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AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq— As the winds of the Iraqi desert slowly began to blow; the sound of machine gun fire fills the air.  In the distance, a tracer round impacts a target, followed by another, then another.  Once the shooting ceases, a pile of expended shells lay in the ground in a cloud of dust, and marked a recent training session at ranges aboard Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, April 4, 2009.

Taking part in the training Marines of Regimental Combat Team 8’s Mobile Security Detachment and elements of Bravo Company, 1st Tank Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 8, which is serving as the Quick Reaction Force for Multi National Force – West.

The training consisted of setting up a M240B 7.62mm medium machine gun, proper target engagement, and night fire with the M240B as well as the M249 squad automatic weapon.

“Our current mission as the QRF requires us to do cross training like this,” said Lance Cpl. Todd Austin, an assistant gunner with the QRF.  “It’s really good that we do this, because the entire spectrum of engaging the enemy is different when you’re on the ground and not in a tank.”

During the training, the QRF Marines learned clearing, maintenance and misfire procedures, and unknown distance target engagement.

“It’s important they understand the concept of being a machine gunner,” said Pfc. Chad McHugh, a machine gunner with RCT-8’s MSD.  “Knowing the fundamentals of being a machine gunner can help them be more prepared and possibly save their lives.”

Staff Sgt. Ysidro Gonzalez also talked about the importance of learning fundamentals.

“Everything has fundamentals,” said Gonzalez.  “You can’t be good at any kind of sport if you don’t know the fundamentals.  The same is true with a machine gun.”

Not only does this type of training benefit the Marines in a way that will make them more effective in their current mission as the QRF, but it also increases their overall knowledge as a Marine.

“This training is definitely important to me,” said Lance Cpl Jeffrey Ramirez a machine gunner with the QRF.

“I’ll get home and not only have a lot of knowledge about tanks, but I’ll also have some knowledge about infantry tactics.”  Austin added that he feels as if these training exercises can help him become a more, well-rounded Marine.

As expected, the tank Marines have had to make major adjustments since taking over as the QRF.  One of the most obvious changes is going from riding in tanks to being on foot.

“It’s a totally different experience,’ said Ramirez.  “It’s a whole new perspective when you’re on the ground. It’s a lot more work when you’re on foot, but you get to learn more techniques.  We have a M240 mounted on our tank, but it’s a different technique when you’re actually holding the weapon when you fire.”

Moving without a steady amount of cover is another change QRF Marines have become familiar with.  “They’re far more exposed when they’re on foot,” said McHugh.  “There is also a big difference between riding in a MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles) and a tank,” commented McHugh.

As the sun sets, Marines yet again prepare to fire upon targets off in the distance.   By now, the tracer rounds emerge from the barrel of the machine gun and illuminate the night.  Once more, dust and the smell of gunpowder fill the air as the QRF Marines become more familiar with an unfamiliar job.

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