PETERSBURG, Va. (AP) _ The Army is taking steps to reduce accidental discharges through a new weapons immersion program fully implemented this year throughout the Army's 16 training facilities.
Army officials say the goal of the program being offered at places like Fort Sill in Oklahoma is to ensure soldiers become more familiar with the weapons they'll be using in combat zones like Iraq or Afghanistan.
The hope is such training will reduce or eliminate the number of soldiers injured or killed by accidental discharges.
The Army's Combat Readiness Center says 21 soldiers were killed by accidental discharges in either Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003. Eighty-nine others were injured.
As part of the training, soldiers receive their M-16 rifles -- and blank ammunition -- on the third day of training and keep it with them for the next six to 12 weeks, depending on the length of training.
The only time they do not have their weapons is when they enter chapels or clinics, or when the rifles are checked in for the weekend.