The M249 Squad Attack Weapon (SAW) is a versatile and powerful machine gun, and the base of an infantry fire team's fire support. With a cyclic-fire rate of 800 rounds-per-minute the SAW can throw a lot of lead downrange at a time. The ability to reload the weapon in a quick and safe manner is an integral part of any SAW gunner's job, as explained in the following steps.
Pull the cocking handle to the rear, with your palm facing up. Keep pulling until you hear a click. This means the bolt has locked to the rear. Slide the cocking handle back to the front until it locks in place.
Put the weapon on safe by pushing the safety button, located above the trigger, from left to right. The red line will not be visible when the weapon is on safe. The SAW can only be placed on "SAFE" when the bolt is locked to the rear.
Squeeze the feed-tray cover latches, located by the rear-sight posts. Lift the feed-tray cover and clear the feed-tray of any debris or used links. Check that the chamber area and breech are clear of debris by lifting the feed tray and checking beneath it.
Attach the SAW magazine to the underside of the receiver by lining up the magazine with the dovetails on the weapon and pushing it in until it clicks. Pull out on the magazine to make sure it holds.
Pull out about three or four inches of linked ammunition from the magazine. Place this strip of ammo on the feed tray with the first round against the cartridge stop. Hold the belt in place with your finger on the feeder pawls.
Close the feed tray cover firmly. Make sure your finger isn't in the way and slam the cover down pretty hard to make sure it locks in place.
To aircraft load your SAW (to prepare it for an airborne or air assault mission), begin by skipping steps one and two. After you have your weapon loaded and the bolt forward, pull the charging handle halfway back. Place the weapon on safe and ride the bolt forward very gently. This is called half-cocking. In an emergency, you can insert a magazine from an M16 or M4 into the magazine well below the feeder tray.
Half-cocking is hard on a weapon. Do it only when it is mission essential. SAWs tend to jam when using M16 or M4 magazines. Never point a gun, loaded or not, at another person.