Call in the big guns – 6 SFS heavy weapons training

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Adam R. Shanks
  • 6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

The barrage cracked across an expanse of Avon Park Air Force Range, saturating the terrain one hundred miles east of MacDill Air Force Base, Florida.

With no spectators in sight, defenders from the 6th Security Forces Squadron sent thousands of rounds through the barrels of M240 and M249 machine guns at distant targets. Covering the ground in empty brass casings, the defenders listened to their combat arms instructors in between bursts.

 “The M240 and M249 are two of the heavier weapons our squadron employs,” said Tech. Sgt. Randall Perry, the 6th SFS NCO in charge of combat arms. “In the event that MacDill’s force protection condition level rises, either real or simulated, we’ll need Airmen to arm up with these weapons.

“Readiness is the primary goal of the training, and to maintain optimal training for all of the Airmen.”

Due to the complexity and weight of machine guns, classroom instruction is doubled from the typical one-day course taught on the M-4 Carbine and M9 pistol. This additional instruction is necessary to cover some of the challenges and potential hazards that are unique to heavy weapons.

“Design-wise, both firearms [M240/M249], are very similar, but the rate of fire they can produce requires additional members to efficiently operate,” said Perry. “Especially the M240, requiring a barrel change every 200 rounds fired with an assistant gunner.”

The barrel change comes from the staggering amount of heat produced from firing in a cyclic manner. Both weapons can reach 650 rounds per minute, and an overheated barrel could spell disaster to the Airmen operating it.

“As with any firearm, safety is the first thing our team and the Airmen are thinking about,” added Perry. “Firing with an overheated barrel can lead to cook offs, or the bullets exploding prematurely inside the barrel.”

Besides firing, training included troubleshooting methods for common issues that crop up while in the field. More moving parts in the weapon means more areas a problem could develop, and in a deployed environment, Airmen won’t have a combat arms instructor to guide them.

 “We’re not going to make them subject matter experts in a week’s time, but giving them a baseline of correct and easy to follow instructions will stick with them for when they need it,” said Perry. “And with the training being conducted quarterly, Airmen can constantly refresh their training.”

The Airmen conducted training with readiness in mind, knowing that the tools and instruction could be vital during a future exercise or contingency, making them a valuable asset on the battlefield.

“Being prepared for anything is extremely important in this career field,” said Senior Airman Bryan Scott, a 6th SFS marine patrolman. “Readiness to us is being able to deter, defend and defeat anything thrown at us, and this training adds to our lethality.”