CAMP WILSON, Calif. -- Every Marine knows how to fire their service rifle and hit the target, but how many can hit a vehicle 1000 meters away with a fully automatic grenade-launching machine gun? How many Marines can take apart this weapon, the MK-19 40mm machine gun, as easily as they can their M-16? It is said every Marine is a rifleman, but not every Marine has the skills and experience of a machine gunner.
The Marines of Headquarters and Service Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment conducted a live-fire MK-19 range here Oct. 23 in order to fill in the gaps of inexperience on the system. It was important for the Marines to get that training now, with a deployment to Iraq looming in the near future.
The MK-19 is employed mainly as a security weapon. The large, bulky frame and extremely heavy weight of the gun make it an impractical choice for foot patrols. It is ideal, however, for fixed-site security and convoy missions. The leathernecks from 3/6 trained with these missions in mind.
“The purpose of the range was to show non-infantry Marines the basics of heavy machine guns, because they will be using them while in Iraq,” said Sgt. Sean Galante, 29, from Oceanside, Calif.
For Lance Cpl. Donald G. Vaughn and the other Marines of the company, the day began with a class on how to operate the MK-19 from
“Keep the handles tight and to the right, aim low and shoot in three- to five-rounds bursts,” lead instructor Sgt. Jared S. Ratcliffe, 37, instructed his charges.
Their period of instruction complete and toting their ammunition downrange, Vaughn and the other students made their way to the firing line to get hands-on with the weapon. Vaughn dropped into a seated firing position as his assistant gunner loaded the weapon. Once the ammo was fed in, he racked the charging handles back once and sent the bolt home.
“Half load!” he shouted, signifying that the weapon was ready to chamber a round. Yanking back on the charging handles once more, he brought a round into the chamber and locked the bolt to the rear.
“Gun up!” he shouted.
Keeping Ratcliffe’s instruction at the fore of his thoughts, Vaughn pulled the handles tight and to the right and smashed down on the trigger.
The 40mm grenade launched by the MK-19 is a very low-velocity round. It travels at a sluggish 240 meters per second, compared to the relatively speedy 853 meters per second of the M-16A2 service rifle. When firing, it is easy to see the deadly cylinder taking a slow, arching route to the target. Because of this characteristic, it can become second nature to “walk” the gun onto the target: Instead of using weapons sights, the Marine at the trigger makes adjustments while firing to alter the course and impact point of the rounds.
Vaughn visually tracked the trajectory of his rounds and adjusted the weapon until he hit the target, an abandoned enemy tank. On his final burst he hit it, and was rewarded with satisfying flashes and booms as his high-explosive rounds hit steel.
With his rounds expended, Vaughn backed off the firing line and observed the other Marines firing.
“For me it was a refresher course,” remarked the 25-year-old Raleigh, N.C., native. “For the rest of the Marines of the company, it was a good initial instruction that taught them how to operate (the weapon system) and what it is capable of.”
Vaughn said he understands what is going to be expected of him and his fellow Marines during their deployment to Iraq.
“(Headquarters and Service Company) Marines are going to be the primary watch-standers when we get to Iraq,” Vaughn said, “so it is important for them to know how to operate the MK-19 as well as all other weapons systems.”
Vaughn said he thinks they are one step closer to mastering all the weapons they will need to learn.
“The Marines did well,” he added. “They understand how to operate the weapon and how to make adjustments.”
As the date of deployment grows closer, 3/6 Marines will become more intimately familiar with their weapons. This familiarity will breed confidence in the ability both in themselves and their brother Marines to successfully execute the missions with which they will be charged.