MSgt Marion L. “Butch” Rupert Jr.

MSgt Marion L. “Butch” Rupert Jr.

29 Apr 1950 – 24 Dec 2018

His parents named him after his dad. I don’t know why he preferred to be called Butch. He was a Master Sergeant (MSgt). He drove an old yellow and white Chevy pickup.

Butch was the Superindendent of the Francis E. Warren AFB Combat Arms, Training, and Maintenance (CATM) section.

When the Army uses the phrase Combat Arms, they are referring to the big three at the pointy end of the spear: Infantry, Armor, and Artillery. When the Air Force uses the term, it means small arms, or as they say, “ground weapons.” CATM were the “red hats” who ran the firing ranges.

MSgt Rupert was also the shooting coach of our Olympic Arena (Missile Combat Competition) Security Police team. OA was a Strategic Air Command competition between the various nuclear missile wings.

Butch was very even-keeled. He was the opposite of flamboyant. Nothing seemed to flap him.

He knew his business.

Butch zeroes a hog (M60) at Camp Guernsey, Wyoming.


Not even A1s

In the 1980s, the USAF was still issuing original M16s (not M16A1s or A2s), with iron sights. They had very few of the modifications, such as enhancements to the extractor spring, considered essential for reliability today. Those upgrades occurred in fits and starts over the years, as shortcomings in the original AR15 design, and fixes for them, were discovered. Our rifles didn’t even have forward assists–although some of ours had been repaired with replacement upper receivers that had the raised bump where a forward assist would be; apparently they had been milled after the forward assist became standard on the M16A1.

I was a rifleman by trade. Security specialists were the infantry of the Air Force. I thought I knew a lot about M16s.

In my own defense, I knew a lot more about them than most of my peers, because I was what one ATF friend calls a “stroke.” A stroke is a person who really gets into guns. Besides, I had read a lot of military history, including the works of SLA Marshall, who was less than charitable toward the M16.

Fifteen yards beyond where Keller lay,” Marshall wrote in West to Cambodia, “his own [M16] rifle jammed. (Hunter, a graduate mechanical engineer from Georgia Tech, despised this weapon.)” Indeed, that entire book, published in 1968, was full of examples of M16s having stoppages in the middle of fire fights.

And it was only one of many sources I’d read disparaging the AR series, at least before they worked the bugs out. One periodical I read in 1982 quoted an un-named Czech arms manufacturer as having written “It is a sad fact that nation with such great firearms tradition has selected such poor weapons [M16A1s] for its armed forces. . . Motherland of great J. M. Browning deserves a better rifle, I think.”


Sometimes, old guys know stuff

As our command-wide competition neared, Butch told us we would not be cleaning our rifles in the week before the match. “They actually shoot a little tighter when they’re dirty,” he said. He meant dirty from carbon, not mud or dirt.

My hand immediately shot into the air. I was obsessive with firearms maintenance. I literally wore out guns by cleaning them more than necessary.

“I’m not worried about dropping a point because my rifle isn’t accurate enough,” I objected. “I am worried about dropping 5 points when a pop-up goes down while I’m trying to clear a jam.”

“They’ve done tests,” Butch replied, “and as long as it’s well lubed, these things will fire thousands of rounds.”

“Maybe,” I started, “but if you talk to somebody who was in Viet Nam–“

“I was . . . in Viet Nam,” Butch replied, slowly and succinctly.

“Yeah. Well, if you talk to somebody who was in the Army in Viet Nam–“

“I was . . . in the Army . . . in Viet Nam,” he said, even more slowly.

I decided to shut up and color.

Butch using binos to see how the boys were doing downrange. This was not 10 meter scaled silhouettes, it was actual distance. While were were shooting M60s at Camp Guernsey, Army Guard artillery were firing past us to even further downrange.

That was the only time he ever mentioned his Southeast Asian service, in my presence. I later found references to it in his obituaries.

It was not unusual for people who’d done an enlistment or two in the Army or Marines to cross over to the Air Force once they started having families.

It’s never been a secret that USAF enlisted personnel have nicer accommodations than officers in other services.

When former soldiers and Marines enlisted in the “Airedales,” many were assigned to the Security Police (now called Security Forces) or CATM (then a separate career field from the SPs), two of the closer USAF analogs to their previous skill sets.

Butch was one of those.

MSgt Rupert taught me a lot about the rifle, about marksmanship, and about staying calm under pressure.

He was also the first instructor I remember who used the heuristic technique of placing a finger over the student’s trigger finger, so they could learn by feel the way he wanted them to pull the trigger. I’m sure he didn’t invent that, but I learned it from him.

