KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Army News Service, March 20, 2007) - Staff Sgt. Tonya Johnson had never fired a Mark-19 grenade machine gun - until March 17.

"It was like a rush. After the first two-rounds fired, I was in a zone so I kept firing", said the 2nd Battalion, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, personnel actions clerk.

Johnson, along with 40 paratroopers from Task Force Corsair and members of the Australian Army, fired three Army weapons systems at Tarnak Farms to become "comfortable with heavy weapons systems," said Sgt. 1st Class Dejarius Jones, motor sergeant, Company E, 2nd Bn., 82nd CAB.

"This is not a qualification range," Jones said. "Most Soldiers have never fired these systems, so we want them to become familiar with them and comfortable if there is ever a need."

Crew-served weapons are a major part of today's Army inventory. Soldiers must now go beyond the basics of the M-16 and M249 as their primary defense weapons to the more advanced systems like the Mark-19, M203 and the Browning M2 .50 caliber machine gun. Such weapon systems deliver armor piercing and high-explosive munitions over a longer range or to larger targets.

"We want to familiarize Soldiers with the crew-served weapons that have never fired them and give them every opportunity to prepare for the unknown," said Sgt. 1st Class Lawrence Hollenbeck, platoon sergeant, Co. E, 2nd Bn., 82nd CAB.

"It was good training; very hands on," Johnson said. "I am now more confident with those weapons systems and if I had to use it, I know I could do it."

Tarnak Farms is one of the many training sites for Soldiers in the southern area of Afghanistan, but the terrain around it offers every opportunity for enemy engagement.

"At Fort Bragg, everything is by the numbers. It's safe and controlled," said 1st Lt. Jon Moralee, officer in charge of the range. "Here, you take every precaution when you leave the gate."

Even with the risk of enemy engagement, Soldiers like Johnson were excited about the opportunity to get up close to the weapon systems. The Mark-19 can fire from a tripod-mounted position or from a vehicle mount. It has been used by American forces in Somalia, Iraq and by special forces operating behind enemy lines.

Entering the Army's inventory in the early 1970s, the M203 grenade launcher is a single-shot weapon designed for use with the M16 series rifle and fires a 40mm grenade. The Browning M2 .50-caliber machine gun is a World War II era crew-operated machine gun. This gun may be mounted on ground mounts, and most vehicles as an anti-personnel and anti-aircraft weapon, according to the Army Weapons Systems home page.

"It was my first time firing a Mark 19 and I was excited - not nervous," said Spc. Virgilio Manalo, petroleum specialist, Co. E, 2nd Bn. 82nd CAB. "I just hope I hit my target."

"The Mark 19 has a little kick-back to it, but when you see the explosion of the rounds, it's an adrenaline rush," said Sgt. James Degroat, Task Force Corsair retention NCO. "It's almost like a video game, but these are live rounds and they do a lot of damage."

The weapons systems of the Australian Army are slightly different from American forces said Australian Army Capt. Colin Baldwin. The Australian infantry troops have the same .50-caliber machine gun and a grenade launcher. Aviation soldiers primarily carry 9 mm pistols and a Styr rifle.

"It was a good exchange and a positive experience," Baldwin said.

(Sgt. 1st Class Krishna M. Gamble writes for Task Force Pegasus Public Affairs.)