FORT DRUM, New York –
“Target!” screams out the crew of a Humvee as their gunner, Connecticut Army National Guard Pfc. Buckley Ryan, finds his mark with the M240L machine gun.
Ryan is one of many Connecticut Army National Guardsmen assigned to the 143rd Military Police Company who recently spent some time behind the gun up at Fort Drum, New York, for Annual Training. Here, Military Police, often referred to simply as MP’s, mounted their Humvees and Mine Resistant Ambush Protected All-Terrain Vehicles, or M-ATVs, and conducted vehicle gunnery.
During gunnery, vehicle crews traverse the live fire range’s maneuver area, also known as the maneuver box, or simply as “the box”. While in the box, the crews patrol from their vehicles, scanning for any potential threats. They will then be ordered to conduct defensive operations, where the crew drives up and occupies defensive positions and repulses an enemy attack with their vehicle’s assigned weapon system, in this case a .50 caliber M2 Browning machine gun or a 7.62mm M240L machine gun, as well as conducting offensive operations, where the crews bring the fight to the enemy and assault their positions.
“It was my first time being in a gunner position,” said Ryan. This was all very new to me. Knowing the functions and all that...I was taught beforehand, but actually doing the thing is completely different.”
The crews are graded by a vehicle crew evaluator, who rides with them into battle and accesses their communication, including proper identification of threats and identifying their target distances; their weapon handling to include properly employing their vehicle’s weapon system and overcoming any malfunctions that may occur while engaging the enemy; and marksmanship against static and moving targets meant to simulate infantry and vehicular threats.
“The way I like to evaluate is…break it down into three categories; commands, engagements and mechanics,” said Connecticut Army National Guard Sgt. Ryan Mendoza-Murillo, one of the evaluators for the 143rd MP Company. “Command wise, his crew [Pfc. Ryan’s Crew], the TC [Truck Commander], the driver was helping out. Engagement wise, making sure they know what they are hitting, making sure they know where they are missing, why they are missing. And, mechanics wise, the gunner [Pfc. Ryan], he had a couple malfunctions, that’s bound to happen on these weapon systems. He worked through them. Really had no issues that were self induced. Love to see that. He got that gun running, and kept it running.”
If that wasn’t enough, the crews also simulate their gunner becoming a casualty, known as a downed gunner drill. Here, the gunner simulates being wounded or killed and must be removed from the harness which keeps them supported in the turret. After removing the downed gunner from the turret, the truck commander, or TC, who sits in the passenger seat opposite to the driver, then assumes the role of the gunner, climbs into the turret, assumes control of the vehicle’s weapon system and engages all remaining threats.
“[The downed gunner drill] is a little difficult because of the harness that’s holding me in,” explained Ryan. “It gets caught. Trying to come quickly down is a little difficult in order to get out of the way for the TC.”
Despite these challenges, Ryan was the fifth gunner out of seven to qualify, qualifying on his first attempt. This was his first Annual Training.
“The gunner exercise really puts into perspective the multipurpose role that we have as military police officers,” said Connecticut Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Kelly Strba, the 143rd MP Company’s range safety officer. We are ready to fight and support Connecticut’s Home Team if we were to be called up for a mission like this.”
In addition to gunnery, the MP’s also aided medics from the 118th Multifunctional Medical Battalion, acting as simulated wounded soldiers during a mass-casualty training exercise, as well as setting up and manning checkpoints so that engineers from the 250th Engineer Company (Multi-Role Bridge Company) could safely set up an Improved Ribbon Bridge, which enabled other units from the 143rd Regional Support Group to conduct a wet gap crossing.