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Pfc. Matt Brock, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, Headquarters and Support radio operator, waits for his turn on the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon range on Fort Pickett, Va., Aug. 27. After arriving at the battalion less than a month ago, he jumped at the chance to become a SAW gunner.

Photo by Cpl. Randall A. Clinton

Bringing the brawn: Young Marine steps up as SAW gunner

29 Aug 2007 | Cpl. Randall A. Clinton 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit

It ends as quickly as it began. While the echoes of momentary chaos reverberate, a Marine peers above his sights, and focuses on his target while carefully examining the damage – bull’s eye.

Downrange sits a paper target, undamaged except for a quarter-sized group of bullet holes left by the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon. The shooter, Pfc. Matt Brock, radio operator, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Brock began working with BLT 1/6 less than a month ago, fresh from basic training and technical schooling. He only caught a glimpse of the automatic weapon during his entry training, but when the chance arrived to trade in his M16A4 rifle for the hand-held machine gun, Brock didn’t hesitate.

“They needed a SAW gunner and I jumped right on it,” said Brock, a Spartanburg, S.C. native.

During BLT 1/6’s current training exercise at here., the eager Marine showed what he can do with his new tool. Alpha and H&S Company spent the day at the machine gun ranges, conducting classes and instructional shooting.

Entering the range short on experience, but with motivation, Brock set lofty goals for himself.

“I feel pretty good. I hope to have some higher ups looking down saying, ‘Man look at that Pfc - showing them how it’s done,” he boasted.

The first task for the new gunners was a course familiarization course, explained First Sgt. Scott Hamm, Alpha Company first sergeant, BLT 1/6, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

“(This range is) to make sure their sights are on right and give them some confidence to hit what they are shooting at,” he explained.

After shooting a handful of rounds and calibrating his weapon, Brock moved to a second range where he faced off against a number of targets.

“(The second range) is an unknown distance course and has different types of targets for them to engage. (We’re) Taking them from a known distance course, getting their sights aligned, and applying it to some targets of opportunity,” said Hamm.

At the unknown distance Brock received more rounds to help teach shooters about operating their weapons in a real-world firefight.

“The saw gunner is the most important part of the team. The team leader is the brain and the saw in the brawn,” explained Lance Cpl. Patrick Stanborough, squad leader, Alpha Company, BLT 1/6, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

But the weapon is only effective as long as its operational.

“The thing they need to grasp when operating the SAW, since it is so much of the firepower of the squad; they have to conserve their ammunition. They have to lay down an effective base of fire while conserving ammunition,” he said.

Throughout the courses of fire, the radio operator/ SAW gunner was able to experience the thrills of shooting 800 rounds per minute, but also how to quickly react to weapon malfunctions.

“When we first came out here they gave classes on immediate and remedial action, I kind of had it, but now I know it,” Brock said.

“He shows a lot of potential,” commented Stanborough. “The only thing he needs is to become proficient on the weapon system. The only way to fix that is with time,” he concluded.

Opportunity to practice is not a concern, dozen ranges are already scheduled and there is possibility to include more, said Hamm.

Cpl. Edward Bermudez, shot next to him on the ranges and was impressed with his newest machine gunner.

“He shot really well, I was next to him and he was shooting in the black,” said Bermudez, wire chief, BLT 1/6, H&S Company, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

A veteran of 1/6’s most recent deployment, Bermudez has seen the importance of a machine gunner.

“When we go on a convoy you need someone to man the turret (where the gun is mounted on the vehicle), and if you know the SAW you know the 240G which is the primary weapon on a HUMVEE. He is the guy that protects us when we are driving in a convoy. He is our main source of fire protection,” explained Bermudez.

Fresh off a day full of shooting his new weapon, Brock had little doubt that he is ready to step up to the challenge.

“I’m the man for the job,” he declared.