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By Pat Lisi, Southern Utah Vets Aid

All soldiers risk their lives in combat.  No one would dispute that fact.  But, believe it or not, some fighters have it just a bit worse than others and the reason for this is that some jobs are actually riskier than others.  Among them are, and not in any particular order, the ‘point man’ on a patrol, the medic or corpsman who sees to the wounded, any officer who is crazy enough to display their rank in an obvious fashion, the folks who carry the field radios especially if equipped with a ‘whip’ antenna, and the soldiers who carry the machine guns.

You might be thinking that everyone basically has a ‘machine gun’ as they can select to fire their rifles automatically.  While this does mean that all one has to do is pull back on the trigger and keep applying pressure in order to make the bullets spew out the barrel in rapid succession, it does not make that weapon a machine gun.

Machine guns are most often a ‘crew served’ weapon.  Let’s take the M-60 machine gun for example.  While it is possible to carry the gun and lots of ammunition by oneself, it is also common to have an assistant (called an A-gunner) alongside the machine gunner to help carry extra ammunition and to assist in feeding the belts into the gun so that the main gunner can continue to do battle.  The A-gunner also spots targets for the gunner, assists in attaching a fresh barrel should the one being used starts to ‘cook’, and of course the A-gunner is always prepared to take over as the gunner at any time during the fight.  Gunners and A-gunners will often times trade off during the course of a mission.

So, imagine how nice it would be for the enemy if the gunner and A-gunner were to be killed in the action?  Being a machine gunner puts a target on that person, and a tactic of the enemy soldier is to silence or otherwise put out of commission the crew(s) that man our machine guns.  This is what makes the job of the machine gun soldier a lot rougher; their position is always precarious at best, and they must be able to first find the right cover to set up behind and also be able to move to another location at will.

Of course, there is one nice advantage to being a machine gunner — you have lots of firepower at your disposal!  A good machine gunner can lay down a field of fire so awesome that it can make the enemy turn and run like scared rabbits.  And with good reason.  Today’s machine guns are capable of firing hundreds of rounds a minute, faster than anytime in history.  These guns are so rapid that the gunner needs to practice ‘fire discipline’, that is, they practice accuracy so that they don’t run out of ammunition before the fight is over.  The machine gunner is also a member of the unit that the other soldiers seek to protect, because not everyone knows how to operate a machine gun, at least not as well as the designated gunner and A-gunner know how.

Everyone has it rough in combat, but certain jobs are more difficult by way of additional risk.


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