Firing your weapon at a killer tomato may sound like the premise of a cheesy science fiction movie, but it is how crews of the U.S. Army's fleet of watercraft train on the open sea.
The crew of the U.S. Army's Logistics Support Vessel - 5 (LSV-5), dubbed the Maj. Gen. Charles P. Gross, conducted a sea based gunnery range in international waters after departing Kuwait Naval Base, on January 24, 2017.
Unlike a land based range with paper or pop-up targets, the Soldiers fired at a large inflatable target known as a killer tomato. The cube shaped balloon measures approximately 14 feet tall and wide and is bright red, hence its name.
Vessel Master, Chief Warrant Officer Four Ned Walsh, of the 411th Transportation Company, 553rd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 369th Sustainment Brigade, 1st Sustainment Command (Theater), says the sea based gunnery range allows his crew to, "familiarize themselves with engaging threats with their weapons system aboard the vessel."
Training aboard the vessel offers the crew added benefits beyond what they could learn on a regular weapons range. While the sea based range shares some similarities with traditional land based ranges, such as weapons familiarization and learning sectors of fire, it also presents unique challenges to firing a weapon while traversing the water.
"Judging distance out on the water is difficult because there's really nothing to gauge it against. Then dealing with the motion of the ocean, so to speak; rocking up and down, you have to control the weapon a little bit more," said Walsh.
Chief Warrant Officer Two Sarah Stone, 2nd mate of the LSV-5, says another advantage is that the crew learns to work together as it is a, "collective task to engage targets as a group," as opposed to traditional weapons qualifications which are individual events. The crew engaged the target with their M249 light machine gun, M2 machine gun and Mark 19 40mm grenade machine gun.
In addition to the live fire event, the crew of the LSV-5 also conducted their weekly safety drills. Federal regulations mandate that fire, man overboard and abandon ship drills be conducted weekly as they are the three most likely emergencies to occur aboard a vessel.
"We have nobody to help us out in the water besides ourselves. You could be miles away from the nearest vessel or land. We have to take care of our own," said Spc. Kayla Pfertsh, a deck hand aboard the LSV-5.
The fire drill involved Soldiers suiting up in gear one would expect to see on any civilian fireman and engaging fire suppression systems, such as hoses and water guns.
The abandon ship drill consisted of the crew and passengers reporting to the lifeboats, donning life vests and receiving a block of instruction on all of the survival gear they would have available, such as immersion suits to prevent hypothermia and transponders to help other vessels locate them.
The man overboard drill is the most involved of the three required drills. A training dummy dressed in an immersion suit is thrown overboard. The crew must then use an onboard crane to lower a rescue boat into the water to retrieve the lost personnel. Once the rescue boat has retrieved them, it pulls alongside the LSV-5 and is then hoisted by the same crane back aboard the vessel.
"In case we lose a Soldier overboard we want to be able to recover him the quickest way possible. So we practice that weekly," said Walsh.
The LSV-5 is named in honor of Maj. Gen. Charles P. Gross, who was the first chief of the U.S. Army's Transportation Corps. Prior to World War II, transportation services had been largely handled by the Quartermaster and Engineering Corps. In July of 1942, the Transportation Corps was established as a separate branch with, then Lt. Col., Gross at its head. The Transportation Corps was created to manage movement control and was responsible for moving Soldiers from bases to the front lines and managing the ports in between.