Troops call it the "mad minute," a short period of intense fire.
Three infantry officers — reacting to a USA TODAY story about Pentagon problems counting its bullets — recalled their own mad-minute experiences on the firing range at the end of budget cycles.
They took their troops to the range and had them blow through their remaining ammunition. The exercises achieved two aims: Young soldiers and Marines gained proficiency with their weapons, and the mad minutes ensured that not a single bullet was left over. If too many units had surplus ammunition at the end of the year, the officers said, their brigade or division could be issued fewer bullets the following year.
Burning through extra ammo meant that one platoon became expert at firing Claymore mines, anti-personnel munitions that would have been surplus if not used, one officer said. Another learned how to build improvised explosives. The former officers spoke on condition of anonymity because they still serve in the military or do business with the Pentagon.
One former officer remembers two cardinal rules of the range: Plan enough live-fire exercises to shoot every bullet provided for in a fiscal year. Two, when large sums of ammunition are delivered to the range, nothing should be turned back in lest you be accused of poor planning.
The combination promotes mad minutes. Troops, particularly young ones, eagerly await them. It's what they live for, one officer said, and it's usually done without incident. But not always.
Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., has called on the Pentagon to do a better job of accounting for its ammunition at the macro level, estimating the waste in millions of dollars. Carper, who chairs the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said bad bookkeeping on ammo threatens the ability of troops to complete their missions.
The Government Accountability Office found that the military's obsolete inventory systems can't keep track of usable, surplus ammunition. That means some could be lost in storage or destroyed.
"This report is a troubling reminder that the Department of Defense has more work to do in managing taxpayer dollars effectively," said Carper, who served as a naval aviator during the Vietnam War.
The effects at the top of the Pentagon from poor accounting of ammunition are fiscal. The effect on the firing range of getting rid of excess ammo can be physical. Two of the officers recalled troops being wounded during mad minutes.