Cloaked by darkness in a silent wilderness, two teams of anti-tank missilemen itched with anticipation to reign destruction from afar.
Time passed and each Marine received his turn to fire. The surrounding world evaporated as they climbed into the tactical vehicle’s turret. They mounted and prepared their deadly weapon, gripping it with purpose and sighting in through lenses of adrenaline.
Anti-tank missilemen and machine gunners with Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, practiced firing Javelin and Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided missiles at the Black Top Range Training Area on Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., Aug. 28 and 29.
The TOW gunner ran through pre-firing procedures and was cleared to fire.
“Fire in the hole, fire in the hole, fire in the hole!” he screamed.
There was a pop and then waiting — one-one thousand, two-one thousand. A fiery orange back blast erupted from the rear of the missile and the silver flash screamed through the air toward its target far across the desert.
The missile quickly found the target and created a tumultuous blast of fire. Only seconds later, a thundering boom rocked the mountain as the missile exploded. The next shooter stepped up, loaded a new missile and eagerly waited to fire.
“We shoot rifles and machine guns, but the TOW missiles are bigger and louder,” Lance Cpl. Galen Murphy-Fahlgren, an anti-tank missileman with Weapons Company, 3/3, said. “Shooting them is a rush.”
Murphy-Fahlgren and the other missilemen are part of the company’s Combined Anti-Armor Teams 1 and 2 — teams organized to destroy enemy tanks and armored vehicles.
The CAAT Marines train to employ two missiles in anti-armor warfare — the Javelin and TOW. The medium Javelin missile tracks and neutralizes static and moving targets up to 2,500 meters away using a thermal optic system. The heavy TOW missile locks onto targets up to 4,200 meters away with an infrared signature.
“Tanks can’t shoot past 3,200 meters, so we can hit them with a TOW missile a kilometer before they can shoot us,” the 22-year-old Murphy-Fahlgren, from Canton, Mich., said. “This gives us a huge advantage.”
Their stage for the training, the 35-day Enhanced Mojave Viper training exercise, is preparing them for an upcoming fall deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
At EMV, the CAAT Marines are practicing the same ranges as the other line companies, polishing infantry tactics, shooting machine guns and operating out of tactical vehicles.
In Afghanistan’s Helmand province this fall, they’ll mainly conduct dismounted security patrols. They’ll eagerly await the opportunity to employ the missiles — like when an enemy fighter is spotted planting an improvised explosive device, or when a passageway into a compound needs to be cleared, Sgt. Jose Portillo, an anti-tank missileman with Weapons Company, 3/3, said.
When they aren’t patrolling or firing missiles, they’ll observe the enemy using the two systems’ thermal and infrared optic systems.
“In a seven-month deployment, these Marines might only have one or two chances to fire the missiles,” 1st Lt. Douglas Kansier, CAAT-2’s platoon commander, said.
“The job-specific training they’re doing now may be used for only 30 seconds on deployment, but they’re practicing until it’s automatic,” Kansier, 25, from Lincoln, Neb., said.
The opportunity to fire the missiles is rare, so EMV is helping pairs the missilemens’ knowledge of the system with personal confidence, Portillo, 25, from Lawrenceville, Ga., said.
“If they can go into the deployment knowing they can hit the target, they’ll hit it when the opportunity arises in country,” Portillo said.
Article by Cpl. Reece Lodder, Marine Corps Base Hawaii