UDARI RANGE, Kuwait -- -- The wave of heat after firing a TOW missile reminded LCpl. Alfredo Alfaro of the hot summers in his hometown of Stockton, Calif.
But instead of trying to avoid the heat, LCpl. Alfaro, 19, and his 16 fellow TOW gunners welcomed it, because they were participating in a once-in-a-lifetime experience: each Marine firing a battalion-sized allotment of Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided missiles in one day.
When the Marines of the Combined Anti-Armor Team, Weapons Company, Battalion Landing Team 3/1 finished firing 187 missiles during the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) exercise, Dec. 1-10 at Udari Range here, only one word crossed their minds: "Wow."
"I have only fired two missiles in the eight-and-a-half years I have been a TOW gunner," said Sgt. Manuel Amial, a 26-year-old squad leader from Calipatria, Calif. "Now, in less than 24 hours, I got to shoot 10."
Marines in CAAT Platoon's TOW section train in a simulator for the actual missile shoot, he said, and shooting more than a few during a whole career is rare.
"The shoot that we did out there is something TOW gunners would probably never get to do even if they served 20 years in the Marine Corps," said Capt. Sean Butler, CAAT platoon commander.
Even practice rounds are rare, he said. At $10,000 apiece, they are just as expensive as the real thing.
The CAAT Platoon expected the Kuwait MEUEX, the last exercise of the deployment, would include heavy maintenance and cleaning of their weapons, equipment and vehicles. The 187 TOW missiles, a result of an Army surplus that had reached its shelf-life, were a pleasant surprise.
"A few days before we got to Kuwait, our (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) team found out that an Army unit stationed there was going to blow up some old rounds to make room for new ones," said Capt. Butler. "When we heard that, we jumped all over the great training opportunity."
One of the biggest benefits of firing the missiles was practicing different firing techniques.
"Everything anyone would want to do with a TOW section, we did twice," said Capt. Butler. "We were able to execute every method of fire required by the Marine Corps, something that is not possible to train with on a simulator."
The platoon, two sections of 4 launchers each, used all their missile launchers when they practiced: volley fire - all launchers firing at once at the same target; string fire - all launchers firing at once, but at different targets; and split fire - all firing at once, but split with two missiles on each target.
"When I was sitting behind that missile launcher, my heart was beating and adrenaline was pumping like crazy," said LCpl. Alfaro. "We actually got to feel the kick of the weapon and heat radiating away from a just-fired missile, not just once, but over and over again. It was awesome."
The unexpected but welcomed training opportunity gave the 17 Marines of the CAAT platoon a valuable, once-in-a-lifetime experience that their fellow TOW gunners at Camp Pendleton will have a hard time believing. Now they can talk about how "salty" they are, firing a 20-year career?s worth of TOW missiles in one day.