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How it Felt to Carry a Gun in Combat

An inactivated Marine officer describes the sensations of carrying a gun in actual combat. From River City One by Lt. John J. Waters USMC.

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How it Felt to Carry a Gun in Combat military camouflage

The following is an excerpt from River City One: A Novel.

The safety was flicked off, the hammer cocked.

The gun was one inch above the seam of my pants pocket. A sudden move and the thing might go off. I closed both eyes and held my breath to slow everything down, breathing only to catch my breath. It was a couple of pounds, maybe three, and I felt it hanging, the weight of bullets pressed inside the hollow grip and tugging down on the waistband of my khakis.

The gun had been an accessory, a set of car keys slipped into my pocket on the way out of the house; I had taken for granted that it would follow me everywhere. Metal grooves and small notches of the grip filled with rust when shamal winds whipped sand into the air, the heavy rotations of a dust-off grinding blue skies into dust. Oiling and scrubbing. Oiling and scrubbing, cleaning each nook with a toothbrush to make sure the bolt didn’t jam up with grit, just to make sure the thing fired when I needed it to. I carried it inside dust-filled trucks rumbling over potholes and every cut and groove in the road. I carried it standing in line for a plate of hot food, holding a plastic tray in my hands, letting my elbow rest at my hip, in the small space between the hammer and sight posts. I took the gun off my hip only to clip the holster into the nylon straps of the flak jacket that covered my chest, so high up I could rest my chin across the long steel grip and fall asleep.

But there was risk in taking it off, so I took the gun with me into the green plastic porta-shitters, the dense sound of metal striking the soiled plastic floor when I unfastened my belt, pants sagging to my knees. When I slept, when I ate, it stayed clipped into my pants, welded to my side through so many places I forgot it was on me until I saw somebody else’s pistol lodged in a leather-strapped shoulder holster—dangling under his armpit like he was a police detective in an old movie—reminded me. The calm returned only when my palm grabbed onto a fistful of black grip stock.


That was years ago.

Today it was new again.

“Wait for the natural pause in breath,” a voice said.

The words sounded strange coming from the blonde with a pistol tucked into the top of her white pants. She was hanging close enough that I could see the brown of her irises and the freckles splashed across the bridge of her nose.

I pressed the soft flesh between my thumb and forefinger into the smooth notch and let my right hand fold around the outside of the three-inch handle, forefinger resting straight along the barrel, just above the trigger well. The rough surface of the gun’s handle grated like sandpaper against the insides of my fingers. I drew in a long breath and held it. One, two, three counts.


My heartbeat thudded through the insides of my ears, each beat deepening the longer I held the breath. The air exited as my right index finger touched the holster’s release button. I swept the pistol forward in one smooth motion until my arm reached full extension. My left hand molded onto the opposite side of the pistol, cradling the gun in both hands, index fingers pointed to the target.

She was smiling.

“Slow and steady pressure—let the weapon surprise you,” the voice said.

I pulled my fingertip back gently and waited for the sound.



The hammer dropped into a bright spark of flame and the barrel jerked upward, my shoulders rocking me backward onto my heels.

I exhaled then waited.





The firing became automatic, shell casings leaping from the barrel and falling soundlessly to the ground. The empty magazine dropped from the handle and I took one long breath, relieved, noticing for the first time the smell of charcoal smoke and sulfur. I set the pistol down on the metal tray and stepped back, eyes panning left and right. The room was small, only a few shooters standing within arm’s reach of one another. A hand reached beside me and turned the switch, making the sheet of paper come flying toward me, stopping so close to my head I felt the brush of air on my cheeks.

The report was good. Five holes clustered like a honeycomb inside the target’s chest.

John J. Waters graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. He served in the Marine Corps on deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq. He lives with his family in Nebraska, where he was born.

This article was originally published by RealClearDefense and made available via RealClearWire.

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John J. Waters graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. He served in the Marine Corps on deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq. He lives with his family in Nebraska, where he was born.

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