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MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. - A convoy of seven M1A1 Abram battle tanks and two M88A1E1 Hercules Recovery Vehicles were heard shearing rock into sand through the hi-desert on its campaign to Combat Center's Range 500. The combined weight of 620 tons battled the heat for 13 miles where they settled in at Range 500, preparing for a heavy machine gun and main gun firing frenzy.

Third Platoon, along with the battalion master gunner and the company commander, Delta Company, 1st Tank Battalion, executed their scheduled gunnery qualification Aug. 16 to 20 at Table 4 through 8, assault courses at Combat Center's Range 500.

Gunnery qualifications are semiannual gunnery skills tests that qualify tank crewmen for live firing of their main gun and machine gun.

The intent of the exercise was to challenge and teach the company the basic and intermediate crew skills through the firing of the assault courses, said Staff Sgt. Tyrone L. Thompson, company master gunner.

"This will be a new opportunity for complete gunnery training and crew integration. Crew coordination and crew duties will be trained during the lower tables to ensure that by Table 8 we have true crew integration."

The tables on Range 500 are heavy machine gun firing courses for tanks and other large, armored vehicles. Each table is a prerequisite for the next table in the gunnery qualification.

Crewmen new to the unit drove and loaded rounds for the designated tank commander for the first time and used the range for the first time. The other crewmen who have been deployed already disclosed their experiences in the company with these new Marines.

"The schedule is intense and challenging, and all crews will be expected to train when their time comes," added Thompson.

Six crews executed the Semiannual Tank Crew Gunnery Skill Test and trained prior to commencing live-fire training in the Advanced Gunnery Training System.

The company departed mainside from the tank ramp Aug. 16 at 8 a.m., convoying to Range 500. The convoy contained seven M1A1 Abram battle tanks and two M88A1E1 Hercules Recovery Vehicles. The recovery vehicles provided the maintenance crew for the firing tanks.

The morning of Aug. 17 the platoon made its way to the main gun firing line where they uploaded ammo. Before the gunnery drill, the crewmen bore-sight adjusted their weapons, also known as battle sight zeroing, to ensure their weapons were firing directly where they were aiming. They fired substantial amounts of 120 mm rounds from the M256 main gun until sight adjustments were accurate.

Upon adjusting their sights, the platoon moved on to assault course Table 5 to bore-sight the mounted M2 .50 caliber machine gun and the coaxial M240G medium machine gun.

After machine gun sight adjustments were made, the platoon began firing at Table 5.

The crewmen simulated assault drills the crewmen executed were engagements to enemy combatants in the open; to enemy combatants in a harmful gas environment; to multiple targets and to armored vehicles.

The drills continued on into the night, performing the assault drills again, this time a stealth approach. An illuminator round, lighting up the course's targets, was shot once for each crew they fired at the targets for the first time. With the exception of that one instance, the crewmen relied on the night vision capabilities of the tank's sights.

The targets ranged from 200 meters to 1,500 meters away and represented enemy troops and vehicles.

The next day, the platoon began the next step in the gunnery qualification Table 6, the main gun assault course. The same scenarios were executed, this time using only the main gun. Just as the previous day, the scenarios continued until nightfall, allowing the Marines another chance to refine their night firing skills.

The next morning, combined skills from the previous two days were performed at Table 7, merging main gun and machine gun assault drills. The course consisted of routes leading up to targets and the situation dictated which gun would be used.

The last day of the gunnery qualification was Table 8 where more specific skills were tested to challenge the crewmen to handle a spectrum of possible malfunctions under difficult scenarios.

The tanks successfully executed their mission providing shock action to destroy the enemy. The gunnery qualification was the culmination of all training exercises the platoon performed throughout the course of the last six months. All available crews were used and are now qualified for deployment sometime in the near future.

"The gunnery is the main event for tank platoons," said Staff. Sgt. Timothy L. Duvall, battalion master gunner. "This is pretty much in preparation for deployment. This crew-level training assures the platoon is ready for combat."

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