Air support makes a bang on the range

Air support makes a bang on the range
Air support makes a bang on the range

LCpl Lester Echols chucks an M69 practice grenade from a training bay on Range 109 here. Twenty-four Marines with Marine Air Support Squadron 3 of 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing here conducted live-fire grenade training here. Echols is an air support operator with the support squadron here. Photo by Cpl Sarah Wolff-Diaz.

M69 practice grenades are assembled during Marine Air Support Squadron 3 of 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing live-fire grenade training at Range 109. Photo by Cpl Sarah Wolff-Diaz.

CAMP PENDLETON (Aug. 15, 2013) - Marines drop to their knees behind a cement barrier as a thunderous explosion sends shrapnel flying through the air. The percussion resonates through the hills of Las Pulgas from Range 109 here.

Twenty-four Marines from Marine Air Support Squadron 3, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing here, conducted live-fire training with M67 Fragmentation Grenades Aug. 13.

The Marines began their day at the range with a reading of Cpl Jason L. Dunham's Medal of Honor citation, followed by an open discussion about courage.

"You don't know when you'll be deployed," said 2ndLt Jennie Bellonio, the range's officer in charge and an air support control officer with the support squadron. "You need to know how to properly handle this weapon system to keep yourself, and those around you, safe."

Bellonio continued to say that the squadron is one of the few units still being deployed.

"It's the same reason we go to the rifle range every year," said Bellonio. "We should be keeping up to date with grenade training as well."

The Marines donned their Personal Protective Equipment after the discussion and safety brief. They began practice throws with M69 practice grenades that are commonly known as "blue bodies" on the range. While repeating commands given by instructors as they practiced proper grenade handling procedures and throwing form in the concrete launch bays.

"In our [Military Occupational Specialty], we're usually collocated with the ground forces, which means we have the unique possibility of going out on patrols and leapfrogging ahead as they move," said SSgt Brian Nicholson, a platoon sergeant with the squadron. "So we may find ourselves doing infantry type things."

After the Marines felt comfortable with the "blue body" grenades, they were separated into two columns where they would be called two at a time to the ammunition sheds. They gingerly placed the live fragmentation grenades into the pouches attached to their flak jackets and made their way to the live-fire bays aloud before executing.

"You get that high explosive so close to your heart, it gets you kind of nervous," said Sgt Jonathan Washington, an air support operator with the squadron. "But when you have the confidence of knowing it's a tool that I'm properly trained to use; you think 'I can do this'."

Standing in the bay, live grenade in hand, each Marine repeated commands given by their instructor.

"Thumb clip. Twist, pull pin. Prepare to throw. Throw!"

Marines drop to the ground behind the barrier as the ticking sphere whizzed through the air. The Marines wore flak jackets, Kevlar helmets, and ear and eye protection to shield them against flying debris and concussion.

"Every one of [the Marines] was confident," Washington said. "I really liked the way they reacted, and the motivation it gave them."

Once the Marines were done, they were given the opportunity to go to the observation tower and watch the next group heave grenades across the range.

"We try to do this annually," said Bellonio. "I would love to get [my Marines] out here once a quarter if it were possible."

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