MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. -- "RPG 10 o'clock!" rings in the helmets of the Marines manning the machine guns aboard a CH-46 Sea Knight, and a barrage of lethal rounds find their way from their guns to the threat's location in seconds as the helicopter sweeps through the sky.
Scenarios such as this are not uncommon in a combat environment, and the Marines with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 268, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, have migrated to the Arizona desert to ready themselves to face potential ground attacks during their upcoming deployment to Iraq.
The helicopter's normal armament is two M2 .50-caliber machine guns mounted just behind and on either side of the cockpit.
This weapons arrangement gives the helicopter a very lethal bite to both sides of the aircraft while flying, but HMM-268 added a sting to their tails Dec. 6 as part of their predeployment training during Exercise Desert Talon 1-06.
In the grand Marine tradition of adapt and overcome, the crew placed a Marine with a M240G machine gun facing out the open rear ramp.
"One of our major doctrines is to look out for our escorts, AH-1 Cobras," said Lance Cpl. David M. Early, crew chief, HMM-268. "It's our (commanding officer's) plan to provide better suppression and accuracy to the (rear), using the (M240G machine gun)."
For the training mission, the helicopters headed miles north of the air station to an isolated desert valley with a scattering of rusted military hardware lying on the ground below.
Using the relics as targets, the helicopters made pass after pass through the valley. First, the side door gunners engaged the targets as they passed to each side. Then, the ramp gunner engaged the targets passed behind the helicopter.
"The purpose of the flights was to get me qualified as a tail gunner and Cpl. (Jason G.) Miller qualified as a tail gun instructor," said Early. "Now, he is the only qualified instructor, and I'm the newest qualified gunner in the squadron."
Making the task more difficult for Early and Miller was the fact that there is no mount on the helicopters ramp for the weapon.
"It takes a lot of energy to keep the weapon on target, you've got to really muscle it to keep it in the pocket of your shoulder," said Early. "We reduce the amount of fatigue by using elbow pads and foot mounts for a more stable base."
Facing out the rear of the aircraft the gunner has no ability to prepare to fire, spot the target visually and take it out before the helicopter is moving away or to one side.
"We take cues from the fifties, traversing the weapon left or right depending on which side fires, so we are ready when we can see the target," said Early.
"Between Miller setting me up for success, showing me a few techniques that would work and wearing elbow pads, the training went well."
Having an additional qualified tail gunner in the squadron is a great asset to the squadron, said Cpl. Jason G. Miller, crew chief, HMM-268.
"It is all about fundamentals. Take your time, be safe, check for friendlies, know the weapon's remedial actions," said Miller.