Bagram, Afghanistan 2004. (Source: author.)
As a UH-60 crewchief, the -60D was typically my assigned weapon, aside from my personal weapon, the Beretta M-9. The theoretical purpose of this belt-fed beast of brutality was to keep the enemies’ heads down during approach, unloading, and departure into “hot” landing zones (LZ’s). The reality of the use was that of self-defense and deterrence, though. While I know of people who have depressed those butterfly triggers in anger, I cannot think of any cases where the use of these defensive weapons were effective beyond the qualification ranges we frequented. Other than collecting, reenacting/movie rentals, or having a rather expensive topic of fascination at ranges which would not outright freak out upon its presentation, the average person would have a difficult time justifying ownership of the famed “pig.”
Which leads me to the maintenance. We cared very little for the overall fiscal responsibility of our weapons, other than the threat of getting charged for one if we ever lost it. We had the netherworld of the Arms Room and their resident Deities of Acceptance and Cleanliness to maintain our weapons. Where I had a feed-tray separate from my weapon on approach to Bagram in 2004, I was more concerned that the black blur past the left cargo door windows catching the attention of 5 (five) Command Sergeants Majors we had onboard than I did about the replacement cost of that suddenly and conspicuously absent part of my weapon that was now under the scrutiny of ten beady eyes of Senior Enlisted Wrath. After ranges, excess ammunition was consumed at the highest rate of fire possible (cyclic, or 550 reasons per minute why it was good to be the evaluator) until the barrel was a deep cherry red and interfered with your night vision goggles (NVG’s). Barrel life? That was the Armorer’s problem, not ours. For the average firearm owner, maintaining a small supply of parts for the weapons owned is the mark of a former servicemember or someone who has learned the hard way that springs will end up in the weirdest parts of the house during cleaning. Parts and rounds-through-the barrel tend to factor more with privately-owned weapons, and again, the M-60 has much going against it, with parts and springs a-plenty which will need to be replaced more than one thinks.
Finally, frequency of use plays a huge factor in owning one of these relics. As mentioned before, we trained at least annually when it came to door gunnery. Our “quick and dirty” estimates of ammunition varied from unit to unit, but we typically used over a thousand rounds per individual gunner a decade ago and had plenty of potential gunners to cycle through every year. A Google search for what the going rate is for the equivalent of our ammunition finds a can of 200 linked 7.62×51 rounds (Lake City, no less) going for $149.97, when it is actually in stock. Now, this may seem somewhat reasonable… right up until you remember that the owner of this iconic weapon is going through about 100 rounds per minute if they are doing sustained rates of fire. Even being stingy and only firing 2–3 round bursts can easily bring us back to maintenance, as anyone who has fired knows all full well how susceptible to jams the M-60 is when this is done. Of course, this also goes back into maintenance in terms of post-range cleaning and the eventual replacement of barrels.
To go back to the original spirit of the question: “what is it like?” I can only offer the fond memories of firing and the headache of cleaning and carrying to give you some sort of idea.
Was it fun? Absolutely.
Would I own one? Absolutely not. Even if I won the lottery.