Marines soon see the last SAW

M249 Light Machine Gun: Endangered species for Marines in Afghanistan

FORWARD OPERATING BASE SABIT QADAM, Afghanistan —  As full integration of the Infantry Automatic Rifle into the Marine Corps’ arsenal becomes complete, the M249 Light Machine Gun, formerly the Squad Automatic Weapon, slowly fades into the history of the Corps.

The SAW has seen action since 1984 and has protected Marines since. Replaced by an automatic rifle of similar size and weight of the M16A4 service rifle already issued to rank and file Marines, the familiarity with the new weapon is almost instant.

“The IAR has fewer moving parts than the SAW does making it a lot more ‘grunt friendly,’” said Lance Cpl. Tyler Shaulis, an IAR gunner with 4th Platoon, Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 7. “It has a direct piston system, so there are fewer jams. It stays cleaner, longer with less carbon build up after it’s been fired. The muscle memory stays the same with it as it would an M16. If an IAR gunner goes down, any Marine could grab the weapon and lay down accurate suppressive fire without thinking twice.”

For the Marines at this austere forward operating base, the change has been a positive one, with only a few minor suggestions for the new rifle issued to them before they deployed during early October.

“It’s a huge improvement to have a more accurate weapon,” said Staff Sgt. Mathew Henderson, the platoon commander of Personal Security Detachment, 2nd Bn., 7th Marines, currently on his fourth combat deployment. “We want to broaden the application of its use. For instance, using an IAR in a sniper platoon instead of a SAW would be a huge advantage.”

To potentially lower costs, Marines with the battalion are looking at ways to implement the IAR in place of a more expensive weapon already in use.

“This weapon platform could be used as multipurpose weapon system in the infantry squad, i.e., using an IAR as an automatic rifle and as a designated marksman rifle,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Chris Jones, infantry weapons officer, 2nd Bn., 7th Marines. “In the current fight when there is a limited exposure and a fleeting target that blends in with the local populace, it is more important to have a more accurate rifle with a better optic. If you can get (positive identification) faster, you can kill the enemy rather than a weapon that provides audible suppression. Audible suppression being the bullets hitting everywhere but on target, and the enemy only hearing the sounds of gunfire.”

“In a time of fiscal restraints, one rifle potentially serving two purposes would be huge,” said Jones from Sullivan, Ind.

Although the SAW will be missed by some of the “saltier” Marines who have used it before, the IAR brings about a new breed of machine gunner and the squad he supports with it.

“We’re going back to what we had in WWII with the Browning Automatic Rifle,” Henderson said. “Since the 1980s, we gave the infantry squad the light machine gun, and now we’re having another shift in the Marine Corps to get back to what we were doing right the first time.”

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