I’d been handling AR series rifles for 6 or 7 years before I met him, but Butch was the first to teach me a quick, effective way to clear (the less than common) brass-over-bolt stoppages: lock & hold the bolt to the rear, shove the charging handle forward.


Mastering the Iron Sights

Butch was an expert in the now-dying art of using “iron” rifle sights.

The front sights of the M16 and the M16A1 had a round cross section. They were circular when viewed from the top. One of the changes when they came out with the A2 was to go to a squared off front sight, which was crisper and easier to focus on (that change has stayed with us). The M16 sights were also gun metal grey, and sometimes, when worn, were lighter. My eyes were much clearer then, and I could focus on the front sight, but Butch showed us how to make it easier to see.

He used to take a piece of masking tape, fold it in on itself lengthwise, and set it on fire. Then, holding the flaming tape under our front sights, he would blacken them with carbon from the smoke. That black front sight stood in sharper contrast to the green targets we shot at.

Butch had a sense of humor, too. Once, when I wasn’t looking, he also blackened the (already black) stock where I put my cheek. It took me a while to figure out why the others were smirking at me–I had a black smudge on my face, like a chimney sweep from Mary Poppins.

MSgt Rupert taught me where to hold that front sight post when canting the rifle to see through the rear peep, while wearing an M17 gas mask.

That doesn’t matter much when you are shooting scaled silhouettes at 25 meters, because that’s the initial intersection where we zeroed military rifles. But in those days we shot at actual distance. It matters when your target is really at 200 or 300 meters. Instead of going up through your line of sight, over it, and dropping back down through it (assuming no wind), the trajectory of a bullet from a canted rifle goes up through the line of sight, crossing through it at the initial intersection (just like with a vertical rifle), but then arcs up and over toward the side the rifle is leaning to, from the shooter’s perspective.

Here’s a sketch from one of my shooting logs. We were training on a 50 to 350 meter pop-up range at Ft Carson. The outlines represent standard, olive drab, E-series human silhouette targets (we called them “green Earnies”); the dark rectangles represent the front sight of “Paullus,” my issued M16. I hit more often with the hold labelled B.

The flip up mechanisms for targets on Army ranges flipped the target down when they sensed a hit. A near miss over the shoulder, next to the head, of an Earnie would not be registered as a hit, but a low miss skipping the bullet (and rocks / dirt) into the target might; so we held a little low when shooting on Army ranges.

I named my M16, sn 306130, after the Roman consul who tried to dissuade Varro from giving battle to Hannibal at Cannae. Paullus was my on-duty companion from 1987 through 1992, including my deployment to Op Desert Storm.

During the 1998 Texas Police Games, I canted my issued M14 slightly, to get a more stable position. But I forgot to adjust my front sight hold as Butch had taught me a decade before, and it cost me at 200 meters.


Butch and the M203

Butch also taught me that grenade launchers are fired like recurve bows–intuitively.

By feel.

Like throwing a baseball from left field to third base.

M-203 with leaf sight flipped up, mounted to M-4, at Medina in 2008.


M203 Sighting Options and Effective Range

In those days, the M203 40mm grenade launcher had two main sighting systems:

  1. A more precise, peep and post quadrant sight, and
  2. A leaf, or “combat,” sight.

The leaf sight had triangular wings coming in from the sides, like rungs of a ladder, in 50 meter increments from 50 to 250 meters.

M203 Leaf “Combat” Sight. FM 23-31 20 Sep 1994, p. 3-5.

After estimating the distance to the target, you lined that distance on the leaf sight up wth the rifle’s front sight.

The quadrant sight was adjustable out to 400 meters, the maximum range of the system, although the “effective” range of the ‘203, against an area target, was 350 meters. It bolted onto the Samsonite (carrying handle) of the M16.

M203 Quadrant Sight. FM 23-31 20 Sep 1994, p. 3-4.

Maximum range is the distance the projectile will travel under ideal conditions. Maximum effective range is the distance you are as likely as not to hit a target.

Specifically, effective range was the distance the so-called “average” soldier could hit the target 50% of the time. For most weapons, that target was a standing green Earnie. When calculating effective range, two types of targets are considered:

  1. Point, and
  2. Area.

With a grenade launcher, a point target might be a vehicle, or the window of a building or bunker. The main purpose of a grenade, after all, is to take out people who are bunkered down out of your direct line of sight (we call that being “in defilade“). If the bad guy doesn’t expose enough of himself through the 3rd floor window of a concrete building for you to shoot him with a rifle bullet, you can lob a grenade in through the window and nail him from behind. Against a point target, the M-203 had a maximum effective range of 150 meters.

An area target might be an enemy camp, or a platoon spread out on patrol. You don’t expect to hit any particular enemy combatant, but you hope to at least injure a few of them. A civilian equivalent of an area target was the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada. The maniac on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay wasn’t trying to hit any specific person on 01 Oct 2017; he was just spraying bullets into the literally captive audience.

