M-16 - How Much Does It Cost?

It was supposed to be a routine short range reconnaissance – checkout what appeared to be an abandoned enemy bunker. An air team, using LOHs (light observation helicopters, pronounced “loaches”), spotted the bunker in the bush. A platoon of “blues” (grunts) was inserted to check it out. The objective, about 500 meters away, would require us to trek through thick elephant grass and cross a stream. It had been raining heavily but we got a break and the insertion went according to plan. By the time we reached the stream, it was about knee-high and we crossed it easily. We reached the objective without enemy contact and discovered a small supply of weapons in the bunker. There were some Russian or Chinese SKS rifles, some AK-47s, and some RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) rounds. It was decided to carry the weapons out.

We divided the stuff to carry out. I ended up with 2 RPG rounds stuffed into my knee-high trouser pockets and strapped an SKS around my neck and shoulders. It was awkward for me to carry more since I was the radio operator which meant I had to lug a PRC-25 field radio in addition to my own M-16 and 3 bandoliers of ammunition (27 magazines). Most everyone else carried a lot more of the captured weapons.

By the time we reached the stream to cross for extraction, it had swollen to over waist-high, almost chest-high. It took a few attempts to get our first guy across. We tied a rappelling rope around his waist and, although he ended up significantly downstream from insertion, he eventually crossed and returned back upstream to provide a guide rope for the rest of us. It was going fairly smoothly until a few of the big guys decided to cross without the guide rope. A couple of them underestimated the strength of rushing water and were toppled. They rolled downstream into 4 or 5 of us who were crossing at the same time with the aid of the rope. The impact caused some of us to lose our grip on the rope. I found myself being pushed along the stream bottom by the combination of the swift current and the extra weight that I was carrying. I couldn’t get my head above the surface of the water and actually thought how this would be a stupid way to die. My hands or arms must have been raised because the next thing I felt was a strong grip pulling me to the surface and helping me to the shoreline where I scrambled out of the water. Somewhere between entering and exiting the stream, I lost one of the RPG rounds, the SKS rifle (even though it had been strapped around my neck and shoulder) and my own M-16, also strapped around my shoulder. My PRC-25, which is essentially carried as a backpack, was almost stripped from me, dangling by only one shoulder strap.

Extraction and return to LZ Sally went normally. Two days later, however, I was handed a sheet of paper to sign, essentially admitting that I had lost my M-16. Consequently, the grand sum of $112.50 would be extracted from my pay. I was dumbfounded. I checked with S4 (Supply) and was advised that this was just a formality. All I needed to do was sign another form claiming that I lost my weapon under combat conditions, which I did, and all was forgiven.

Well, that’s the price of an M-16 – you know, the one whose nylon stock was made by Mattel so that “Made by Mattel” was actually stamped on it, no kidding!