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Marines Perfect Their Aim For Iraq
By Scott Schonauer
Stars and Stripes
European Edition

February 10, 2004

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 Marines pumped.

"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 it away."

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," he said.

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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This article is provided courtesy of Stars & Stripes, which got its start as a newspaper for Union troops during the Civil War, and has been published continuously since 1942 in Europe and 1945 in the Pacific. Stripes reporters have been in the field with American soldiers, sailors and airmen in World War II, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Bosnia and Kosovo, and are now on assignment in the Middle East.

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Copyright 2004 Stars and Stripes. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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