More than a dozen Bradley fighting vehicles, with crews of boyish-faced soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division's Alpha Co., 3-69 Armor Regiment, 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team crammed inside.
Quietly the Bradleys and the boys wait for a turn to head down range to fire off one of the Army's most precious commodities since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom - wire-guided missiles, also known as the TOW (tube-fired, optically tracked, wire-2-command) missile.
"The type of missiles that we are firing today is an ‘in-demand' resource. We do not get the opportunity often to fire these missiles, so any chance that we get to shoot live anti-tank missiles is good training for my guys," Cpt. Melvin Lowe said. "Otherwise we're forced to use simulations. This is a good opportunity for soldiers to get the hands-on training they need."
The missiles cost $180,000 each.
On Wednesday, for the first time since returning home from Iraq, members of the 3-69 AR were trained with the optically tracked weapons, familiarizing themselves with the live rounds they would use in combat.
"Everything they do here, as far as inspecting the missiles, uploading the launcher itself, uploading the missiles system and firing the weapons system is the same, exact procedure they would use in Iraq. The only difference is here there is no enemy on the far-end. It's just a stationary steel target," Lowe said.
Enemies or not, the 75 troops take the mission seriously.
Before receiving their weapons, the men huddle up for an enforced safety briefing.
Sgt. First Class Christopher Dove, an 18-year veteran, explains firing the TOW.
"It's not a free-for-all for these rounds, you need to come up here, state your bumper number, give a serial number to my ammo NCO. That way we can track the rounds," he said, "Because if a round does not fire, we need to have a serial number so it can be reported back to the company."
Sgt. Steven Jolin is the ammo NCO for the day.
He reads off serial numbers as he cracks open wooden crates of missiles and passes out the tube-like weapons.
It's his job to ensure the regiment accounts for all 47 missiles to be fired.
"We're breaking them down, checking it by serial number through the box and the serial number on the weapon and issuing it out to the unit," he said.
It's a very simple process, Jolin said, but a very important one.
Hitting the Target
One by one, two 50-pound missiles are loaded into a launcher mounted on the left sides of the armored vehicles.
The selected Bradley rolls down range, positions itself on a dusty platform and fires.
WHOOOSH, BOOOOM - A reddish flash erupts from the back of the launcher and a loud explosion can be heard in the distance. And then there is smoke.
"These missiles will fire over 3,000 meters," Lowe said.
The crew-portable ammunition is supposed to destroy anything in its line of sight, primarily tanks and enemy armored vehicles.
Next In line
Waiting patiently in the turret is Pvt. Isaac Brenneman, 20.
He is the driver for his crew. His Bradley is next in line. He has never been deployed, never fired a TOW and had never seen the missile in action.
He has been in the service for only nine months.
"Hopefully sometime soon I will be up there and be able to shoot the gun and stuff," he said. "I'm looking forward to it."