View from the area target of the Route 91 Harvest Festival.

That murderer in the Mandalay Bay was a lame bastard. Where’s the challenge in shooting at dozens of acres of real estate?

“I prefer to fight the European armies, but they do not fight as men – they fight as dogs! Men prefer to fight with swords, so they can see each other’s eyes! Sometimes, this is not possible. Then, they fight with rifles. The Europeans have guns that fire many times promiscuously and rend the earth. There is no honor in this – nothing is decided from this . . ..”

–Sean Connery, as the Berber chieftain Raisuli, in The Wind and the Lion

The M433 HEDP (High Explosive Pual-Purpose) grenades we were issued could penetrate 2 inches of armored vehicle, but they also produced fragmentation capable of injuring 50% of enemy personnel with 5 meters of detonation. Hence, the “blast radius” of an M433 40 mm grenade was 5 meters. As with tossing horse shoes, close sometimes counts.

Chillin’ at an open-topped bunker outside our nuclear weapons storage area, with a can full o’ 40mm HE, ca. 1989.


Limitations are Made to be Pushed

The quadrant sight worked really well when you were trying to put a grenade through the firing port of a bunker. Most grenade launcher firing ranges have a 2×2′ squares representing a window, at ranges out to 150 meters.

The quadrant sight was relatively fragile, though. I did not anticipate it still being there 30 seconds into an ambush, after I had rolled away from my second or third 3 – 5 second rush (“I’m up, He sees me, I’m down”). I made it a habit to leave the quadrant sight off the gun, in a protective pouch, and worked harder on being good with the leaf sight instead.

Although vehicles were, strictly speaking, “point” targets when lobbing grenades from a launcher, our grenade range at FE Warren AFB had small, deadlined (kaput) APCs, armored personnel carriers, as targets out to about 400 meters. Just because Field Manual 23-31 said the max effective of an M203 was 350 meters for “average” soldiers, didn’t mean that had to be MY max effective with it.

Butch encouraged us to push beyond what was expected.

When I became a federal law enforcement firearms instructor, I followed Butch’s example. We qualified out to 25 yards with our pistols–but I occasionally had our agents hitting things at 50 – 100, just to show them they could do it if they needed to.


40 mms are like baseballs

Once, when MSgt Rupert was running me through an M203 course, I did OK shooting through the “windows” at closer distances, but couldn’t hit the farthest APC using the leaf sight. At that distance, you had to look at the rifle’s front sight over the top of the leaf sight, guesstimating how much higher another 50 meter increment would be.

To complicate matters further, it was a typically windy Wyoming day, and that big, fat, slow moving (250 feet per second) 40mm grenade got pushed around by the wind like a paper boat.

I just couldn’t connect with that farthest APC.

Butch stood beside me, patiently, through missed shot after missed shot.

Finally, he grabbed me by the arms and moved me around, still standing beside me, not even looking anywhere near a sighting system. He just looked downrange at the APC. After he had me adjusted where he wanted, he held me still and said simply, “Pull the trigger.”

We hit it.


Ready to Go

I knew my days to learn from MSgt Rupert were limited when I was on the phone at his desk once.

Kids, there was a time when phones were in fixed locations. The receiver, a banana shaped thingee with a speaker for your ear and a microphone for your mouth, was attached by a chord to the rest of it, so you had to stay near where it was plugged in.

The upside, if any, was that you never forgot where you put the phone.

Anyway, I needed to make a call, and he wasn’t at his desk, which had a phone, so I parked myself in Butch’s chair. During the call, I needed something to write on, so I fished around for some scrap paper. There was a 3M Post-it notepad in a prominent location on MSgt Rupert’s desk. “That’ll do,” I thought, pinching the telephone receiver between my shoulder and my ear, and grabbing a pen.

The top Post-it already had a number written on it. Probably old data, but just in case it meant something to somebody, I peeled it off and stuck it next to the pad, preparing to write down what I needed on the next Post-it.

It also had a number on it already.

As did the next. And the next.

Every single Post-it in the pad had a number on it.

It was easy to establish a pattern. The number on the top Post-it was something like 327. The next one down was one less, 326. And so on.

Butch had less than a year to go until retirement. 327 (or whatever it was) days, in fact. But who’s counting?

Butch was outstanding at his job. He might even have loved it (one must, to be as good as he was at it). But when it was time to go, he was ready.

MSgt Marion L. Rupert was an artist. The finely honed skills of the riflemen on our team were his works of art.

God rest your soul, Butch. Thank you for your wisdom and patience, sir.

–George H, Lead Instructor, Heloderm LLC 

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