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Staff Sgt. Jacob Merrell, a crew chief with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 363, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, and a Sisters, Ore., native, shoots an M240D machine gun during a tail gun shoot exercise over a range training complex aboard Marine Corps Air station Yuma, Ariz., Oct. 31. Pilots communicate with crew chiefs through an inner communication system, so they know the location of the targets.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Melissa Eschenbrenner

Ridge Runners shoot for the best during training exercise

31 Oct 2012 | Lance Cpl. Melissa Eschenbrenner

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. – Crew chiefs with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 163 “Ridge Runners” and Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 363 “Red Lions”, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, opened fire on buildings and tanks with a mounted M-240 D medium machine gun at a machine gun range aboard Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., Oct. 31.

This exercise ensures crew chiefs handle the machine gun proficiently, in case they need to implement this training during a combat deployment, explained Staff Sgt. Jacob Merrell, a crew chief with VMM-363 and a Sisters, Ore. native.

“When I was deployed, I shot the same weapon.” said Merrell. “This training definitely prepares you because you have to be able to assess targets and engage them quickly because of the speed of the Osprey.”

The M240 machine gun fires 7.62 mm bullets and is capable of long-range shooting. The weapon, which is light weight and reliable due to its changeable barrels and easy loading, also makes it compatible for use on the aircraft.

Because the crew chiefs fire the weapon from the back of the aircraft, the targets are not visible to the pilots. This makes communication between the crew chiefs and the pilots crucial.

“When a target is located, the crew chiefs tells the direction it’s in, how far away it is and the size.” said 1st Lt. Link Terry, a pilot with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 165 and a Monroe, Ohio, native. “As pilots, we can steer in the direction and tell the crew chiefs where it is to engage the target.”
Training on the weapons occurs every six months to ensure every crew chief remains qualified. However, when units prepare to deploy, crew chiefs receive extra training to ensure they are fully prepared.

Crew chiefs favor weapons training. Training on the weapon about twice per year is enough to remain comfortable shooting the weapon, explained Merrell.

Firing weapons from an aircraft requires training for multiple situations, such as firing at night and with other tail-mounted weaponry. Qualified instructors accompany students to ensure the completion of each step needed to qualify. Instructors refer to a manual of codes to complete training and keep Marines properly qualified.

“Our crew chiefs are highly qualified in weaponry.” said Terry. “They make my job easier by knowing exactly what to tell me to complete the mission.”

Crew chiefs, as well as pilots, need to be up-to-date and ready for anything. The success of training ensures that crew chiefs succeed when their skills are tested on deployment.