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Bad Example Turns Two

Marine Sergeant's Thoughts, Concerns and Recommendations

This list, via Seamus, was due to a casual request from the Marine Corps War Fighting Lab for thoughts, concerns and recommendations about training and equipment. 

One Sergeant's reply has been forwarded through channels and now into your hands.  I placed descriptions or links to descriptions of some of the acronyms for those unfamiliar with the terms.  I also checked for OPSEC.  The ranges of weapons, tactical information, and the liklihood of changes made were considered and some information has been withheld.

Sergeant Major, 

This took a little while to put together, and is written mainly from the point of view of a machine gunner (O331) in a line platoon, with input from other Wpns Platoon Marines, however there are many subjects that have a broad usage:


New joins [personnel transfers] need to arrive at the unit sooner.  The trend seems that the majority of the new joins a unit receives arrive after the majority of the "senior Marines" (NCOs and other small unit leaders [SUL]) depart from the unit.  If the new joins arrived earlier there would be more time to train them, pass on knowledge and lessons learned.  This goes hand in hand with more ammo for training.  A firefight in a MOUT environment [Military Operations Urban Terrain] against drugged up insurgents is not the place to discover Pfc Smith needs to work on his shoulder pressure and manipulation of the T&E [Traverses and Elevates machine gun on a tripod].  Training also needs to be more realistic.  Safety is important, but it shouldn't detract from the training as often as it does.  For example; when a unit does a machinegun shoot on Camp Lejeune, they generally line up on the berm with about 15-20 ft of space between them.  The shoot is static, and well planned.  Most small unit leaders in the section are taught that quite possibly in the defense their gun teams could be 100 meters apart (toward the flanks of the rifle platoon).  However, they never get to practice this live fire.  In a firefight an NCO and SUL will resort to their training and comfort level.....they will keep their gun teams in close because that is all they've experienced.  Having the guns that close is dangerous, they are a high priority target, and they are close enough that one grenade, RPG [Rocket Propelled Grenades], mortar round etc, placed between them will most likely have an effect on both gun teams.  Marines should also be given the opportunity to fire their weapons unconventionally in training i.e. shooting a M240G [link to description] from the hip.  Marines have had to do that in the narrow streets of Al Fallujah.... this should not be the first time they've experienced this.

More live fire MOUT exercises are needed.... with combined arms....machineguns, SMAW (with spotting rifle on pop up or stationary targets) [link to description], SAWS [link to description], M203 [link to description].... too often the only training that is done is with an M16.  Once "in country" Marines need to be able to have the opportunity to train {live fire} with other supporting units, i.e. the Iraqi Special Forces.  They should not just meet, do a few combat patrols and then end up in Block 3 combat.  Respect, Rapport and TRUST, need to be earned.  The Marines and the ISF both need time to learn each other's strengths, weaknesses and SOPs [Standard Operating Procedures], the same as it is expected when Marines join new units... train together, fight together. Also, more training with SIM rounds are needed rather than blanks.  Blanks lead to bad habits, and M240Gs do not like to fire them.  They also tend to cause burrs in the barrels when the tips blow apart.  We need a lot more live fire training.  Live fire is the closest thing to combat.


First and Foremost : Reduce weight!  Some way some how, the gear needs to be made lighter; this is life and death. The average grunt is swamped with weight.  Take a T/O MG team, generally they are issued 1000 rounds per gun.  At 7lbs per 100 rounds, that is an additional 70lbs that needs dispersed through the team, and 9/10 times the gunner only carries 100 rnds leaving the remaining 63 lbs to be split between 2 people, and this is in the rare occasion that the gun team is T/O [Task Organized - meaning a team working with a different unit than the one it trained with].  Also consider that they have a 6.6lb spare barrel, flak, Kevlar, two ceramic plates, the team leader and ammo bearer have M16s with 7 magazines, grenades, maybe even PRRs [radios], water, chow, personal night vision, night vision for the crew serves (anpvs 17, and paz 13), additional items prescribed by the unit, and may even be ordered to bring their tripod, T&E with flex mount, and remaining SL3 gear.  The rifleman are also tasked with a lot... the personal gear mentioned above, as well as extra SAW, machinegun ammo, extra mortar rounds, extra SMAW rockets, breaching kits, AT4s [anti-tank rocket]....this list goes on.  Ounces equal pounds, and pounds equal pain.  This is not good when Marines need to move quickly in a combat situation, and the extreme weight reduces their fluidity. 

The Wiley X eye protection is a good idea, however the Sunglasses should be issued rather than the Goggles that are currently issued.  The sunglasses fit more comfortably, and allow more air to the eye area.  The goggles trap sweat and are more prone to fogging, and more likely to attract dirt that obstructs vision.  Many Marines end up buying Oakleys, the Wiley X sunglasses or another similar product on their own. The strap on knee pads are good, but an improvement would be to have a pair that flex more, and can better mold to the knees so they stay in place. Keep the digital pattern, return to the rip-stop material.  The new cammies do no hold up at all. Instead of rips, they wear…They wear holes through them and begin to fall apart.  The stitching is low quality. The seams above the knees, and at the crotch just inexplicably come un-done.  The rip-stop generally only tore when caught on something (concertina wire being the biggest culprit), but tore at right angles, and were easier to mend.  The fabric itself stood up to the abuse a lot better as well.  The new suede boots are also shoddy. They tend to fray and the outer layer rubs off, and they stain easily and look terrible in garrison as well.  They are heavier and bulkier than the old style black jungles as well.  The black jungle boots were also easier to "break in" and therefore a lot more comfortable.  Besides, the "no press no shine" took a lot of fun out of being a Marine.

