Every September, the Estonian contingent of ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) holds a charity shoot aboard Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan. Taking place every Sunday during September, this is the second annual Charity Shoot. The purpose is to raise funds for a charity organization that takes care of Estonian soldiers wounded in Afghanistan. Open to personal deployed to Camp Leatherneck (both military and civilian), the shoot is managed by experienced NCOs of the Estonian Scouts light armored Infantry Battalion. This unit is similar to a Marine Light Armored Reconnaissance (LAR) Battalion or an Army Stryker Brigade. They are equipped with SISU XA 180 and XA 188 APCs. The latter being present at the shoot.
Shooters are required to arrive with long sleeve tops and gloves for protection against hot brass or barrels. Ear and eye protection is also required but can be supplied by the Estonians. The range used is a multipurpose range on the perimeter of Camp Leatherneck. Everything from 9mm handguns to Mark 19 grenade launchers are fired within the various lots on hand.
Camp Leatherneck is huge (1,600 acres) for an expeditionary base. Getting around presents a myriad of options including everything from bicycles and golf carts to tactical vehicles and an organized bus system run by Dynacorp contractors. The ranges are in the far south western corner of the base and when we arrived, the shoot was already set up. A medical evacuation truck and supplies are staged nearby should a catastrophic failure occur.
Walking up to the berm we paid our 10 dollar donation to the charity and proceeded to listen to the range safety officers giving specific instructions about each weapon. The MG3 station had several machine guns along with a number of spare barrels for a barrel change. Readers will note that the MG3 design is derived from the MG42 and in 7.62x51mm NATO. Thus it has a terrific rate of fire and heats up quickly at the sustained rate. A 100 round belt is allotted per shooter as a range officer feeds the belt and monitors the firing process. All jams are also handled by this Estonian solider. As the range is literally on the perimeter berm of the base, there are no targets in the open save for the random mound of dirt or debris. Shooters are cautioned to not shoot closer than 40 meters where the initial strands of concertina wire lie. The author noted that while shooting the MG3 was a blast, an extremely tight hold on the gun must be maintained to guarantee accuracy. A loose hold and impacts will be all over the target. This took some getting used to as it is relatively light compared to the Marine Corps’ general purpose machine gun, the M240B which makes for more rigid shooting.
Moving on to the 5.56x45mm Galil ARM in the next station, several variants were on hand including full size and compact carbines. Most had two scopes mounted, an Aimpoint 1x power red dot optic and a 3x magnifier on a QD mount. Unlike the Trijicon 4x RCO mounted on Marine M16A4s and M4s (which have close eye relief), the scopes are mounted extremely forward on the rifle. Although different, this set up didn’t affect aiming or shooting the Galil. The selectors are the traditional Safe, Auto, and Semi (marked S, A, R) with the pistol grip thumb selector.
Accuracy was good, but the first magazine was faulty causing a number of jams and malfunctions. After the magazine was changed out for a different one, the gun performed flawlessly. Full auto was quite controllable when leaning in and applying forward pressure. The compact versions were very portable and with the side folding stock would be excellent for urban patrolling and maneuvering inside a tactical vehicle. Slings were mostly One point attachments or Two points. The handguard is a modern quad rail with heat guards, forward grip and the red dot optic mounted on the 12 o’clock rail. In addition to the cocking handle knob, there is another knob pointing up to facilitate cocking the weapon with the left hand reaching over.
In addition to the Galil and MG3, the Estonians had their sidearms at hand but these weren’t for the Charity shoot. These were Heckler & Koch USP Compacts in 9x19mm NATO. Certainly an excellent quality choice for a sidearm.
All in all the Charity Shoot was extremely well managed and conducted. The Estonians were very professional in their instruction and conduct. Not to mention very friendly and open to conversation as we talked about the differences and similarities between our two militaries and our missions in Afghanistan. In view of the overall drawdown of ISAF forces, the author cannot affirmatively say there will be another shoot in September of 2014. But if there is, and if there are any readers that find themselves on Camp Leatherneck in that time, the author highly encourages them to take part in the Charity Shoot if it takes place.