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Marines fire ally's weapons during training in New Zealand

Nov. 30, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Cpl. Thomas Cornwall, a military policeman, and other Marines receive a briefing before shooting the Steyr assault rifle during exercise Southern Katipo 2013 in New Zealand on Nov. 7. (Cpl. Scott Reel/Marine Corps)
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Cpl. Thomas Cornwall, a military policeman, and other Marines receive a briefing before shooting the Steyr assault rifle during exercise Southern Katipo 2013 in New Zealand on Nov. 7. (Cpl. Scott Reel/Marine Corps)


Four U.S. Marine military policemen had the opportunity to spend a day on a shooting range in New Zealand, firing 900 rounds from the service rifles and pistols used by their Kiwi counterparts.

The Marines selected for the choice assignment, members of 1st Law Enforcement Battalion out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., deployed to Timaru, New Zealand, with about 75 other Marines as part of Southern Katipo 2013, a month-long exercise that includes troops from nine partner nations.

Fourteen members of 1st LEB are participating in the exercise, but the four who conducted the weapons training are serving a unique purpose there. They were selected to serve on a special security team for New Zealand Army Col. John Howard, the commanding officer for the multilateral exercise. They were chosen because of their specific skill sets.

“They were looking for anyone who had a mixture of training like personal security detail and special reactions team, so if you were to get in that type of situation, you would operate well and maintain good order with the person you were taking care of,” Cpl. Kevin Gonzales said.

On the range, the four Marines trained with the Kiwis’ assault rifle, a 5.56mm Steyr AUG A1, and their pistol, a Sig Sauer P226. They teamed with two sergeants from the New Zealand Defence Force.

They began by familiarizing themselves with the rifle, said Cpl. Thomas Cornwall, one of the team members. That was followed by a live shoot with the colonel whom they have been tasked with protecting to show their marksmanship. They learned how to break down the weapon for cleaning and also practiced close-quarter drills.

“We have dealt only with close-quarters contact, and I have no objection to the weapon with that,” Cornwall said. “But I prefer the M4, based on [being] used to it and the speed reload is faster ... It’s all about your rounds downrange, but other than that, the Steyr’s a good weapon.”

Cpl. Nathan Helms said the Steyr was easy to break down and clean, but agreed with Cornwall that it was slower to reload.

Gonzales said he prefers the Marine Corps’ rifle because the sights are bigger, making adjustments easier. He said the Steyr’s plastic also made it vulnerable to burn.

When it came to working with the Sig Sauer, though, Cornwall prefers the Kiwis’ pistol to the Marines’ Beretta M9. Instead of a safety, the Sig Sauer has a decocking lever, he said, but once he got used to that adjustment, he found it to be a good weapon.

Sgt. Jesse Keffer said he took a foreign weapons course once before, when he learned how to fire the AK-47, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and a Russian PK machine gun. The biggest benefit to training with foreign weapons is just getting a feel for how they work and where the differences are, like magazine placement.

He recommends paying attention to the different characteristics and relating it to what Marines already know.

“If you get the chance to actually do a practical application with it, like disassemble and assemble, do it,” he said.

Working so closely with the New Zealanders gave the Marines a chance to build good working relationships, Cornwall said. And the training they provided ultimately helps Marines prepare for the unknown, he added.

“There may be a time when you have to pick up their weapons and use them, so it’s always good to train with our allied forces’ weapons,” he said.

In addition to the U.S. and New Zealand, troops from Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Singapore, Malaysia, France and Canada are participating in Southern Katipo. The Marines are slated to remain in New Zealand through early this month.■

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