Airman pulls the trigger on her fear

  • Published
  • By Brandice J. O'Brien
  • Tinker Public Affairs
Staff Sgt. Andrea Byrd had something to prove to herself. Nearly two years ago, while deployed in Iraq, she test-fired an M2 .50-caliber machine gun. Something went wrong and the gun accidentally went off, blowing pieces of brass into her leg. Though she recovered, she hadn't since touched the weapon.

Earlier this month, she was one of 80 security forces Airmen who, over 10 days, participated in a heavy arms combat training course at Camp Grueber in preparation for an upcoming deployment. The first weapon on the schedule was a heavy machine gun. Though anxious, she said she knew it was a chance to prove she wasn't figuratively crippled by the gun.

"I came in blind not knowing how it would go, but 80 percent of success is showing up," she said.

Dressed in a standard-issued airman battle uniform with a 38-pound flak vest, helmet and black gloves, the 5'3" 72nd Security Forces Squadron member took a deep breath and stepped behind a 142-pound M2 .50-caliber machine gun mounted on a tripod. She squeezed the trigger and fired 900 rounds.

"I now know I can do anything and I'm unstoppable," Sergeant Byrd said. "This is a benchmark in my career."

In December 2009, on her first day on post, the Seattle native, then 23, stood behind the M2 on a military Humvee. She cocked the large weapon and pulled the trigger. But, nothing happened.

"I thought it was a weapon or ammunition malfunction," Sergeant Byrd said.

Following protocol, she retraced her steps and attempted to correct the problem when the gun went off. Sergeant Byrd was hit. Shrapnel shot into her upper left leg.

"It was designed to fire down," she said. "It missed my major arteries, veins and nerves."

Nobody else was hurt. There were four others in her Humvee. Following treatment, Sergeant Byrd was pulled off duty for 30 days and didn't touch another M2 until June 9, 2011.

"The ability to move forward and press with our unique mission is most important," Sergeant Byrd said. "With the help of good leadership, strong family support and instructors who care, I was able to defeat a prominent anxiety associated with this weapon system. I am grateful and humbled by the entire experience. I feel I am again 100-percent combat ready."

Lt. Col. Troy Roberts, 72nd SFS commander, agreed.

"I am extremely impressed with Sergeant Byrd's resilience," he said. "She has overcome many challenges that none of us who have not been wounded can understand on a personal level. Soon she will deploy again, to the same location, doing the same job, handling the same weapon that wounded her ... that's resilience."

Initially rattled by the blowback and recoil, the sergeant said she was glad she faced her fear and credits her instructors with helping her over the hump.

Shawn McClelland, 72nd Security Force's Combat Arms instructor, said it was all her doing.

"I believe it was good for her to shoot the weapon again to prove to herself that the gun will work and that accidents will happen with machine guns sometimes even if you do things the way you are taught," he said. "It's just the nature of the beast. She got over her fear and did very well."

Sergeant Byrd also trained on the M240B machine gun.