ABOARD THE USS BATAAN — The Marines were hundreds of miles from
Iraq but the earsplitting cracks and the pungent smell of sulfur overwhelmed the ship.
Helicopter crews on their way to the Persian Gulf used the Mediterranean
Sea's vast open waters on Wednesday to practice firing guns, big and small.
The first staccato burst from a .50-caliber machine gun got many of the
"Yee hah!" one yelled.
Many of the Marines aboard the ship, including mechanics and chopper crew
chiefs, got a chance to fire a weapon.
The amphibious assault ship Bataan is on its way to the Persian Gulf to drop
off Marines and equipment in support of the largest rotation of U.S. troops
since World War II. About 25,000 Marines are deploying to Iraq.
With ammunition going to front-line Marines during the war in Iraq last year,
those back at bases such as New River, N.C., where many of the Marines on board
this ship are from, have had to use their stocks sparingly. That made
Wednesday's shoot all the more valuable.
"Ever since the war started, ammunition has been stripped away for the most
part," Staff Sgt. Sasha Dix said.
"Obviously, the guys in [the war], they needed more rounds and kind of took
The "gun shoot," as the Marines called it, helped the aviators become
familiarized with the weapons and make sure they work.
Those who fired M-16 rifles stood in the hangar bay and shot at shadow
targets strung across the aircraft elevator, which hoists helicopters from the
bay to the flight deck.
Each time a round smacked the water, it made a popping sound.
Toward the bow of the 844-foot ship, Marines fired the .50-caliber machine
gun from a helicopter tied down to the flight deck. For many of the Marines, it
was the first time firing a 50 cal.
Cpl. Eric Alderette enjoyed his chance.
"It was good to go," he said. "I could get used to firing that weapon."
Staff Sgt. Carl Bodfish immediately wanted to do it again after his first try
and got back in line.
"It was a good time," he said. "I'm hoping to get another shot at it."
Before the shooting, Master Gunnery Sgt. Jeffrey Harter briefed the group and
encouraged the Marines to ask questions, telling them it was better to ask now
or they might regret it once they get to Iraq.
"If you don't know what you're doing on this thing, you're going to be dead,"
Marines are trying to learn how insurgents shot down some Army helicopters in
Iraq to prevent similar attacks against their aircraft. It is not far-fetched
that some of the aviators might have to use the .50-caliber machine gun or an
M-16 in Iraq.
Maj. Todd Holder, a Cobra attack helicopter pilot, said the insurgents would
have a tougher time taking down a Marine helicopter, saying only that the
Marines have a different way of doing things.
"If we see that guy take that shot, we're definitely looking to put some
metal back in his direction," he said.
"Because we want that guy to think that the next time he thinks about pulling
the trigger, is he going to get lucky this time? Or is he going to bite it?"
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