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Lance Cpl. Brandon Duff (Left) and Lance Cpl. Craig W. Mehlenbeck, assaultmen from Weapons platoon, Alpha Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, launch a high explosive rocket from a MK153 Shoulder-fired, Multi-purpose, Assault Weapon (SMAW) in the mountains of Djibouti, Africa, during a live fire range March 28, 2010. 24th MEU Marines performed a series of sustainment exercises, as well as bi-lateral training alongside the French military, during a month-long rotation of units from 24th MEU conducting training in the east-African country. The 24th MEU currently serves as the theatre reserve force for Central Command. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Gunnery Sgt. Chad R. Kiehl)

Photo by Gunnery Sgt. Chad R. Kiehl

Rocket range tests skills, develops leadership for assaultmen in Djibouti

11 Apr 2010 | Sgt. Alex Sauceda 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit

(March 28, 2010) The Marines don’t just let anybody fire high explosive rockets intended on destroying enemy bunkers and penetrating armor. But with the training Weapon’s Platoon received in the desolate landscape of this east-African country, the Corps can rest assured that some of their up and coming warriors are prepared to deliver.

Young Marines, most between the ages of 18 and 23, many on their first deployment since joining the Marines, learned the skills and mindset to handle the Shoulder-fired, Multipurpose, Assault Weapon, or SMAW, rocket launchers during a live-fire range here March 28, 2010.

The range not only tested shooting skills, but also served as a leadership building exercise for many of the Marines involved.

Senior ranking members of the assaultman section from Weapons Platoon, Alpha Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit used the exercise to not only test shooting skill, but also used the opportunity as a leadership building exercise.

“The team leaders and squad leaders of the section ran the range almost entirely on their own,” said Staff Sgt. Leon Howard, section leader for Alpha Company’s Weapons Platoon. “It was great to see the Marines stepping up and making the range run as smooth as it did.”

For most of the junior Marines, those who are currently on their fist deployment, it was the first chance to shoot their SMAWs since leaving the U.S. back in January. The novice Marines were paired with each other, as their squad leaders closely supervised, maintaining an eyes-on, hands-off policy.

As each team prepared to fire their rocket, they made sure their sights were aligned by first firing 9mm tracer rounds, called spotting rounds, at the various targets. Once the SMAWs’ battle sights were honed to provide pin-point fire, the section traversed one of the many mountainsides of the Djiboutian range to find the perfect ambush positions.

Rehearsal after rehearsal, Marines practiced aiming down range to guarantee a direct hit.  Such rehearsals also allowed the junior Marines to practice effectively communicating with their teammates across the range, which is a critical skill the training helped develop.

“It was good practice and the range was more realistic compared to ranges we had in the [pre-deployment exercises],” said Lance Cpl. Jordan Saini, an assaultman assigned to Weapons Platoon. “The area is more mountainous, which made us work harder to get our rockets downrange. But seeing firsthand how my partner and I would actually fire at an enemy made it worthwhile.”

The coordination and development showed throughout the day. With every successful hit, excitement and celebration followed.

“Just by taking these guys out to a range and letting them go at it on their own, you can see these guys grow and learn more about themselves,” said Lance Cpl. Richard C. Fisher, one of the team leaders. “Seeing all the smiles on the younger guys’ faces and how their excited about their job really makes me feel proud, like an older sibling would for his younger brother.”

After successfully firing all their allotted ammunition the unit logged an 80 percent accuracy rate with their rockets - a success that all levels of leadership were pleased with.

“The range ran smoothly and relatively fast compared to other ranges,” said 1st Lt. Daniel Runzheimer, platoon commander for Weapons Platoon. “The one thing I was impressed with was the unselfishness of the senior Marines of the platoon. As much fun as it can be shooting rockets at tank hulls, these guys stepped aside and let the younger Marines have some fun and grow in their specialty, which is something that will go a long way in the future.”

This was the final range for the platoon's training exercises in Djibouti.  They have since loaded back on the USS Ashland and are continuing on their deployment preparing for future training exercises as part of the 24th MEU.