AL ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq --
Reserve Marines from Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment
, Regimental Combat Team 5 based at Camp Korean Village in western al-Anbar province traveled more than 120 miles to shoot their Javelin missile systems as part of a large-scale combined arms exercise near here Dec. 8.
Although the Javelin is one of the primary weapon systems for the detachment of nine Marines from Weapons Co. who came here for the range, it was the first time most of them had participated in an actual Javelin shoot.
Because of the cost of the missile, students at the Marine Corps School of Infantry fire simulated Javelin munitions on a computerized system. Many infantrymen will go through their entire career without every firing a real missile.
“It’s a unique opportunity because (the Marines are) young, new to the Corps, and this may be their only chance to shoot a live Javelin,” said Staff Sgt. Terrance James, 36, a platoon sergeant with Weapons Co. from Queens, N.Y. “The training here is very effective. They get to integrate with other elements, such as heavy machine guns and mortars.”
James, who works as a New York City corrections officer in his civilian career, knows the capabilities of this weapon in actual combat. He and other heavy weapons experts from 2nd Bn., 25th Marines used Javelins against Iraqi T-72 tanks and reinforced defensive positions when the battalion fought in Iraq in 2003 during the Global War on Terror.
The young Marines who shot the Javelin on Dec. 8, however, were still in high school when the Global War on Terror began.
“I’m really confident with this weapon system and excited about the opportunity to shoot,” said Lance Cpl. David Fuertes, 20, a turret gunner with Weapons Co. before the live fire. “I did well at SOI, and I’ve been brushing up on my knowledge.”
Fuertes’ vigilance paid off on the range. He scored a direct hit on a tank hull at about 800 meters, earning him accolades from his platoon sergeant and fellow Marines.
Back home in College Point, N.Y., Fuertes is simultaneously working as a police cadet while studying criminal justice and forensic psychology at St. Johns University. He expressed his enthusiasm for his first reserve mobilization and deployment.
“Getting away from the daily routine back home is great,” said Fuertes. “You don’t know what to expect here. It’s always something different, something exciting.”
Lance Cpl. Jed Bolyard, 22, from Boonville, Ark., also had the opportunity to fire the Javelin, slamming his missile down on the target’s vulnerable top surface at more than 1,000 meters.
“I feel blessed to have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Bolyard, a squad automatic rifleman with Weapons Co. and a junior at Arkansas Technical Institute. “I didn’t expect to have training opportunities like this in Iraq: just counterinsurgency operations and business as usual.”
The Javelin shoot was one small part of a larger combined-arms exercise, which integrated traditional infantry elements with aviation, mortars and several anti-armor systems. Iraqis from the 27th Brigade, 7th Infantry Division also got the opportunity to watch the exercise.
“The primary focus is to sustain and reset our combined-arms skills and use that training to expose the Iraqi Army to this concept,” explained Warrant Officer 5 Stuart White, the Marine gunner with Multi-National Force-Iraq.
As the aircraft strafed the target area with missiles, bombs and machine gun fire, the Marines on the ground pounded the targets with their rifles, machine guns, mortar rounds and anti-tank munitions.
“This is a very good experience for us to see this coordination between mortars, observers and other units,” said Sgt. Maj. Safa Jassim through interpretation.
Jassim, 41, is the sergeant major for the brigade’s 2nd battalion and has been working hand-in-hand with Coalition forces since 2005.
“We have a lot of new experiences as professional soldiers, and this is good,” continued Jassim, who served 21 years in the Iraqi military prior to 2003 and three years in the new Iraqi Army. “We were not treated like professional soldiers before. We are free now to think and give our opinions and input. Coalition forces have sacrificed a lot to stand up for us. A lot of them have died to help us become a better nation with a professional army.”
Private First Class Louae Saleh Hamid, a rifleman with the 27th Brigade, was one of the youngest Iraqi soldiers on the range Dec. 8. A Baghdad native, Hamid joined the army in 2006 at the age of 17 to help support his family. His salary is the primary source of income for his parents, eight siblings and numerous nephews and nieces.
“This is a very good exercise,” said Hamid. “This is my first time seeing mortars, aircraft and other weapons working all together, and I’m very excited to learn.”