Camp Pendleton, Calif. -- Ten Marines from the Command Element of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit recently had a chance to get familiar with one of the Marine Corps’ most relied upon automatic weapons.
Those ten Marines were given classes and the opportunity to fire the Squad Automatic Weapon, better known as the M-249 SAW.
The SAW is considered a hand-held, belt fed, light machine gun that has the ability to fire a maximum of 85 rounds per minute (sustained) at a maximum effective range of 3281 feet.
According to Master Sgt. Eric King, operations chief, 15th MEU, the main reason for the course is once the MEU is underway there may be a need for command element Marines to stand security.
An integral part of that security is the SAW, explained King, and therefore it is important for the Marines to know how to employ it.
“The main reason is when we set up the [command operations center] there will be Marines to provide security inside the COC,” said King.
“The security element will need automatic riflemen in the security element to cover fields of fire and avenues of approach. They may be used for convoys also and someone proficient needs to be the one using [the SAW],” he said.
During the eight-hour machine gun range the Marines received an introduction to the general data, the different roles and the safety and disassembly of the SAW. Since many of the Marines were inexperienced with the SAW it was important for them to be comfortable with it, said King.
Once the classes were over, it was time to shoot. Each Marine fired about 1,000 rounds throughout the course.
The first part of the course consisted of the Marines firing belts of 20 rounds each. King explained this was done in an effort to get the Marines proficient at loading and reloading the machine gun.
“The point was to allow them to feed and get used to reloading [the SAW] using the 20 round links, firing on my command. Once they were comfortable they were given two drums of 200 rounds and were then allowed to engage targets on their own from 100 to 400 yards,” explained King.
For many of the Marines present, this was their first time to use the squad automatic weapon, said King. However, because of the course they are now proficient enough to utilize the SAW in a combat environment.
“Many of them may have seen the SAW but were not proficient at loading. They basically had to be taught from square one. Now they are proficient enough to engage targets up to 3000 meters,” explained King.
One Marine present that had never had a chance to shoot the SAW was Private First Class Michael D. Puebla, administrative clerk, 15th MEU.
The Raceland, La., native explained that it was pretty hard to shoot at first and it was hard to see the target sometimes because after a couple of seconds the shaking becomes hard to handle.
Puebla was able to obtain a lot of useful information about the SAW he did not previously know, such as the maximum sustained rate of fire.
“I didn’t know that it shoots 725 rounds per minutes (cyclic),” said Puebla. “That’s a lot of rounds. The training was pretty in-depth.”
Puebla is fully aware of duties and responsibilities, he explained, and as one of the Marines picked for the SAW-gunners course, Puebla feels confident in his abilities to use and maintain the SAW.
“I can take it apart and put it back together pretty quick and I hit the targets pretty good so I guess I picked up something,” he said.