4th LAAD Battalion hosts ranges in Iraqi Desert

4 Oct 2004 | Cpl. Joel A. Chaverri 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

The Marine Corps has always placed a high importance on the training of their troops.

Especially while in a war-zone, a high standard of excellence is required of the Marines in every aspect of operations.

In order to meet these requirements, it’s imperative that there are proper facilities to conduct the various types of training necessary to get the job done.

With numerous units based on Al Asad, the need arose for adequate training areas. The 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing has taken responsibility for controlling and maintaining the weapons ranges for all the units aboard Al Asad.

Run by the Marines of 4th Low-Altitude Air Defense Battalion, Security Battalion, Marine Wing Support Group 37, 3rd MAW, Range Operations and Training has a large area of operations with combat courses that encompass a wide variety of training.

Covering everything from small arms to full-scale bombs, range control Marines ensure that the training is conducted safely and efficiently.

“We do a lot of training out here,” said 45-year-old Yorba Linda, Calif., native Master Gunnery Sgt. Ronnie M. Mejia, operations chief, Range Operations and Training. “Since taking over September 1, we’ve trained almost 5,000 Marines.”

According to Mejia, running the weapons ranges requires a lot more than scheduling times and organizing units.

“We give safety briefs for the ranges we run, place targets, and clean up the ranges,” he said. “We give classes about all factors of weapons and combat.”

Nicknamed “Angles of Death,” the range control Marines have full confidence in their abilities to do their job.

“We’re good at what we do,” said 26-year-old Chicago native Sgt. Jesus E. Villegas, LAAD gunner, Range Operations and Training. “We’re always on time and always motivated.”

Having available over a dozen mission-specific ranges for weapons such as pistols, rifles, heavy machine guns, various rocket launchers, grenades and artillery gives the range control Marines enough work to keep them busy.

“We also try to give (units) as much time as necessary so they can prepare for their missions,” said Mejia. “They have priority.”

Along with organizing the ranges for the units on base, Range Operations and Training also host ranges or the Iraqi Police force and border patrol.

“We’re training the Iraqi boarder patrol how to do fire their weapons, do squad rushes, and engage targets on the move,” said 23-year-old Eric, Penn., native Sgt. Heath A. Fernald, instructor, 2nd Amphibious Assault Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, during a recent training session held at the fire and maneuver range here.

Also located on base is a range used specifically for grenade training. The Marines run through a course with various barriers and throw grenades while their fellow Marines give cover fire with live ammunition.

With all of these tasks, it’s often that the range control personnel don’t get a chance to participate in the training themselves.

“We’re always conducting training for other units,” said 23-year-old Burlington, Wash., native, Sgt. Richard L. Swihart III, LAAD gunner, Range Operations and Training. “As a result, we hardly ever get a chance to do any training.”

“Our mission is support the other units on base,” added Swihart. “Our personal training comes second.”

However that doesn’t mean that they don’t train at all. Occasionally the range control Marines occasionally get the opportunity to mix business with pleasure by participating in the range shoots they conduct.

“Every once in a while we’ll go out and shoot weapons with another unit,” said Villegas. “Firing a machine gun and throwing grenades is pretty motivating.”