CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti – Nine U.S. Army Soldiers selected as 1st Battalion, 153rd Infantry Regiment (1-153) “Soldiers of the month” while assigned to the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, participated in a special AT4 live-fire exercise at a range along the southern coast of the Gulf of Tadjoura, Aug 22.
The Soldiers selected were: Sgt. Peter Dalton Beck; Staff. Sgt. Leonel Arce; Spc. Brandon Hurst; Sgt. Cecil Davis; Spc. Willie Christopher; Sgt. Nathan Green; Sgt. Nicholas Todd; Spc. Joseph McKinley; Spc. Paul Castleberry; and Spc. Derick Bunn.
Deployed with the 1-153 Arkansas National Guard, they support the CJTF-HOA mission of providing security to U.S. interests and partner nations in the region.
While training in a hot and dusty region may not be considered an enjoyable experience, for these Soldiers this wasn’t a standard training event – it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Each award winner woke up early to participate in firing the AT4 – a shoulder fired anti-tank weapon, which is disposable after only one use. The limited use of the AT4 makes live firing it a special opportunity.
Sgt. John Blunkall, Bravo Company team leader, served as the range safety officer for this training and was one of the few Soldiers with previous experience live firing the AT4.
“Firing the AT4 is most definitely an experience,” said Blunkall. “Not every soldier gets the chance to live fire one. Most will not experience something like this more than once so even as a spectator it’s a special experience. Being a part of this kind of training was indeed a significant highlight of this deployment.”
Blunkall explained that the M-136 AT4 is an 84-mm unguided, portable, single-shot recoilless smoothbore weapon built in Sweden by Saab Bofors Dynamics. The problem of back-blast was solved with the AT4-CS (Confined Space) version, specifically designed for urban warfare. This version uses a saltwater counter-mass in the rear of the launcher to absorb the back blast; allowing troops to fire from enclosed areas when necessary and is safer to be nearby when friendly forces are using it. The types of projectile in the AT4-CS can vary to the meet specific needs of a mission. High Explosive Anti-Tank projectiles were used in this training exercise.
Staff Sgt. Carlos Arce, who was selected as a non-commissioned officer of the month from Charlie Company, shared what it was like to fire the AT4-CS.
“I’m honored [that] I was selected to take part in this training.” said Arce, “It was relatively easy to learn how to fire it, but nothing short of actually firing it can explain how it feels; and I feel better prepared if I ever need to do so. It was really cool to get this chance!”
Capt. Ross Shively, an operations plans officer, helped to organize the training for the battalion Soldiers of the month. When a limited number of AT4s became available, his team came up with the idea to select Soldiers who have gone above and beyond during this deployment to be the ones to fire them. Arrangements were then made to clear live fire on the range.
“Soldiers are typically recognized by achievement medals or certificates,” he said. “This is the first time we have been able to do anything for them of this extent, in my 15 years with the Arkansas National Guard, this is the first time I have seen the AT4-CS live fired.”
In addition to recognizing the soldiers, the AT4-CS is an asset deployed in this area of responsibility. The Soldiers’ experience with this training could prove vital if the situation called for them to use it in the fight against violent extremist organizations.