Inside the camel-colored Army Humvee snaking its way into position on the Live Fire Convoy Range on Fort Sill’s east range Thursday morning, early rainfall ceases on the outside.
On the inside, it’s soon supplanted by a torrent of brass copper jackets to 7.62-mm bullets raining torrents at pop up and stationary targets down range. Barometric pressure keeps the explosion of each rat-a-tat burst of fire close inside; the scent of gunpowder permeates everything.
The first few bursts of four or five automatic shots is jarring inside the rolling tin can containing three other soldiers supporting the harnessed Specialist Calvin Darnell who squeezes the trigger from a turret above on the roof.
Explosions of artillery fire explodes the ground about a mile away. It’s as real as these soldiers can get to being in another country and on a mission as it gets. For now.
With this live fire training mission, soldiers from the 31st Air Defense Artillery Brigade familiarized themselves with their weapons of war. They may one day need them and need to be prepared.
According to Lt. Zackary Hattier, it’s to prepare them for the increasingly dynamic threat environment they’ll face while deployed overseas. Atop the third story of the range’s observation tower, he orders the go-ahead for the exercise to begin. The soldiers would be working with the M240B and M249L guns.
“They’re both machine guns,” he said. “This gives them a familiarity in shooting on a moving vehicle.”
As part of Echo Company, Hattier said the day’s training was a “culminating event” that comes once a year following countless other exercises to get to this point.
As a Humvee returns from its round through the course, it zigs and zags through the concrete barricades set in the pattern to defend against a suicide bomber, for example. Hattier said once in a combat setting, these soldiers’ mission as a maintenance company is to protect the place as well as service the battalion vehicles.
“We’re in charge of base defense of headquarters units,” he said. “This is to simulate them entering and exiting the base.”
A Baton Rouge, La., native, Hattier is in his “fourth or fifth month” in the Army; he served in the ROTC while in college.
A South Carolinan, Private First Class Stephen Robinson, said shooting these large-caliber guns is “like shooting any other gun.” But being on the move is something that has to be learned and practiced.
“It’s a lot harder, I guess, but you just keep your lefts and your rights,” he said. “Then, just have fun with it.”
Following his round as the gunner, Private Second Class Jameel Waring said much of a mission’s success comes from the team inside the truck. From trust in the driver to communication with the team, once you have that in order, you focus on your job of pulling the trigger.
“When firing at your enemies, you’re trying to suppress them, not necessarily destroy them,” he said.
With the heavy gun mounted, it offers less physical stress, according to Waring. It makes for a positive experience.
“I enjoyed it,” he said. “I like firing at the targets.”
After shooting 200 rounds through the first part of the course, the Humvee turned and made its way through the second set of targets. Cramped inside the large vehicle, soldiers pass ammunition to Darnell for him to load up his weapon and ready to engage.
Communication from the observation tower gives the go ahead to proceed through the final course. With closer clusters of targets to the north and west, the gunner was given his order:
“Light ‘em up.”