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Petty Officer 1st Class Kekoa J. Cortez, a gunner's mate aboard the USS Kearsarge, prepares a 25mm cannon for firing during a drill, Feb. 6. As a gunner's mate, Cortez's job is to defend the ship and ensure personnel are properly trained and equipped to defend the ship.(courtesy photo)

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Sailors, Marines defend ship together

8 Feb 2012 | Lance Cpl. Scott L. Tomaszycki 2nd Marine Division

ABOARD USS SHIP KEARSARGE, At Sea – When amphibious ships pass through potentially hostile waters, sailors and Marines work together to ensure safe transit. During Exercise Bold Alligator 2012 the USS Kearsarge passed through the hypothetical “Chalker Straights,” Feb. 5, where hostile forces could have lain in wait for an ambush.

Marines of the 2nd Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion kept an eye out for low flying aircraft as the gunner’s mates of the Kearsarge manned their battle stations along the ship. Just in case enemies made their way past the Kearsarge’s long range defenses there were close range cannons, machine guns and anti-aircraft missiles ready for contact.

“My job as gunner’s mate is to deal with the arms and ammunition on board,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Kekoa J. Cortez, a gunner’s mate aboard the Kearsarge. “I train individuals on the gun mounts and we stand watches. We have four 25 mm guns placed on the four corners of the ship. There are four other gun mounts that we can man up for .50-caliber machine guns or we can mount M240s on there in single or twin mounts.”

In addition to the normal compliment of weapons, the LAAD Marines brought out their own weapon systems which were positioned across the flight deck.

“If there are aircraft under the radar and the radars can’t pick them up, we’ll be sitting out there watching and observing everything coming toward the ship,” said Cpl. David Garner, a team leader for B Battery 2nd LAAD.

Garner said every Marine Expeditionary Unit has a detachment of LAAD Marines equipped with Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to provide extra defense.

Before firing the Marines and sailors must receive permission from the captain of the ship who makes the decision to fire or not to fire based on an analysis of the threat. This portion of Exercise Bold Alligator helped revitalize the Navy and Marine Corps’ amphibious operations by exercising defensive systems that may be used in transit to protect the ship while transiting high risk areas.