SCHWEINFURT, Germany — Sixteen-year-old B.J. Hinze lay flat on a mat, staring through the sight of his M16 rifle at a green man-shaped target 25 meters across the grass.
He squeezed the trigger. Boom! Down went the target. Boom! Down it went again. Twenty times — without a miss.
“I’ve shot a shotgun before, but nothing like this,” said Hinze, grinning, after he had finished. “It’s something I’ve wanted to try for a long time.”
“Guy time” is limited these days for boys such as B.J., whose dad is serving in Iraq this year with the 1st Infantry Division. But on Monday, he and 35 other youngsters spent Monday in training with rear-detachment soldiers from the Schweinfurt-based 1st Battalion, 7th Field Artillery Regiment.
The unit’s noncommissioned officers came up with the plan for the “Boys’ Day Out” over the past 4½ weeks, said 1st Sgt. Wilbert Ebbs, the rear-detachment NCO in charge.
“We saw some of the boys in the battalion who seem a little lost with their fathers gone,” Ebbs said. “We thought we’d get them out for some male-bonding type things.”
The boys, ages 4 to 16, started out in weapons-safety classes on the firing range at Schweinfurt’s Victory Training Center. Then they practiced shooting with indoor rifle simulators, the same ones their fathers train on.
Finally they trekked out, two at a time, to the rifle range, clad in flak vests and Kevlar helmets. There, under the close supervision of Sgt. 1st Class Will Egbers and several assistants, they fired M4s and M16s — yes, with live ammunition — at targets placed in front of a grassy berm.
After they finished shooting, they ate a barbecue lunch. The kids bubbled over their new experience. Several said they thought such a powerful automatic rifle would kick harder against their shoulders.
“You couldn’t feel a thing under all that armor,” said Derrin King, 8. “After I shot the second or third shot, it was easy.”
Capt. Matthew Lennox, the rear-detachment commander, said it took some convincing at higher levels to get approval for a live-fire event involving children.
“There weren’t a lot of people who thought bringing 5-year-olds out here was a good idea,” he admitted. “[The NCOs] had a lot of naysayers early, but they pushed it through.”
Sergeants divided the boys into squadrons and marched them from one training station to the next. Sgt. John Garcia called out cadence for his pint-sized charges. He called his squad the “Dragons,” though one youngster piped up that he’d prefer to be a “Power Ranger.”
“I enjoy being with the kids, and it gave them a taste of what their dads do,” Garcia said. “We don’t want them to forget their dads are doing an important job.”
Lennox shot photos to send to the 1-7 Field Artillery’s soldier-dads. The unit could use a boost: Six of its men have been killed since 1st ID deployed in February.
“I think it’ll pay big dividends,” he said. “It reassures them we’re doing our job, taking care of their families.”