Story and photo by Cpl. Bryan Nygaard
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – Eleven soldiers from the Afghan National Army’s 215th Corps learned to fire rocket propelled grenade launchers aboard Camp Leatherneck, Helmand province, Aug. 24.
The soldiers are enrolled in the Advanced Small Arms Weapons Instructor Course at the Joint Sustainment Academy Southwest.
The purpose of the 6-week course is to teach Afghan National Security Forces how to safely and efficiently conduct range operations. This allows them to teach others at their respective units how to fire a variety of weapons such as the RPG, the AK-47 Assault Rifle and the M-240B Medium Machinegun.
On this particular day, each student learned how to fire the renowned Soviet Union-developed RPG.
The RPG first saw widespread use in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion. During the 10-year conflict, Mujahideen fighters used RPG’s to effectively immobilize and destroy Soviet tanks and armored personnel carriers.
The RPG is a portable, shoulder-fired weapon system that shoots rockets fitted with an explosive warhead. The warheads are attached to a cylindrical rocket motor that propels the rocket toward the targeted area. The maximum effective range of a round is 300 to 400 meters while the maximum range is 900 meters.
The widely distributed and rugged weapon can fire a variety of warheads for different purposes. The students at JSAS fire the OG-7V fragmentation warhead, which are used specifically for anti-personnel purposes and are lethal to targets within 15 meters of detonation while wounding anyone within 50 meters.
“It is a very effective weapon, especially against this enemy that likes to hide,” said Sgt. Christopher Samples, an instructor at JSAS and native of St. Augustine, Fla. “It’s commonly used, but it’s commonly misused as well. Once [the students] learn how to effectively use it, it can be used against the enemy that much better.”
Prior to firing the RPG’s, the students receive numerous hours of classroom instruction on the basic fundamentals, failure to fire procedures and safety.
The day kicked off with a detailed refresher lesson concerning the parts and functions of the RPG followed by a safety brief.
The students then grabbed their RPG’s and gathered on the firing line. The students were divided into pairs, which is ideal for employing the weapon system. One student acted as the gunner while the other acted as the assistant gunner. The gunner’s duties consist of simply aiming the RPG and firing. The assistant gunner’s job is more complicated. First, he has to make sure the aiming sights are set correctly. He also prepares the rounds by attaching the warheads to the rocket motors. He then places the round in the front end of the RPG, making sure it locks in place. Lastly, he removes the safety pin, located on the tip of the warhead, thereby arming the rocket. While all of this is going on, he keeps an eye on the space behind the RPG, also known as the back-blast area, to make sure none of his fellow soldiers are harmed by any gas that is expelled from the back of the weapon as it is fired.
Each student was given three rounds to fire. The first round was fired standing up, the second while kneeling and the last one while lying prone on the ground. The students aimed at targets located within 400 meters. The students fired the RPG’s effectively, with the majority of the rounds hitting the targets with an ear-blasting explosion.
The weapons instructors’ course is expected to be finished by the end of the August. The students will have to take an end of course test in which they are given a specific weapon system, to be determined, where they will set up a range for and operate as if they were training students of their own.
More photos here.