News: Wings of the Eagle companies recruit COSCOM door gunners to help with heavy mission load
Sgt. Marshall Thompson
Soldiers who volunteered to become door gunners on Black Hawk helicopters finished their training in mid-March with a visit to a firing range north of Logistical Support Area Anaconda.
The 4th Battalion of the 101st Aviation Regiment, 159th Combat Aviation Brigade, trained the volunteers in a two-week course. When the 4-101st deployed they had enough door gunners, but injuries and mid-tour leave rotations created a demand for more, said Staff Sgt. Paul Valencia, training instructor with 4-101st who has taught three classes like this in Iraq.
Sgt. James Guillory, a computer analyst with the 40th Corps Support Group, said he volunteered to be a door gunner so he could see more of Iraq.
"I wanted the chance to get off the FOB and not be a fobbit," Guillory said. "From the air you can kind of see how the people live."
Valencia said that traditionally they recruit door gunners solely from the infantry because their knowledge of the weapon systems. Because of the intense battle rhythm of the infantry in Iraq, the 4-101st opened up the job to anyone interested. Recruits learn how to provide security for the aircraft and crew using the 240- H machine gun.
"They're not flying the aircraft, and they're not fixing the aircraft, but they're protecting everyone on board," Valencia said.
Soldiers like Guillory will spend half their time on door gunner missions and half their time doing their regular missions, but others hope to make the position a permanent home. Pfc. Kevin Wingard, cavalry scout now attached to the A Company, 4-101st, will become a full-time gunner now that he has completed his training.
"The training went well," Wingard said. "I got a lot out of it. There were a lot of things that I didn't think were included in being a door gunner. There's a lot to this job."
The trip to the range was the first time Wingard had been in a Black Hawk helicopter. He had flown in civilian helicopters before, which helped him from getting airsick. Not every one of the new door gunners was as lucky.
Wingard said the hardest part was learning how to shoot and reload the weapon while flying at high speeds." It's difficult to load the ammo cans when you're going about 140 knots," Wingard said.
Valencia said the group was looking good, but it would take a few more weeks of practice and experience before they would be functioning at their highest level.
Sgt. Richard Olivas, an ammo handler with the 40th CSG, said he felt everyone in his training group did well despite the challenge of firing a weapon while a helicopter is banking away.
"We know what we're supposed to do," Olivas said. "Protect the aircraft, protect the personnel, and assist the crew chief. That's our job."
Valencia said that there might be another training class in a month. Soldiers interested in becoming door gunners should watch their Balad e-mail account for further announcements.