MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDELTON, Calif -- The mountains crested upwards out of the valleys of Las Pulgas. The sky was cloudless, the landscape was serene. A breeze billowed gently across the scene when suddenly a voice pierced the atmosphere, “Fire mission! Fire mission!” Within seconds, Marines became a storm of action. Coordinates and names of rounds were yelled over the radio. The Marines repeated the orders they received in unison. The leader yelled “Fire!” A Marine followed command and pulled the rope of an M777 howitzer. The ground shook as the artillery round shattered through the calm.
Marines with Battery F, 2nd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, conducted a firing exercise aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., Sept. 23, 2015.
The lightweight M777 155mm howitzer is an artillery piece utilized by the Marine Corps and is capable of sending 155mm rounds 30 kilometers downrange. It requires an entire team of highly-trained Marines working hand-in-hand to operate the weapon correctly and efficiently.
“If we shoot one of these rounds the wrong way, we could kill somebody,” said Sgt. Jacob Seguin, the section chief for gun 1 of Fox Battery. “We have to know which gun is going to fire, how many rounds, what type of fuse we’re going to use, which quadrant; we have to be aware of everything for a fire mission.”
Not only are the technical aspects of artillery use a daunting task, but the amount of realism that goes into conducting live-fire exercises provides a challenge as well.
“Exactly what we’re doing right now, is everything that we would do in combat,” said Seguin. “Every part of this type of training is real. Processing firing missions means getting those rounds timely and accurately downrange.”
The mission is not a one-man job; firing a howitzer correctly and successfully reaching the target quadrant requires the cooperation of the whole team. There is a certain amount of trust that goes into every fire mission. Each Marine must be able rely on his fellow gunners when artillery is fired. That trust tends to develop unique bonds between the Marines working on a gun.
“You start learning everybody’s past, and life and where they came from,” said Cpl. Peter Gibby, a gunner with gun 1 of Fox Battery. “I’m lucky to be with Sgt. Seguin, he’s been my section chief for a long time.”
Gibby plans on becoming a section chief in the future, confident in the skills and knowledge he has learned while working with this team for the past year. Learning together and becoming a single, cooperative unit is what allows teams that utilize the howitzer to be effective on the battlefield, an effectiveness that is readily apparent when they work in tandem.
“Fire Mission! Fire Mission!” The voice repeated over the radio. In a split second, the members of gun 1 were again a single, cohesive force. They quickly and successfully reloaded the howitzer. “Fire!”