By Sgt. Matthew Leary 4th BCT 82nd DivMarch 3, 2009
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - What happens when you combine 43, M2 50-caliber machine guns, 11, 240B machine guns, two MK-19 automatic grenade launchers and 100,000 rounds of ammunition with a battalion of paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division on a Fort Bragg weapons range'
"They just let it rip," answers Sgt. Joshua S. Daly, a truck driver with Company A, 782nd Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team.
And while placing rounds downrange and on target is a key skill, the first and primary concern of every Soldier on the range Feb. 5 was not accurate shooting, but rather the safe and proper handling of the weapons, said Staff Sgt. George Rouska, a 35-year-old native of Portland, Ore., and a petroleum supply specialist with Co. A.
"It's safety first, and safety always."
Upon arriving, the troopers were given a safety briefing by the key leaders running the range and were only allowed to participate once it was checked and verified that they had all their proper safety equipment.
"They don't have it, they don't fire," Rouska said.
Upon entering the turrets, noncommissioned officers familiar with the weapon systems sat just a few feet away and gave further instructions on safety operations.
"We're making sure the Soldiers know how to properly work the weapon," explained Daly, a 26-year-old native of Claflin, Kan.
Starting with maintenance checks, each Soldier was shown how to inspect his or her weapon prior to usage to make sure it would operate correctly. Although most of the Soldiers had previous experience with the weapons, it was an opportunity to reinforce basic soldiering skills.
"It's just so they feel more comfortable with it," Daly said. "So they get used to loading the weapon, changing a barrel, or conducting immediate action to correct a stoppage."
The NCOs on the range stressed the importance of these simple skills and the need for Soldiers to know them by heart. Even the smallest oversight can lead to the weapon becoming inoperable, or worse, a potentially dangerous misfire, Rouska said.
"That's why safety is our first point of performance," agreed 1st Lt. Jerome Jones, the executive officer of Co. A, and officer-in-charge of the range. "As leaders, we take on that responsibility to make sure everyone is safe when we train."
So as the troopers from 782nd BSB fired off 100,000 rounds and practiced safely maintaining their weapons, the NCO's and officers made sure they did their part to make the range exercise a success.
"Paratroopers want to focus on the mission and get it done," Jones said. "It's our job to make sure they get it done safely."