MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER 29 PALMS, Calif. -- “Get up the hill!” bellows Lance Cpl. Derek A. Wolf, as he and his fellow machine gunners charge a steep, rocky mount to establish machine gun positions. “They’re waiting on us!” Wolf adds with a shout as the Marines, laden with machine guns and ammunition, push themselves to get up “Machine Gun Hill.”
Marines with A Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, 1st Marine Division, conducted combined arms training at Range 410A here May 17 in preparation for their upcoming deployment to Iraq.
The scenario is as follows: an enemy platoon has been entrenched in lightly-fortified positions for several hours. The Alpha Company platoons must advance on and clear the trenches. Their success or failure depends on the accurate and withering fire provided by the machine gunners on “The Hill.” The machine gunners suppress the enemy, as the platoon advances on the trenches in order to close with the enemy.
“The platoon can’t move on the targets without us suppressing the enemy first,” said Wolf, a 23-year-old machine gunner with the company. “If we weren’t up here, the enemy would just start picking off our guys, and we can’t let that happen.”
The Marines quickly made it to the crest of the hill, yelling and moving to set up the machine gun positions as fast as they could. The machine gunners were armed with M240G and M240B medium machine guns, firing linked 7.62mm ball rounds at targets nearly 500 meters away.
“Believe it or not, it’s not hard at all to hit a target accurately at this distance,” said Lance Cpl. Jonathan D. Anderson, a squad leader. “What is difficult is the communication needed for all four gun positions to maintain fire superiority.”
The Marines kept a constant shower of lead falling on the targets by using four widely-spaced gun positions firing at different times. This system, commonly refered to as “talking guns,” prevents the enemy from zeroing in on any one position.
Communication is key since the gun positions must work together as a single firing position.
“If a gun is down at position two and the rest of the positions don’t compensate, then that’s less rounds impacting the enemy,” said Wolf, a King William, Va., native.
The Marines tore apart the targets with their alternating fire as they yelled to each other across the gaps.
“When you’re firing the gun, your heart and adrenaline is pumping heavy and its not the most comfortable position either, but you have to concentrate enough to shift fire and let everyone know how much ammunition you have left,” said Wolf, a King William High School alumni. “What helps you concentrate on proper communication is the fact that your buddies are down there and they need you to keep the enemy off their backs.”
Range 410A builds great communication skills, said Gunnery Sgt. Jerry D. Rogers Jr., a “Coyote” with 3/1 Tactical Training and Exercise Control Group (TTECG). The Coyotes teach and evaluate units conducting Mojave Viper training prior to deployment.
“This range forces all the Marines to work together to get the job done, because the companies doing training here must use every Marine and most weapons systems available to them to attack the enemy,” said Rogers. “It really builds the combined arms communication mentality.”
The machine gunners go through hundreds of rounds as the Marines of the company move closer and closer to the objective below. While they move toward the trenches they constantly use radio to maintain communication with the machine gunners on the hill.
“Shift fire!” yells Anderson to each of the two man machine gun positions.
“Shift fire!” the machine gunners yell back.
While the Marines on the ground are about to clear the first trench, the machine gunners begin to rake the other two trenches to continue suppressing enemy without hitting their own brothers.
“This training really brings the company together so we know that when situations like this occur in real life we can rely on each other, just like we relied on the machine gunners today,” said Lance Cpl. Mike Mercado, Jr., who was one of the Marines on the ground clearing the trenches. “We now have a greater trust in each other and know that we will be able to get the job done when we are in Iraq.”