MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, North Carolina -- Shouts of orders and confirmations sound in the clearing and a Marine carries his payload to the rear of the howitzer, where he lowers it to a loading tray. A pair of artillerymen ram the round into the gun’s firing chamber. More fire commands follow from the section chief and a charge is inserted before the breach closes. Everyone stands ready.
A call of “fire!” with a dropping arm, a twisting pull of the lanyard, and an echoing boom sent another shot downrange toward its target – another fire mission complete.
Marines with 1st Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment conducted fire missions with M777A2 howitzers at the call of Tactical Air Control Party students coordinating attacks on targets during an exercise at Camp Lejeune, Feb. 8.
“The shoot is important for the [students] at the hill and for us,” said Lance Cpl. Darren Jeffrys, a field artillery cannoneer with 1st Battalion, 10th Marines. “Artillery is there to support the troops on the ground when they call down for a fire mission. We’re there to give them that support so they can make it home to their families.”
Ground forces were not the only Marines involved in the exercise, however. The joint terminal air controller students taking part in the TACP course coordinated air strikes from on-station Marine Corps helicopters, which added a sense of danger and realism to the training.
“Firing in support of a TACP allows the battery to train in a realistic manner,” said 1st Lt. Michael Racicot, the executive officer of Kilo Battery. “TACP forces the battery to train on someone else’s timeline, with the added layer of air on station. If the battery does not provide accurate and timely fires, there could be very serious and life-threatening consequences.”
The ability to act on calls for fire with the expedience and precision required on the battlefield is vital to the success of a mission, even when it is only in training. Success in practice often indicates success during the final test. For Marines, that test is combat.
“It reaffirms the professionalism and attention to detail present amongst all the different military occupational specialties required to perform this exercise,” Racicot said. “Firing in this fashion requires all parties involved to perform at a high level. It gives a feeling of reassurance and confidence that all parties involved can execute these types of missions in a combat scenario.”
The Marines of 1st Battalion, 10th Marines conduct the training several times per year in order to maintain the readiness they need to deploy at a moment’s notice in response to any threat.
“It’s important that we do this training with different specialties and different assets,” said Cpl. Joshua Mellen, a field artillery cannoneer with the unit. “It helps because it keeps us together as a section so we aren’t losing what we’ve learned.”