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Snipers of the Sky
by USMC Lance Cpl. Kevin Crist - March 25, 2012

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Marines Pfc. Juvahne Bramwell, left, an assistant gunner and a Stephen City, Va., native, and Lance Cpl. Rawshean Haynes, a gunner and a Warren, Ohio, native, both with Alpha Battery, 3rd Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion, spot and prepare to lock onto a notional enemy aircraft on San Clemente, Calif., March 14, 2012. The battery Marines use a shoulder-fired Stinger training missile during a training exercise, preparing for future deployments. Photo by USMC Lance Cpl. Kevin Crist
Marines Pfc. Juvahne Bramwell, left, an assistant gunner and a Stephen City, Va., native, and Lance Cpl. Rawshean Haynes, a gunner and a Warren, Ohio, native, both with Alpha Battery, 3rd Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion, spot and prepare to lock onto a notional enemy aircraft on San Clemente, Calif., March 14, 2012. The battery Marines use a shoulder-fired Stinger training missile during a training exercise, preparing for future deployments. Photo by USMC LCpl. Kevin Crist

 SAN CLEMENTE, Calif. (3/16/2012) - An assistant gunner looks through his binoculars to see an aircraft coming his way and points it out to the other two Marines in this three man team of 3rd Low Altitude Air Defense Marines.

The LAAD team has been instructed that any aircraft flying this day is considered an enemy. In other words, if it flies, it dies.

The gunner of the group picks up his shoulder-fired Stinger training missile, locks on to the target, super-elevates and pulls the trigger. A loud, ear-piercing pop sends the missile on its way. The missile's heat-seeking system tracks down the enemy aircraft, causing an explosion and sending it crashing to the ground. The team of Marines then sends in their engagement report.

This is a hypothetical scenario.

The mission of a LAAD unit is to provide close-in, low altitude surface-to-air weapons' fire in defense of forward combat areas, vital areas and installations. LAAD specializes in ground-based air defense, explained Lance Cpl. Ethan Navajar, a gunner with Alpha Battery, 3rd LAAD Battalion and a Chicago native.

Alpha Battery was sent to San Clemente Island, Calif., March 12 through 16, for training at an attempt to replicate what it would be like if enemy aircraft were spotted on a deployment. Although there were no live rounds or missiles, the Marines did everything possible to simulate the real deal.

“The mission scenario LAAD was put into, on San Clemente, Calif., was that terrorists took over Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif.,” said Lance Cpl. Rawshean Haynes, a gunner with 3rd LAAD and a Warren, Ohio, native. So the LAAD Marines went to defend the island from further intermission and make sure the terrorists couldn't
use it as an airfield for other operations.

Approximately 20 vehicles carrying about 66 Marines arrived on the island via Landing Craft, Air Cushion, March 12. The team was sent to practice their communication skills and work on their reaction time with getting a Stinger missile out when an enemy aircraft is spotted.

Haynes explained that when an aircraft is spotted, the first thing that has to be done is visually identify the aircraft.

Once that is done, the Identify Friend or Foe system is used. This system sends a coded tone to the aircraft and the aircraft sends a tone to indicate whether the aircraft is friendly or unknown. If the aircraft is unknown, the team must to wait for the okay to engage it. If the approaching aircraft is hostile, the gunner will lock on it with his Stinger missile.

Marines then super-elevate the weapon because when the missile first comes out of the barrel it drops before it chases the target.
After the Marines shoot down an aircraft, the Marines have to send in an engagement report to let the other teams know the specific details of the engagement. This includes the time, type of aircraft, and total number, as well as how many were shot down, Haynes explained.

While sending in an engagement report, the Marines have to quickly move to another position to avoid giving away their position with the trail of gas left behind by the missile.

The M-16A4 service rifle, the M-240B medium machine gun and the M-2 .50-caliber machine gun are brought and used to defend from ground forces, explained Navajar.

“Aircraft aren't the only thing we have to worry about,” said Navajar. “We have to worry about troops heading in on foot. We always have our personal weapons, because you never know who's out there.”

“Different teams could lose communication with other teams, so all teams have to cooperate to make sure everyone knows what is going on,” said Haynes.

He explained that communication is very important in LAAD because if an aircraft is shot down too close to another team, the debris may fall on that team.

The teams also need to make sure two missiles are not fired at the same aircraft due to the high expense of the missile. If the aircraft is out of their range, the team needs to let the other teams know an aircraft may be heading their way.

With their primary mission in mind, LAAD is scheduled to head to Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Calif., for a monthlong Weapons and Tactics Instruction training course where LAAD Marines will use actual Stingers and gain a more realistic view of what combat is like for someone in this job field.

By USMC Lance Cpl. Kevin Crist
Provided through DVIDS
Copyright 2012

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