CENTRAL COMMAND AREA OF OPERATION -- Under the blistering heat of the unrelenting desert sun, Marines with Company D, Light Armored Reconnaissance, Battalion Landing Team 3/1, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), focus downrange during recent live-fire training here.
Scanning the desert landscape, littered with sand dunes that appear to melt into the horizon, the Marines look for possible targets in the vast, open area surrounding them.
With the aide of their vehicle, the Light Armored Vehicle 25, the Marines can undertake a number of missions, to include facilitating reconnaissance, artillery direction and 'hit and run missions'. With each LAV-25 equipped with a 25mm chain gun and two M-240E1 machine guns, the Marine gunners are able to accurately fire on targets while moving at speeds up to 10 mph due to the vehicle's stabilization system.
Live-fire exercises afford vehicle crews a chance to fire their weapons at multiple targets while moving-- training the Marines haven't had the opportunity to do since leaving for their six-month deployment earlier this year, said 1st Lt. Christian Portiss, executive officer, Company D, LAR, BLT 3/1, 11th MEU (SOC).
"The better our guys are at hitting moving targets or targets that show themselves for a limited amount of time, the better they are overall," Portiss said. "That's where the training today came in. It is an excellent live-fire opportunity for the Marines."
Not only are the Marines tested with moving targets, but they are also put in situations where multiple targets appear before them.
"We were actually able to shoot multiple targets during simultaneous engagements ranging anywhere from 500 to 1,500 meters away and from both static and moving positions," said Staff Sgt. Stephen Bright, master gunner, Company D, LAR, BLT 3/1, 11th MEU (SOC). "It is good to reaffirm the crew's skills and reassure them that they (have the skills to) hit the targets."
Marines from D Co., LAR, spend most of the morning ensuring their weapon systems are ready for action, doing last minute safety checks and bore-sighting their 25 mm chain gun to ensure the rounds will hit as aimed. These warriors at the 'tip of the spear' are ready for whatever may be thrown at them.
Hidden in the sand slopes are pre-staged targets, mimicking enemy vehicles and personnel. These targets are designed to pop-up and remain visible for only a limited amount of time, Bright said.
After a few practice fires to make sure their 25 mm chain guns and M-240E1 machine guns are in top condition, the Marines begin to drive their vehicles onto the range.
Their moods change from the relaxed character seen earlier in the morning to that of a determined warrior. Methodically, the Marines scan and search through the heat wrinkles rising from the ground, looking for anything moving in the 1,500 meters in front of them.
Suddenly a vehicle silhouette appears to their left, a few hundred meters away. The gunner shouts he has the target in his sights. The vehicle commander responds with "FIRE!"
The vehicle shakes as three rounds, each accompanied by a 'thump' sound, are fired one after the other. The target falls - a direct hit.
Still facing the uncertainty of the training scenario, the driver of the LAV edges forward as the gunner and the vehicle commander, sitting to the right of the gunner, continue to scan the landscape, waiting for more targets to appear.
"This is good sustainment training for the crews," Bright said. "It dusted off the crew's memories of what they are supposed to be doing."
Having the opportunity to train and refresh their skills is worthwhile to the Marines.
"If you don't keep training you can get rusty after a while. It is nice to get out and start doing it again," said Lance Cpl. Alex Stratton, gunner, D Co., LAR, BLT 3/1, 11th MEU (SOC).
After knocking off the rust, and polishing the 'tip of the spear', the Marines complete their daylong training evolution. As they prepare for a night's rest under the stars in the endless desert, Marines from D Co. eagerly await another day of live-fire training.