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PHOTOS: Massachusetts soldiers learn to fire machine guns in Vermont. Here’s what it looks like

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Eve Zuckoff / CAI
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Specialist (Spc.) Steve Gomes, who works as a flight attendant when he’s not serving the Massachusetts Army National Guard, nears the end of a 240-mile drive north in an armored Humvee to Camp Ethan Allen Training Site in Jericho, Vermont. For safety reasons, he may not exceed 55 mph and the military convoy he typically travels up in must take scheduled breaks at rest stops, making what would typically be a four-hour drive closer to eight or even ten hours.
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Elodie Reed / Vermont Public
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The morning after members of the Mass. Guard arrive in Vermont, they drive over to a range where soldiers can practice firing M240, M249, M2A1 .50 caliber machine guns, among others. Currently, soldiers cannot qualify on any of these three weapons in Massachusetts because there’s no range that can accommodate the qualification process.

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Elodie Reed / Vermont Public
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Once on the range, soldiers take in the full view of Bald Hill in the Green Mountains which acts as a distant buffer zone for fired rounds. They’re eventually expected to hit pop-up targets in the open field to complete their qualification requirements.
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Elodie Reed / Vermont Public
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The range can be divided into four areas: first, the protective zone, where soldiers who aren’t firing watch and wait. Then, just over the protective barrier, soldiers get down onto the ground and begin using their weapons. Third, there’s the open field that stretches roughly a mile back where the rounds land. And finally, there are the trees and mountains that enclose the area.
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Elodie Reed / Vermont Public
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Gomes and others who are not firing must remain behind the protective barrier. Soldiers wear ear protection at this range.
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Elodie Reed / Vermont Public
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Specialist Jasmine Meneide fires the M2A1 .50 caliber machine gun for the first time. “The only reason why I was very nervous and more so in my head is because of safety,” she said. “I want to make sure that I’m in the correct position, no one is going to get hurt.”
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Eve Zuckoff / CAI
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Meneide gets help from her assistant gunner and Master Sgt. Jon Ruth. She leans back, looking through the sights down range, and presses the trigger with her thumbs.
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Elodie Reed / Vermont Public
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The .50 caliber machine gun, informally known as “Ma Deuce” has an effective range of 2,000 yards and a maximum effective range of 2,200 yards when fired from a tripod.
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Elodie Reed / Vermont Public
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Soldiers are expected to hit the one-inch-long, two-inch-wide so-called “tombstones” on the posterboard target ten yards away, adjusting their aim between shots, in order to pass this step in the qualification process.
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Elodie Reed / Vermont Public
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Since the 1930s, the U.S. military has used the .50 caliber machine gun extensively as a vehicle weapon and for aircraft armament. It is effective against unarmored or lightly armored vehicles and boats, low-flying aircraft, infantry, and light fortifications.
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Elodie Reed / Vermont Public
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Meneide, who’s a cosmetologist during the week, joined the military at 17. “One day I saw the word resilience, and I wanted to gain more resilience in life,” she said. “When life happens, you're going to be like a basketball. You're going to bounce right back. And I felt as though joining the military would help me become resilient in life. I'm not going to be an egg and just crack.”
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Elodie Reed / Vermont Public
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After about 30 minutes, Meneide left with empty rounds that sit at her feet. “It was exhilarating,” she said. “That's how I can describe it.” Next, she has to hit pop-up targets at further distances to qualify on the weapon.

Eve Zuckoff covers the environment and human impacts of climate change for CAI.

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