Gear to fit.  By this I mean Marines should have somewhat of a choice with gear, particularly with packs.  Make the pattern the same but give the Marine a choice.  The Mountain Ruck is good for Marines that are shorter, for taller Marines it sits, and digs into their kidneys.  The Vector pack is better for taller Marines because it disperses the weight, for shorter Marines it hangs too low.  I have not had a chance to use the new SALLE pack, but the general consensus is that the MOLLE pack is JUNK.

PRRs are good, one is needed for every team (if one is given to every Marine the net will become clogged, this is already a borderline problem).  A small light weight squad radio with UHF/VHF capability is best.  The MBTR is good, but it needs to be more durable, and able to better hold a signal. 

Weapons and Ammunition 

The M16 is prone to jams.  I can personally attest that I kept my weapon properly cleaned and lubed yet with in ten minutes I had two jams that required Remedial Action in Al Fallujah. Also the round is too fast, too small, and too stabilized.  It can not compete with the 7.62 fired by Warsaw pact weapons.  H&K makes a nice G3 (a NATO weapon, the Norwegians have it).  It is nice to say that the M16 can fire out to 500 meters, however generally the distance we need in combat is significantly shorter, especially in MOUT.  These problems/complaints are not new.  They've been around since Vietnam. At the very least the changes in Ammo are needed.

The M9 pistol.....the same reason the Marine Corps originally instituted the 1911 is the very same reason we still need the .45 MORE STOPPING POWER [Blackfive shouts "Hell YEAH!"], nothing has changed.  If a Marine needs to rely on his side arm #1 something went wrong, so #2 he needs a bit more than the 9mm.

Armor piercing [AP] rounds....I have never even laid eyes on it for the M240G.  Our current enemies like to use VBIED [Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device], personally I would feel more comfortable shooting at a vehicle laden with explosives if I had AP rounds.  Also, the buildings "over there" tend to be constructed with brick, mortar, and rebar.  We need more penetrating power.

Brighter tracer rounds, in Fallujah we needed to use tracers to guide Tank main gun rounds to the target, this only works if they can see the traces....tracer incendiary rounds would be best because they are dual purpose.  The mark the target, as well as explode on target.

SMAW rockets with hardened tips, maybe depleted uranium? I pray I never see another SMAW rocket bounce.  In Fallujah our assault men tried to blow a hole through a wall (outside of the 17m combat firing distance prescribed in the references) and it bounced....back towards us.

The M240G (or implement another style medium machinegun) needs to be made more applicable to MOUT.  There is rarely time or the place to set up on the tripod during an assault, and not always an immediate position to lay in on the bipods that can still target 2+ story buildings.  Reduced recoil and better hand guards (for BOTH barrels, a barrel change should be just that; without having to switch the hand guards [which are rare to begin with]) are a good start.

M203 grenade launchers need to be organic to machine gunners, at least one per team, so that dead space can be covered.  The riflemen are supposed to provide security, but they are also seldom T/O, and this detracts from their other responsibilities as well.

A MARS-V reflex sight with magnification power would be a good piece of gear.  It would take the place of an A-COG and PEQ2 ...less weight.

Stronger hand grenades.  The insurgents in Iraq like to inject themselves with adrenaline.  The casualty radius of our current grenades is insufficient.


I would like to see machinegun teams in a line company move to teams of four rather than the current three.

As it is now, there is a Squad leader in charge of two guns.  In those gun teams there is a team leader responsible for: relaying info to/from the squad leader, giving corrections to the gunner, assisting in barrel changes and reloads, and also identifying targets. The gunner: employs the gun, changes barrels, and reloads.  The ammunition bearer caries ammo, the remaining SL3 gear, and provides local security. If a new billet were developed...the "Assistant gunner" He should be a Corporal or an experienced Lance Corporal. He would take the team leader's place next to the gunner, but the team leader would be free to relay commands from the squad leader and spot targets.  The squad leader would maintain overall responsibility for the employment of the squad.  This would be especially handy when the guns are spread out a large distance, and would take the strain off of the squad leader.  This would also help disperse some of the weight the gun squad is required to carry and make the individual team more sufficient in the fog of war. The team leader would be a more senior/experienced Corporal, and the squad leader would remain a Sgt or the Most experienced Cpl in the squad. 

Sgtmaj, I appreciate your time reading this e-mail.  I thank you for the opportunity to be heard.  I tried to not be overly critical of our current resources knowing that they are not unlimited.  Any improvement is a big step in our capabilities.  Thank you again.


Semper Fidelis,

[name removed]

Another Marine Sergeant with a lot of food for thought.  I also posted an After Action Review of Fallujah by a Sergeant and his Corporals months ago.  The next time you hear Bill Maher lamenting about the quality of our troops, remember these Marines and others that You Should Know.