FORT DRUM, N.Y. — "When you hear the sound of freedom, begin firing," Sgt. Matt Cordaro told eight New York Army National Guard Soldiers crouched or sitting behind eight M240B machine guns.
Cordaro's "sound of freedom" was a grenade simulator going off, and that boom was the signal for Soldiers from Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 142nd Aviation, to engage their targets downrange
Engaging troop targets on the ground was their first step in UH-60 aerial gunnery training that 68 Soldiers conducted at Fort Drum June 1 to 3.
The goal of the range training was for helicopter crew chiefs to successfully engage targets on the ground with a M240B before firing from a UH-60 in flight, said Capt. Salvator Garcia, the Bravo Company Commander from Smithtown, New York.
Door gunnery qualification begins with ground qualification first.
The Soldiers had to first demonstrate their ability to fire 100 rounds with the M240B equipped with standard pistol grip and stock, like those used by infantry Soldiers. Then they fired an additional 100 rounds from an M240B equipped with the butterfly grip used on board the aircraft.
The purpose of qualifying with both grips is to demonstrate proficiency, in case of an emergency like a downed aircraft, where the Soldiers would have to leave the aircraft and use the machine gun on the ground.
Along with the weapons training, the Soldiers used the weekend to practice basic Warrior Tasks the Soldiers will need for the company deployment to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, in July, Garcia added.
Once the training moved into the air, two crew chiefs – one on each side of the Black Hawk— fired at decommissioned tanks and trucks at Fort Drum's Range 48. As the helicopters flew a set route, gunners engaged targets in turn.
Most of the targets were engaged with the UH-60 in motion and some were fired on while the aircraft hovered.
An evaluator inside the aircraft indicated which targets for the gunners to engage.
Pfc. Arthur Allen, an aircraft mechanic and crew chief from Uniondale, New York, said he liked air gunnery.
"It's an intense feeling." Arthur said. "A lot of control is needed but once you get on the guns it feels natural."
A sensor system within the targets measures how many rounds hit the target, how many miss, and how many land in the general area. Computers in the range tower displayed the data so Cordaro, the battalion standardization instructor from East Patchogue, New York, could grade Soldier performance.
Door gunnery is demanding for pilots as well, said Lt. Tyler Vorpahl, one of the company pilots from Troy, New York. There are specific routes pilots have to fly on the range and all crew members need to be aware of them, he explained.
"It's a very dangerous portion of our training," Vorpahl said. "There's a lot of crew coordination involved especially when rounds are firing. There are a lot of planning and safety considerations."
During the flights, pilots and crew chiefs not only have to coordinate with each other, but also with a second aircraft also on the range flight route conducting the gunnery training.
The company began preparing last October for its July 27 deployment to the NTC rotation, after returning from a three-week deployment for disaster response missions to assist communities in Puerto Rico. The unit delivered relief supplies to remote or inaccessible communities recovering from Hurricane Maria, Garcia said.
It has been challenging for his Soldiers to get everything done, Garcia said.
"As a Guard unit, we don't get much time to train up for these rotations," he added. By Sunday, the Soldiers had fired 113,000 7.62mm rounds, tossed 65 smoke grenades, thrown 20 artillery simulators and expended 55 star clusters.
"I think they did outstanding," Cordaro said. "They did a great job preparing for this, and their tireless efforts have definitely been noticed."