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Training over Gear: National Guard Weapons in Iraq 2004

By: Greg Chabot

Photos from author’s private collection

Two of the proudest moments in my short life include having the privilege of serving in different branches of the military.

Serving first in the Navy Seabees in the late 80s, I was surprised at the Vietnam-era kit and weapons we were issued compared to other branches. 1992 I was still rocking a steel pot, M16A1, and a 1911! After the events of 9-11, I made the decision to reenlist in the military, choosing the New Hampshire Army National Guard. Coming from the Seabees to a Field Artillery unit, I was grateful to be issued newer kit and weapons compared to my Navy days.

In late 2003, we got the word to be prepared to deploy to Iraq in support of OIF 2. We were also informed we would not be deploying as Field Artillery. We were to become an “in-lieu of” MP company. During this time-period, many artillery units were being redesignated for this role. “In-lieu of” is similar to the provisional rifle companies of past wars.

We assumed we would be re-equipped as an MP company. We were wrong. At Fort Dix, our rifles were re-barreled, and what little training we received was more suited for Cold-war Europe than Southwest Asia. I was appalled at the lack of range time and small unit field work. The attitude was we would not be used for combat operations. Many felt we would be checking chow passes or speed enforcement at an FOB once we got in theater. Many of my fellow soldiers were in for a rude awakening.

After arriving in Iraq, our company was broken up, with our platoons being scattered all over the country. My focus will be on 2ndPlatoon 2-197 FA/MP that was assigned to the Diyala Provincial Police HQ, located in the city of Baqubah, a hotbed of insurgent activity. With danger lurking around every corner, one soon learned to be quick on the trigger or die. After the 2004 Easter uprising by both Sunni and Shia Militias, which resulted in heavy fighting throughout the city, leadership realized we were under-equipped to do our mission. Like American soldiers have done in past wars, we improvised and “procured” what we needed to do our mission from our Iraqi “allies.”

Basic Fireteam Loadout – Early 2004

For sake of space, I will keep this simple and direct. Note: My platoon tended to go heavy on ammo loadouts for both foot and vehicle patrols, as a good majority of contacts tended to be prolonged.

1) Fireteam Leader was usually equipped with the M16A2 with M203 grenade launcher. (6-10 magazines plus bandoliers of 40mm grenades of various types.)

2) Automatic Rifleman M249 SAW (600 rounds dismounted up to 1200 if on mounted patrol.)

3) Rifleman M16A2 (6-10 magazines plus extra 249 ammo if dismounted.)

4) Smoke and fragmentation grenades.

5) Mossberg 590 shotguns were also used during specific missions for breaching and as a primary weapon.

Handguns:

M9s were not issued by our state, so we “procured” Beretta 92SBs with the heel magazine release from the Iraqi Police. Later in the deployment, a few fellow and I “acquired” Glock 19s from the Iraqis.

Heavy Weapons issued by TF 1-6 FA after the Easter Uprising:

1) MK19 grenade launchers two each.

2) Browning M2 .50 machine guns two each.

3) AT-4 anti-tank weapons for use against vehicles or buildings.

Note: The heavy weapons were mounted on vehicles as missions dictated.

Machineguns and other locally procured weapons:

Early in the deployment, we had no general-purpose machine guns issued. Finding a need for more firepower, I took the initiative to “acquire” then train platoon mates on the PKM. A 7.62x54R GPMG of Soviet design. Though an old design, it is an excellent weapon that is robust and easy to maintain.

PKMs are common throughout Iraq. I walked many a mile on those blood-soaked streets carrying this weapon. I was grateful for the added firepower, as it could be a game changer in a fire fight. M240Bs were finally issued to us a few months into the deployment, though my preference was the PKM. Some of the guys kept a folding stock AKM in their vehicles as a back-up. I liked the AKM for cordon and search missions because of its more compact size compared to the M16A2, which was awkward to use in confined spaces. If I had been issued an M4, I would not have bothered to use an AKM to do my job.

As the violence escalated, and enemy tactics changed, we found a need for designated marksmen. We “borrowed” a Belgian FN FAL and Romanian PSL to use in that role. Our battalion also supplied us with a M21 rifle that needed serious depot level maintenance. As it would not hold a zero due to bedding being worn and a heavily eroded barrel, my preferred DMR was the PSL, because of its robust design and simple optic. These features made it a formidable weapon in the hands of a skilled marksman in an urban environment.

Miscellaneous gear:

During this time, rail systems were not common on issued weapons. For house clearing, most of us taped mini Maglights to our rifles or SAW. The issued Vietnam-era slings were found to be useless for urban operations. So many of my platoon mates made their own out of gym bag straps and tape. Three-point slings were all the rage during this time, and as the tour ground on, most ended up buying one. It was the same with mag pouches and web gear. A good majority bought their own and configured their IBA vest to their taste. For communications, cheap Motorola radios were used for squad and platoon level comms, as they were reliable.

Night vision was in short supply, and troops on force protection would share a set between OPs. As the fighting ramped up, more sets were issued, but never enough to equip all soldiers. Optics for issued weapons were nonexistent unless purchased with one’s own funds. I did see regular Army units with Aim points and some ACOGs with the occasional ELCAN thrown in. For my platoon, iron sights were all that was used for operations until re-deployment.

I hope readers have found this article interesting. Some might be thinking how we got away with using unauthorized weaponry. The simple answer: our chain of command didn’t care as long as we got results. In 2004-05, Iraq was the wild west, and a blind eye was turned by leadership. Being out of sight and out of mind helped also. I wouldn’t want readers to think I was bitter for not being equipped as well as other units. I treated my tour as a once-in-a-lifetime chance to shoot various weapons and use them in the field.

Iraq greatly influenced my approach to training. It is the shooter, not the weapons or gear, that wins in a firefight. Superior training will always trump the latest gear and gadgets. The gear over training mentality is very prevalent today, and it needs to go by the wayside. I see too many people depending on Gucci gear and gadgets, instead of mastering the basics. The basics is what kept m, and the rest of the platoon alive in the hell hole of Baqubah, Iraq, not the latest gear.

Stay Frosty!

Dedicated to 2nd Platoon 2-197 FA(MP) NHNG Baqubah Iraq 2004-05

Greg Chabot is an Iraq Combat Veteran freelancer, writing from New Hampshire.

 
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