FORT HOOD, Texas –
Firing a 50 caliber automatic machine-gun mounted on a moving vehicle, while engaging enemy targets more than 900 meters away under the cover of complete darkness, is a daunting task for even the most seasoned Soldiers, but a group of nearly 60 Army Reserve warriors are here tackling that challenge and more as they train and prepare for an upcoming deployment.
The Soldiers are from the 318th Chemical Company, 490th Chemical Battalion, 415th Chemical Brigade, 76th Division (Operational Response), and they have been conducting a variety of training here including individual and crew-served weapons familiarization and qualifications since arriving Jan. 18.
Perhaps one of the biggest training challenges facing the Soldiers has been the live fire qualification ranges for the vehicle mounted M2 50 caliber machine-gun.
“Our mission here is for each of our Soldiers to build a solid skill set with their weapons systems and gain confidence with those skills so they can successfully defend themselves and others in a convoy,” said 1st Lt. Bradley Burch, executive officer, 318th Chem. Co., 490th Chem. Bn., 76th Div. (OR). “Before we conclude our training we will validate all primary and alternate weapons crews through both daytime and nighttime gunnery exercises.”
For most of the Soldiers, this was their first time behind the trigger of the M2 and safety was paramount. Before putting live rounds downrange, each Soldier received plenty of instruction and hands-on training.
“Prior to participating in the live fire exercise the Soldiers spent time training on the weapons systems utilizing the Engagement Skills Trainer (EST), as well as firing blank rounds through them in both a daytime and nighttime environment,” said Burch. “They also conducted live fire familiarization with the weapons, and now that training culminates with putting what they’ve learned to test here in the daytime and nighttime live fire qualification.”
In order to successfully complete the live fire qualification course the Soldiers break up into 12 teams of three. Each team then loads into a Humvee or Light-Medium Tactical Vehicle (LMTV) with a M2 50 caliber automatic machine-gun mounted on top. Some of the mounted weapons systems required the Soldiers to manually aim and fire them, while others utilized the Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station (CROWS) which allows Soldiers to aim and fire the gun using a monitor and joystick while remaining inside the vehicle.
Before driving onto the course, each team was required to bore sight their weapons, conduct radio checks, draw and load ammunition, check their gear and prepare themselves for the challenge ahead.
Once on the course, the teams faced five various shooting scenarios ranging from engaging enemy troops in the open to moving enemy vehicles at various distances. They also had to contend with switching gunners and engaging targets after donning chemical protective masks. The teams ultimate goal was to attain 500 points during the daytime course and 500 points during the nighttime course. In order to qualify and be validated, they must obtain a minimum of 700 total points.
“This has been some intense training,” said Cpl. Jerome Overton, decontamination specialist, 318th Chem. Co., 76th Div. (OR). “It’s the first time I’ve ever put my hands on a 50 caliber machine gun. It’s definitely been a learning experience but it’s also been pretty fun.”
Echoing Overton’s comments was one of his fellow crew members. “This training has been challenging,” said Spc. Daniel David, a decontamination specialist, 318th Chem. Co., 76th Div. (OR). “It’s not for the faint of heart. It requires a lot of you physically, mentally and emotionally, but I’ve enjoyed it.”
The crews will spend a couple of days on the range honing their gunnery skills before moving on to other challenges here which will include shooting the M249 squad automatic weapon, the M203 grenade launcher, the M16A2 service rifle and completing a land navigation course. They will also tackle a host of mandatory classes to help ensure they have the knowledge needed for their upcoming deployment.
Despite the long hours, various weather conditions and a host of challenging training most of the Soldiers seem to relish the opportunity to increase their existing skills and learn new ones.
“I’ve really enjoyed the training we’ve had here,” said Sgt. Stephen Wilson, decontamination specialist, 318th Chem. Co., 76th Div. (OR). “I’ve learned a lot from my team out here. One of the things I’ve learned is that you are going to make mistakes, you just have to learn from those mistakes and just keep on keeping on.”