MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
For the last decade Marines have fought against terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan with battles primarily fought on the ground. So why do squads continue to carry the PL-87 Stinger missile and other anti-aircraft weapons with them during convoys?
Marines are known for being prepared for the worst, and that includes the possibility of battling enemy aircraft.
The Marines of 2nd Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion continued to sustain skills that support their primary mission and that proactive posture by conducting a live Stinger missile shoot at Onslow Beach aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., Sept. 17.
“This training provides the Marine Corps with qualified Stinger Missile gunners,” said Master Sgt. Joshua J. Hillbrand, operations chief for 2nd LAAD Battalion “This training allows the Marines to complete their annual training requirements and allows gunners who haven’t fired in years to fire a live missile.”
The Marines of 2nd LAAD spent the night on the beach after arriving the day before to set up the firing range and launch site for the unmanned aerial targets.
“The threat of the unmanned aerial vehicle population is growing,” said Lt. Col. Joel A. Burdette, commanding officer of 2nd LAAD Battalion. “The fact is even though we are not fighting a war that involves manned enemy aircraft there is always a reason to be prepared. The UAV is a valid threat if used against us. That is why we are using (unmanned aerial targets) in this training. Our Marines are demonstrating they can do their job when the time comes.”
Burdette and Hillbrand agreed the air defense battalion provides a short range defense bubble for a forward observation base from any aerial threats.
“The threats we face as a battalion range from possible manned enemy aircraft to the chance of air-to-land missiles that need taken out,” said Hillbrand. “There are a lot of threats in the world and the things we have seen are not traditional threats.”
Burdette said 2nd LAAD acts as a security unit when not conducting their primary mission of air defense.
“This battalion is a provisional infantry battalion in the sense when we aren’t firing our missile system at enemy aircraft we are providing security forces for ground troops in theater,” said Burdette. “My Marines here have the knowledge and training to conduct both ground based air defense as well as air based ground defense. We provide the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing with an air defense umbrella as a key component to Marine Air Control Group 28.”
The Marines who fired the missile system conducted a training fire with the M134 Tracking Head Trainer, a Stinger Missile simulator that does everything but fire a missile. Then they stepped to the firing line to test their skills and composure while firing at a unmanned aerial targets that flew approximately 2,000 meters out over the ocean. The Marines conducted several kinds of training scenarios during the evolution. They fired at the targets from static positions; they also conducted quick reaction fires and even launched the missile while wearing gas masks. The Marines of 2nd LAAD fired at 70 targets with 50 PL-87 Stinger Missiles as well as M240B machine guns and M2 .50 Caliber Heavy Machine Guns.
“Not only are we firing the Stinger system to better train our Marines,” said Hillbrand, “but we are also using the 240s and the .50 Cals. to train for the current mission we conduct while deployed. We are a security force for FOBs whether that is conducting our primary mission with the Stinger missile or our secondary mission using our rifles or the machine guns we trained with today.”
Burdette said he feels 2nd LAAD plays a very important role in the protection of 2nd MAW and Marine Corps aviation while deployed.
“We are a critical component in providing air defense against the emerging threats to the 2nd MAW airfields around the globe,” said Burdette. “We, at 2nd LAAD, train for many scenarios and will continue to train to make sure we are ready for any and every threat the Marine Corps and 2nd MAW faces. Whether that is while deployed or at home here at Cherry Point we will continue to be mission ready. We are still riflemen and will continue to support the mission of 2nd MAW.”