COMBAT OUTPOST RAWAH, Iraq --
North of the Euphrates River, an unusual sound began to echo across the sands and through the hills, gradually building until words and instruments could be recognized.
Suddenly the ground shook as a mortar round, loosed by Lance Cpl. Shelby A. Weathers, exited its tube and ripped through the air, landing over a mile away on the side of a hill.
“…I was caught in the middle of a lightning attack…”
Two more mortar rounds landed mere seconds apart, splitting the ground and hurling dirt dozens of yards in every direction.
Then the world exploded as the two mortar guns unloaded nearly a dozen more rounds, (10) 25mm light armored vehicles began to split the air with their guns, rocking their vehicles back onto their rear tires, and nearly three dozen Marines opened fire with M-16’s, squad automatic weapons, and 240-G medium machine guns. As the dust and smoke cleared, the music could once again be heard: “…sound of the drums beating in my heart; the thunder of guns tore me apart; you’ve been thunderstruck!”
Company C, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 2, conducted combined arms training near the end of the first week of Operation Mawtini.
“The shoot was pretty awesome, and showed we could do some incredible stuff when we coordinate together,” said Cpl. Kiante K. Walker, a fire direction control chief and vehicle commander with the company. “It proves we have massive fire suppression abilities, and according to what the targets looked like afterward, it also proved we have deadly accuracy even from a distance.”
The combined arms training, nicknamed ‘Series Thunderstruck’ after the song it was choreographed to, tested the abilities of the company’s newly formed mortar platoon.
“Generally when you fire (a mortar) you’re just trying to get rounds on target. Yes, time is critical, but it isn’t nearly as difficult as synchronizing with maneuvers. That was literally by the second,” said Cpl. John P. Wallis, a mortarman and scout team leader with the company. “This forced us to expand our skill set and work as a team. My last shot proved that, it was a once-in-a-lifetime drill that came down to a fraction of a second.”
The shot came after the long volley of initial rounds which marked the opening of the song’s first verse. The mortar team ran into a few problems and didn’t have much time to fix them.
“We had 10 seconds to get the gun up. Let me try to put that into perspective. I would say if the gun was mounted on a vehicle and had no interference or potential movement due to the ground shaking, that 30 seconds would be a great time,” said Wallis, a Kailua, Hawaii native. “On the dirt, with an unseated bi-pod and minor target adjustments to be made, it was as if God came out of the sky, reached down and said, ‘Gentlemen, I would like you to fire your gun right now.’ It was that incredible. Ten seconds. Ten.”
Wallis and Weathers, an assistant gunner and scout with the company, quickly corrected the bipod. As Weathers grabbed the next mortar round, Wallis made the necessary sight adjustments. Right as the order for ‘fire’ was sounded, Weathers got the round into the tube and the team safely, and successfully, sent it down range.
“I don’t really think about how much time we have or how hard something is. We train until our tasks become muscle-memory, so everything is just a reflex. It isn’t a question of how fast you can accurately fire, it’s a matter of how many lives are at stake if you don’t, so you find a way,” said Weathers, a Houston native.
The company fired 40 mortar rounds, (200) 25mm rounds, and (800) .762-caliber rounds during the exercise. As the sun dropped below the horizon, the tracer rounds could be seen streaking across the sky and exploding in sparks as they hit their target.
“It was a great show of force and a great way of kicking off this operation,” said Walker, a Laurel, Del., native. “The Iraqi civilians know we are still here, and we still have a massive amount of firepower if we need to use it. Most of all, we proved to them we haven’t given up, and we are still going out searching for insurgents.”
The Marines all agreed the training was an effective way to show an example of what the enemy was up against if they chose to attack.
“In general just the presence of our vehicles is enough to intimidate and ward off terrorist behavior, so I imagine it would have struck fear into the hearts of anyone who was watching and was thinking of attacking us, our city (Rawah, Iraq) or its civilians,” Wallis said.
“The enemy was probably ruining their underwear if they were watching us,” agreed Walker. “They’d have to be insane not to be afraid of us. We completely destroyed our targets and nearly flattened the hill they were on in just a few short minutes.”
The last round exploded on the hilltop as the music began to fade out; each Marine grinned widely and shared the moment with the men to their left and right. The shockwave echoed and died away while the dust settled and silence gripped the air once more.