AL ASAD, Iraq -- Marines learn the fundamentals of marksmanship during basic training and through hard work and discipline, become riflemen. Any Marine can pick up their rifle at any time with confidence to support the mission, because every Marine is a rifleman. The recent efforts of Marines have enabled Iraqis to develop the same confidence.
The “Sandsharks” of Marine Wing Support Squadron 371 began building two small arms ranges for the Marine and Iraqi units based in Camp Habinyah, April 7.
The heavy equipment operators took the lead on the scheduled 50 day project with 19 Marines and their full arsenal of equipment to include; two D-7 dozers, two 621 B scrapers, a 130 G road grader, and a MK 29 dump truck.
“We’re building two 100 by 300 meter small arms ranges,” said Sgt. Richard Koplin, an engineer equipment operator with MWSS-371. “The terrain is pretty well broken up. It’s been used as a dump since 2003. There’s everything out here; from aircraft to vehicles to bricks, if you can name it, it’s in here.”
With more Iraqi citizens answering the call to duty, the current range facilities at Camp Habinyah are not adequate to support the continually increasing number of recruits.
“The biggest concept is, soon they’re going to have more Iraqi forces coming in for training,” said Staff Sgt. Kenneth Olchawa, a heavy equipment operator for 371 and the lead project manager. “Right now with Coalition Forces and Iraqi Forces, they don’t have enough ranges to train everyone.”
For the heavy equipment operators, the first phase is clearing the terrain. Next, side and impact berms will be constructed. Finally, the Marines will smooth out the interior of the berms.
In addition to the initial range the “Sandsharks” began work on, the project also includes modifying an existing range.
“Down the road there is an existing range that we’re going to raise the existing impact berm up five feet,” said Olchawa, a Pinellas Park, Fla., native.
The importance of the ranges is recognized by the Marines who train the Iraqi forces.
“The instructors that are teaching the Iraqis how to shoot say, when the Iraqis first arrive, there is only a two to three percent group that can actually hit the target,” said Olchawa. “By the time they leave, that group is about 95 percent. They are able to use the fundamentals of marksmanship and shoot a rifle.”
With adequate training grounds the Iraqis will be able to receive the appropriate training, allowing them to learn the fundamentals of marksmanship and give them confidence with their weapons.
“These Iraqi nationals are going from here to go fight,” said Olchawa. “There isn’t any military occupational specialty like we get, it’s five weeks of boot camp then go out to fight and help. That’s why this is so important.”