AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq --
As each 81mm high explosive mortar round slammed into the desert sands of Shadow Range aboard Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, the Marines of Company F, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 8 honed their skills.
Company F has been nomadic during their deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. For the past three months they have lived out of their light armored vehicles combing the desert along the Syrian border, but now based aboard Al Asad they are able to focus their efforts on traditional warfare training.
“I’m an infantryman with mortars, but all of them have been doing grunt work out here,” said Lance Cpl. Gabriel Aguilar, an ammo man with Company F’s mortar team. “Now they’re going to work and doing their true job.”
Although the company is almost finished with their deployment, they looked forward to going outside the wire one last time to train with the weapons they know best.
“We haven’t been able to shoot mortars since we’ve been in the field,” said Lance Cpl. Philip Coleman, a turret gunner with Company F. “It feels great that we get to do this.”
The Marines are proud of the mission they’ve completed during their deployment, but are motivated to do what they do best: blow things up.
“It’s like being a quarterback and never throwing the ball,” Aguilar relates. “Now mortars gets to play.”
The Marines enjoy sending round after round down range, but just like it takes a litter to raise a runt, it takes a whole team to make sure each mortar runs fear down the enemies’ spines.
The forward observers contacted the fire direction center Marines, mapping out the distance of the target. The FDC mortarmen then used the tried and true method of the M16 plotting map to apply the FO information.
“We convert what a forward observer sees on the battlefield into deflection and elevation information,” said Cpl. Garland Yarborough, an FDC Marine with Company F.
The FDC Marines would yell out to the mortar teams what the elevation and left and right lateral limits needed to be on the mortar tubes, along with how many mortars would be fired for each mission.
With skilled perfection, mortar rounds would fire from the tubes, sending an almost deafening shockwave to anyone within earshot. The forward observers would then observe the impact and inform the FDC’s on any necessary corrections.
“Mortars can shoot out of defilade,” Yarborough said. “We don’t have to be seen and we don’t have to see the enemy if we have the forward observers.”
This indirect fire makes sure that the enemy can’t stay hidden behind a ridge if there is at least one forward observer able to see them.
“If I can’t see the target, the mortar teams can’t shoot it,” said Cpl. Jordan Nash, the Company F forward observer.
The team effort of the forward observers, fire direction center Marines and the mortarmen enabled the unit to complete their mission on Shadow Range. After a long deployment of patrolling, setting up screen lines and monitoring the Syrian border, Company F mortarmen were able to take a break and show the world they could also rain some steel.
For more information on the ongoing mission in Iraq’s Al Anbar province, visit www.iimefpublic.usmc.mil/iimeffwd.