UDAIRI RANGE, Kuwait -- The desert stillness was shattered here April 27 as Leathernecks from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit's Tank Platoon sent rounds large and small down range during a day of live-fire training.
The platoon fired a multitude of weapons systems during the training, which included an Enhanced Marksmanship Program (EMP) shoot, a pistol familiarization range, and zeroing of turret-mounted machine guns and the platoon's M-1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tanks' 120mm main guns.
The platoon moved on to an EMP shoot after the handful of tankers who had not yet had the opportunity to obtain a battle sight zero for their M-16A4 service rifles during the MEU's current deployment did so.
During the EMP range, the troops fired their rifles from distances ranging from 5 to 25 meters and on the move, in addition to rehearsing magazine changes and combat reloads.
The purpose of this unconventional course of fire was to prepare the Marines for the unpredictable nature of combat marksmanship, said Sgt. Michael A. Jones, a tank commander and native of Pittsburgh.
"The good thing about EMP is that it is more realistic than the standard rifle range," he explained. "In a fire fight, you are not going to have a lot of time to aim."
With the rifle training complete, the tankers set about sharpening their close-quarters battle skills with M-9 service pistol refresher training, shooting a course of fire that mixed slow and rapid engagement of targets.
Although their tanks provide plenty of protection and fire power, maintaining the Marines' small-arms marksmanship skills is crucial, said Jones.
"We may not always be on or in the tanks," he explained. "One day we could be rolling in the tanks, the next manning a (vehicle control point), and the next conducting foot patrols."
After wrapping up the rifle and pistol training, the platoon mounted-up and conducted screening fire with the tanks' main guns.
The purpose of the screening was to confirm correct trajectory and sight alignment, in addition to ensuring the 68-ton vehicles' fire control systems were functioning properly, said 1st Lt. Henry M. Parkin, Tank Plt. commander.
"The [screening shoot] instills confidence in the crewmen in the tank itself, and ensures we can still put steel on target," explained the native of Cleveland Heights, Ohio.
Validating the firing capabilities of the tanks was especially important given the lengthy at-sea periods the platoon and their vehicles have experienced aboard the ships of the Bataan Strike Group during the deployment, he added.
The platoon further locked on their mounted weapons systems by zeroing their turret-mounted M-2 .50 caliber and M-240G medium machine guns.
When these guns, operated remotely from within the turret, are zeroed in, they provide the tank crew with suppressive firepower unequalled in accuracy, said Parkin.
The expansive training areas of open desert here gave the platoon an excellent opportunity to unleash the diverse capabilities of their massive machines, said Parkin.
"It really gives us a great chance to exercise our weapons systems, which can be difficult to do given their large size," he explained.
Besides fulfilling an important tactical function, the day of shooting allowed the tankers to do what tankers like doing best, said Lance Cpl. Jacob T. Maczynski, a crewman with the platoon.
"The best part of being a tanker is blowing things up," he stated. "The opportunities don't come all the time, but when we get the chance, it's always a blast."
The 26th MEU is currently in the fourth month of a routine, scheduled deployment that began Jan. 6 as the landing force of the Bataan Expeditionary Strike Group.
The deployment has included successful training exercises in Djibouti, Kenya and the Middle East, and continues here with a scheduled two weeks of rigorous sustainment training.
For more on the MEU, including news, videos and contact information, visit www.usmc.mi/26thmeu.