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Security Forces bring out big guns at Army base

  • Published
  • By Ty Greenlees
  • 88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

CAMP ATTERBURY, Ind. For heavier weapons such as the M240B, M249, M2 machine gun and M203 grenade launcher, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base combat-arms instructors travel one state over to qualify personnel at an outdoor range.

“The 7.62 mm bullets for the M240Bs are too large for our indoor range,” says Tech. Sgt. Richard Thomas, the 88th Security Forces Squadron’s noncommissioned officer in charge of combat arms. “Those and the 5.56 mm bullets for the M249 are lead with a high rate of fire, so we can’t use them, either. And, of course, the way the 203 grenade launcher works, we need to be outside.”

On a recent trip to the Army base in Edinburgh, Thomas and three instructors worked with other 88 SFS personnel.

“We have four ‘Defenders’ that are deploying within the next few weeks, and they’re here to qualify for that. We, as instructors, were also catching up on our qualifications,” Thomas said.

The Airmen unpack thousands of ammunition rounds and four machine guns on Range 22A. The training starts with mounting two M240B, 7.62-mm machine guns on tripods, overlooking a sizable firing range littered with defunct tanks and vehicles used as targets.

Two Wright-Patt “Defenders” work as a team to operate the M240B as the instructors assist with clearing the guns, if needed, when they jam. The gunner fires the weapon while an assistant gunner reloads it and changes the barrel. As the gunner fires, the M240B’s barrel heats up rapidly and must be changed after 200 rounds.

Bullets from the M240B kick up clouds of dust around the tank hulls nearly 300 yards away as bursts of automatic gunfire echo across the range.

“Nice shooting,” calls out Senior Airman Jerome Fogg, an 88 SFS combat arms instructor, in between bursts of machine-gun fire by Senior Airman Aurielle Marvin, an 88 SFS patrolman.

“It kind of just takes your breath away,” Marvin said about firing the M240B. “If you’ve never shot one before, you’re not expecting how fast the rate of fire is. It’s the only gun that we shoot where you hold the trigger down and let it run.”

When all the ammunition has been expended, the Airmen retrieve the spent brass cartridges and ammo-belt links for recycling.

Once the M240Bs are removed, the 5.56 mm M249 machine guns are mounted to the tripods. The M249s look very similar to the M240Bs but are slightly smaller, lighter and fire smaller bullets at a faster rate.

Several gun jams give the “Defenders” practice clearing the weapons and swapping out parts. Soon, they have peppered the range with approximately 1,500 rounds and used up their ammo.

Again, the group combs the area to recycle cartridges and leave the range clean.

The group then moved to a different range at Camp Atterbury for the M203 grenade launcher, which attaches to the M4 rifle’s underside. This range also had vehicles placed as targets at different distances out to 250 yards.

The 40 mm grenades being launched are practice rounds that puff orange-marker smoke when they hit targets or the ground instead of exploding. “Defenders” took turns firing with the instructors. Shoutouts are made as the Security Forces Airmen pepper the vehicles with orange marks until all the rounds are expended.

As the team packed away the weapons and prepared to return to Wright-Patt, Marvin reflected on the day: “We were really excited to be here today because some of us have never shot these weapons before.”

“I learned how to mount the machine gun on a turret and be an assistant gunner to reload, clear and change the barrel on the gun. It definitely gave me the confidence to be deployed and be behind the gun. I feel that I could effectively hit a target in front of me.”

Thomas said the Camp Atterbury trips could become more frequent.

“We’ve been qualifying about 30 personnel per year on machine guns,” he added. “Moving forward, we’re going to be out here once a quarter for the ‘Defenders’ to qualify, and that will put us at about 45 personnel per year.”