MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
A team of Marines slowly stood from its concealed position and took aim at a nearby tank hull.
“Back-blast area all secure!” shouted the assistant gunner.
The gunner sounded off, “Rocket!” and depressed the trigger on his Shoulder-launched Multipurpose Assault Weapon. The air went still while the rocket was in flight. Then the concussion shook the ground, and a bright white flash obscured the target in a direct hit.
Marines from 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, conducted a live-fire exercise here Sept. 12. They fired inert SMAW rockets, high-explosive SMAW rockets and the AT-4 light anti-armor weapon at abandoned tank hulls at distances ranging from 100-500 meters.
The Marines learned how to properly handle the SMAW before they fired live rounds. Each Marine fired at least one inert rocket to get adjusted before being allowed to fire the high-explosive rocket. The instructors said the only difference between the two was one went “boom” when it hit the target, and the other did nothing. The battalion also practiced misfire procedures to ensure that if the weapon didn’t fire, Marines knew what actions to take.
“They have had tons of classes previous to (firing) on handling misfire procedures and employment,” said Sgt. Justin O. Smallwood, the scout squad leader for 1st Platoon, Company A. “That was more designed to get them used to the feel of the weapon.”
The SMAW can be an intimidating weapon to fire. The ear-shattering bang and powerful backblast can cause the gunner to twitch and throw the rocket off target. The weapon doesn’t have any recoil, but Marines still often anticipate it, which can cause them to miss.
According to Smallwood, a lot of the Marines who hadn’t fired the weapon system before all had a chance to do so. Most of the Marines who had fired them previously showed they maintained the skill needed to hit the targets.
Surprisingly, the Marines firing the SMAW for the first time had more success than those experienced Marines.
“The trend we saw was the newer Marines actually had less problems than some of the more experienced Marines,” Smallwood added. “Generally speaking, the (newer Marines) are so nervous about the weapons systems they don’t know what to expect at all. So, they listen to absolutely everything you say. They apply all the fundamentals, do everything perfect, and the end result is they hit their target.”
Marines finished firing the SMAW rockets and lined up to fire the AT-4s. The single-shot, anti-armor weapon packs an 84mm rocket that can effectively punch a hole in a tank up to 300 meters away. Many Marines preferred to shoot it rather than a SMAW because of the result.
“(I prefer) to fire the AT-4,” said Lance Cpl. Christian A. Richardson, a team leader with 3rd Platoon, Company C. “It’s more accurate and it does more damage.”
At the end of the day, the Marines of the “Destroyer” battalion left with knowledge that they are technically and tactically proficient on both weapon systems. That knowledge is vital for their scheduled deployment to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“Anything that pertains to your job, you’re going to have to be proficient at, especially in a combat zone,” Smallwood said. “We are going to have those weapons systems with us. If they need to be employed, we need to know how to do it, and we need to know how to do it well.”