teaching – real students in a real classroom – and she needed to put all her efforts into this challenge. Having worked with this young woman for about two years, there was no doubt in my mind but that she could walk into any classroom and teach effectively. She would approach that task with the same sense of professionalism and excellence with which she had done everything asked of her since I began working with her. I suggested she did not really need a practicum, and she stared at me blankly. “Oh yes I do. I wouldn’t know what to do with real students.” That brought to my mind my memory of the first time I walked into a classroom to teach, and recalled how I had mustered what confidence I could from my own practicum experience.

Practicums are good ideas. You get to practice with the real thing but with the real pressure turned off. This way, when the real pressure is turned on, you can go about doing your job with confidence. This is why doctors do internships and lawyers clerk for judges. Why, even every graduate of Old Dominion University is guaranteed an internship in their discipline as part of their undergraduate experience. So could someone please tell me why a SECOND naval battle group from the United States of America is getting ready to deploy WITHOUT THEIR PRACTICUM?

When battle groups go to sea, they have no idea what they will be asked to do over the next six months. So they get ready for anything and everything that they are supposed to be able to do, should they be asked. And one of those things involves the handling and launching of live ammunition. This is very dangerous work. Let me give you an example of how easily something can go wrong in this scenario.

Back in the sixties, the jets were lined up on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier Forrestal off the coast of Vietnam. The jets were armed with live ammunition. A piece of support equipment, which carries heavy objects around the flight deck, was parked on the flight deck, with its engine running. The exhaust of the support equipment was hot; so hot it heated up a live missile loaded onto the nearest jet. The missile ignited, launching itself into an adjacent plane, in which sat the pilot, none other than John McCain.

134 sailors died in the multiple explosions that followed. Fuel-fed explosions. Ordinance explosions. Explosions all over the flight deck. Fathers died. Sons died. Brothers, cousins, real good friends – they all died.

Working with live ordinance is highly dangerous. Our men and women in uniform need to train with live ammunition so that the scene on the Forrestal I just tried to depict for you will never be repeated. Working with inert bombs just doesn’t do it. I believe that this is why John Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, refers to the administration’s plan to resume training on Vieques but with inert bombs as “half a loaf.”

The men and women who work on the flight decks of our carriers cannot wait for a referendum as late as 2002 by the people of Puerto Rico to decide if live bombs can be used on the training range in Vieques. The carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower leaves this month for a six month deployment. They are not combat ready as they did not get that much-needed practicum. The George Washington battle group, which will deploy in six months, is now beginning training to prepare for that next deployment. Fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, cousins, close friends, and good neighbors will all be working on those flight decks. Without their practicum.

It just ain’t right.

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