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CAMP AL QA?IM, Iraq ? Lance Cpl. Michael Walk, a fire-directional controller (FDC) and Sierra Vista, Ariz., native, with Mobile Assault Platoon 3, Weapons Company, Task Force 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 2, views an M16 plotting board with another Marine from MAP3. The FDC plots grid coordinates given from a forward scout-observer and then tells the mortarmen where to fire their mortars.

Photo by Cpl. Eric C. Schwartz

Eyes, brain, brawn: Anatomy of TF 1/4's indirect firepower

29 Aug 2007 | Cpl. Eric C. Schwartz

The ground shook ferociously as the 81 millimeter mortar round ripped through it, propelling debris everywhere and destroying any living thing in its area of impact. Forward observers up on a hill viewed this destructive force through their binoculars, ready to call in air support.

Weapons Company, Company C, and Headquarters and Support Company, Task Force 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 2, proved their devastating capability of denying any offensive against Camp Al Qa’im during the Fire Support Coordination Exercise.

“It’s like the hand of God,” said Sgt. Randy L. Whitmore, a Reno, Nev., native, and forward observer field instructor with Headquarters and Support Company. “It reaches down from the heavens and brings death to the wicked.”

“Indirect fire is a combined team effort,” said Gunnery Sgt. J Boyle, an artillery operations chief with the battalion’s Mobile Assault Platoon 3, Weapons Company.

Unlike a rifle, considered an extension of a rifleman, indirect fire is a being combined of three parts.

“Forward observers are the eyes, fire-directional control is the brain, and the gun line is the brawn,” Boyle said.

As much as this mechanical life-taker destroys the enemy’s spirit and fighting force, it is also a savior to its allies.

“In battle, infantry units can use this long-range weapon to give them a bigger cushion, saving lives and keeping people out of harm’s way,” said Lance Cpl. Michael Walk, a fire-directional controller and Sierra Vista, Ariz., native, with MAP 3.

Marines who were new to calling-for-fire trained in the art of forward observation while communicating with fire-directional controllers near the gun line. The FO would use a compass to find the distance and direction for their chosen target, communicating this information to the FDC.

“This is these Marines’ first time calling for fire and they are making a good effort,” said Whitmore.

The FDC would input the direction and distance of the target into a specially designed notebook computer, which outputted data explaining air temperature, barometric pressure, air density and wind speed.

“All four of these affect the trajectory of the mortar,” Boyle said.

The computer can also find the accurate target location comparing the distance of the mortar’s location to the inputted information. This new system gives much more information to the FDC than the M16 plotting board, traditionally used by FDCs.

“You still want to check your grid with the M16 plotting board because the mortar ballistic computer is usually correct but it’s good to double-check your coordinates,” Walk said.

Mortarmen adjusted their M252 81mm mortar tubes to the FDC’s new coordinates. One Marine dropped the 81mm mortar round down the tube, crouching down below the explosive noise while another Marine simultaneously braced the bottom of the tube for a more accurate impact.

”I was really nervous the first time I dropped the mortar down the mortar tube,” said Lance Cpl. Blake Gorecki, a Minneapolis Native, and machine gunner with MAP 3. “My hands were sweating and my heart was racing.”

This long-armed creature, in theory, should work perfectly, hitting the target on precisely the same spot each time; but it is still effective even when it doesn’t hit the target, as long as it impacts near the enemy. The thunderous noise smashes easily through the sound of rifles cracking, reminding the enemy how fragile their bodies really are; if they are still alive after impact.