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Airmen bring bigger gun to fight

Staff Sgt. David Deel, a Combat Arms Training and Maintenance instructor with the 46th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron, trains 466th Operating Location Delta Explosives Ordinance Disposal Airmen on the Mk 14 enhanced battle rifle at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, Dec. 28, 2012. After identifying the need for a more capable rifle while outside the wire, Delta upgraded its dismount teams with the EBR, enhancing their ability to respond to long-distance hostile fire. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Swift Moon)

Staff Sgt. David Deel, a Combat Arms Training and Maintenance instructor with the 46th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron, trains 466th Operating Location Delta Explosives Ordinance Disposal Airmen on the Mk 14 enhanced battle rifle at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, Dec. 28, 2012. After identifying the need for a more capable rifle while outside the wire, Delta upgraded its dismount teams with the EBR, enhancing their ability to respond to long-distance hostile fire. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Swift Moon)

Tech. Sgt. Dustin Lambries, a 466th Operating Location Delta Explosives Ordinance Disposal team lead, fires an Mk 14 enhanced battle rifle, while Staff Sgt. Bradford Bends, 466th OL-Delta, EOD, spots their target at a firing range at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, Dec. 28, 2012. After identifying the need for a more capable rifle while outside the wire, Delta upgraded its dismount teams with the EBR, enhancing their ability to respond to long-distance hostile fire. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Swift Moon)

Tech. Sgt. Dustin Lambries, a 466th Operating Location Delta Explosives Ordinance Disposal team lead, fires an Mk 14 enhanced battle rifle, while Staff Sgt. Bradford Bends, 466th OL-Delta, EOD, spots their target at a firing range at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, Dec. 28, 2012. After identifying the need for a more capable rifle while outside the wire, Delta upgraded its dismount teams with the EBR, enhancing their ability to respond to long-distance hostile fire. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Swift Moon)

Tech. Sgt. Dustin Lambries, a 466th Operating Location Delta Explosives Ordinance Disposal team lead, fires an Mk 14 enhanced battle rifle at a firing range at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, Dec. 28, 2012. After identifying the need for a more capable rifle while outside the wire, Delta upgraded its dismount teams with the EBR, enhancing their ability to respond to long-distance hostile fire. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Swift Moon)

Tech. Sgt. Dustin Lambries, a 466th Operating Location Delta Explosives Ordinance Disposal team lead, fires an Mk 14 enhanced battle rifle at a firing range at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, Dec. 28, 2012. After identifying the need for a more capable rifle while outside the wire, Delta upgraded its dismount teams with the EBR, enhancing their ability to respond to long-distance hostile fire. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Swift Moon)

Master Sgt. Manuel Herrera, a 466th Operating Location Delta Explosives Ordinance Disposal team lead, fires an Mk 14 enhanced battle rifle while at a firing range at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, Dec. 28, 2012. After identifying the need for a more capable rifle while outside the wire, Delta upgraded its dismount teams with the EBR, enhancing their ability to retaliate to long-distance hostile fire. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Swift Moon)

Master Sgt. Manuel Herrera, a 466th Operating Location Delta Explosives Ordinance Disposal team lead, fires an Mk 14 enhanced battle rifle while at a firing range at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, Dec. 28, 2012. After identifying the need for a more capable rifle while outside the wire, Delta upgraded its dismount teams with the EBR, enhancing their ability to retaliate to long-distance hostile fire. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Swift Moon)

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan -- Taking chances outside the wire is not an option for the 466th Operating Location Delta, Explosives Ordnance Disposal Flight.

So when Delta's dismount teams began to notice their M4 carbines couldn't fire accurately enough to reach Taliban insurgents firing at them from a distance, they knew something had to be done.

"It's simple math - the enemy was engaging us at distances from which we couldn't effectively return fire," said Capt. Brandon Goebel, the 466th OL-D EOD executive officer. "That needed to change. EOD teams require the intrinsic ability to defend themselves."

To solve this problem, Goebel and his team began researching what would be the best weapon to return fire and ensure their security.

Their solution: an enhanced battle rifle with each dismount team. Delta was able to acquire four Mk 14 EBRs with an effective firing range of 800 meters or more with optics. The Mk 14 also fires 7.62-millimeter rounds, and upgrade to the M4's 5.56-millimeter round.

While the Mk 14 is older technology compared to other battle rifles, Goebel said it's a great immediate solution for them, and it will get the job done.

While the Delta Airmen wait for their permanent Mk 14s to arrive, Navy EOD Mobile Unit ELEVEN, a deployed Navy EOD team that faces similar environmental threats, sent the team four Mk 14s on loan. With the help and training from an Air Force combat arms training and maintenance instructor, Delta received training on the weapon, spinning up the teams quickly for missions.

"Within one week of receiving the rifles, we had them out with the teams," Goebel said. "On our first mission with the Mk 14s, the team was engaged at distance and countered with effective return fire. It was immediate verification."

While other environments and terrain would lend the M4 more effectiveness, here in Helmand Province where Delta conducts their EOD missions, it's usually in wide-open spaces with greater risk of enemy fire.

"There have been several times where it's just been me and my guys in an area, so it was critical in those moments to have an upgraded [weapon]," said Master Sgt. Manuel Herrera, a Delta EOD Team Leader. "If we didn't have what we needed to protect ourselves, that would have made us susceptible to an engagement."

Herrera recalled a recent mission where his attached maneuvering group became pinned down by distant enemy fire. His task force team was able to deter the fire from a Taliban PK machine gun position about 950 meters away with the Mk 14. Their shots spooked the two gunners, who retreated to their compound, apparently surprised by their accurate response.

"The M4 would not have been accurate enough to shoot back," Herrera explained. "We would have been shooting in the sky in order to try and reach them. The EBR was definitely critical to have at that moment."

The acquisition process began with Delta working up the Air Force EOD leadership chain. They submitted an urgent operational need request, which allows combatant leadership to address needs that, if not addressed immediately, could seriously endanger personnel or pose a major threat to ongoing operations.

Herrera said he thinks having this upgraded rifle is essential for his team's safety.

"We keep referring back to how we've evolved as an EOD team on the battlefield and one thing we don't want to become is a liability," Herrera said. "We don't want to always have someone protecting us, and with this weapon we have been able to ensure that."

As the current team's deployment wraps up, Goebel said he's proud of his team for their ability to get the job done, and identify their needs on the battlefield with confidence.

"EOD has a long tradition of selfless service and these Airmen are no exception," Goebel said. "These technicians are true professionals. Delta has done good, honest work here in Helmand Province."