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thedrifter
04-01-04, 11:28 AM
Learning to TOW the line
March 30,2004
ERIC STEINKOPFF
DAILY NEWS STAFF

Pfc. William Gunter inspected the missile carefully. Using a long, memorized checklist, he started at the back and moved toward the front.

The 21-year-old antitank guided missileman was preparing to fire a tube-launched optically-tracked wire-command linked guided missile, a big name for a weapon better known as a TOW missile.

Gunter ran his hands carefully along the length of the tube to make sure that guide rails used to help load the missile were not damaged.

After more checks, the crew slowly loaded the missile into the launcher, following steps they had been practicing for the past five weeks.

Within seconds, a flash and roar filled the early morning air and the missile blazed down the range like a fiery ball, moving according to Gunter's direction.

An eruption of smoke and fire in the distance indicated a direct hit on the middle of five tanks in the first TOW shot of Gunter's life.

"This is by far the coolest thing I've ever done," he said. "This is my job for at least the next four years."

Gunter was among 18 new Marine Corps "tank-hunters" who gathered over the weekend at Camp Lejeune's GOLF-3 range for a two-day exercise that marked the end of a seven-week long course.

Gunter, of Montgomery, Ala., has orders to 2nd Tank Battalion after he graduates on Friday.

Marines use the TOW missile to protect tanks, infantry and light-armored vehicles.

"The TOW is organic to the tank battalion, infantry battalion and light-armored reconnaissance battalion," said 1st Lt. Philip Dykeman, 34, of Syracuse, N.Y., an infantry officer in charge of the weapons curriculum at Infantry Training Battalion, School of Infantry at Camp Geiger.

The TOW launcher weighs roughly 350 pounds and each round weighs about 50 pounds, so the system is normally mounted on a Humvee or a light armored vehicle.

The TOW was first introduced into the Marine Corps in 1970 and about 1,250 launchers are in use, including significantly upgraded models. The missiles were used in the Vietnam War, the Gulf War and the war in Iraq.

The maximum effective range is about 2.3 miles, farther than the Soviet-made Iraqi tanks Marines faced during the war in Iraq.

"The greater range gives you between 1,200- and 1,500-meter standoff against other weapons," said Sgt. Judson Griffith, 26, of Lincoln, Neb., an Infantry Training Battalion instructor teaching the antitank guided missileman course.

Different types of warheads are used for different targets, but the missile generally includes about 6 to 7 pounds of explosives in a charge specially "shaped" to penetrate 36 inches of steel armor or 60 inches of reinforced concrete.

"The most important thing to the infantry battalion is that the TOW is an asset to deal with heavy and light armor," Griffith said. "It can take out tanks and armored personnel carriers, so you have something to manage that threat."

The launch tube is about 6 inches in diameter and about 50 inches long. Each round costs several thousand dollars and, therefore, not every student gets the chance to shoot one.

On Sunday, the class had two missiles. Traditionally, an instructor shoots the first one and one of the best students shoots the other.

Gunter was voted by his peers to shoot the second missile.

"My assistant gunner loaded the missile, and my instructor called out the target, range and fire at will," Gunter said. "I put the crosshairs on target and my 'A-gunner' checked the back blast area to make sure it was safe."

"I pressed the trigger and heard an audible pop," Gunter said. "There's a big, white flash, so you lose it in the sites for a moment, but then it cleared and I gently guided it to the target."

Contact Eric Steinkopff at estein kopff@jdnews.com or 353-1171, Ext. 236.

http://www.jacksonvilledailynews.com/Photo/033004_tow.jpg

Randy Davey/Daily News
Passing the test: Camp Lejeune Marines fire a TOW antitank missile on the last day of their class on the weapon.


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Ellie