MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Artillerymen with 1st Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, recently took part in a battalion-wide field operation encompassing many of the installation’s ranges, as they worked to hone their skills coordinating fire with M777 Howitzers.
The Marines who manned the gun lines during the weeklong event practiced everything from rapid-fire drills, in which they worked to send several rounds downrange as quickly as possible, to rapidly relocating the howitzers and refocusing the aim of the gun line.
“During the operation, it’s been all shoot, move and communicate,” said Cpl. Aaron Rasey, an Antwerp, Ohio, native and the section leader for Gun 4, Battery A. “We’re constantly receiving word from the battalion about where we need to move next to complete the mission. It gets really high tempo and stressful when it’s time to (move) the howitzer somewhere else. For the Marines who have been in (artillery) for a while, it can be done pretty quickly. For some of our newer Marines, it can be a real challenge.”
Each M777 Howitzer weighs more than 9,700 pounds, the ammunition is nearly 100 pounds per round, and all the additional gear, sights and weapons needed to establish a gun position add up to be several hundred extra pounds. Every time a gun position is established, a team of approximately a dozen Marines must work together to set the howitzer, organize all the gear, and set up a defensive perimeter, complete with fighting holes and crew-served weapons, in a matter of minutes.
“They don’t look it, but these howitzers are actually quite mobile,” said Cpl. Anthony Casias, a Scottsboro, Ala., native and the section chief for Gun 3, Battery A. “Once a team has been working together for a while, it gets into a rhythm. Normally the (Fire Direction Center) -- the ones who are in charge of directing the gun line -- try to give us advanced warning about an upcoming move. When we’re ready for it and receive the order, we can pack up and be on the road to our next location in less than 10 minutes.”
The movement of an artillery battalion is decided by the movements of the infantry battalions they support. When Casias deployed to Afghanistan in November 2010, his battalion could cover an area of operations nearly 38 miles in diameter as they supported 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, in Helmand province, the Musa Qal’eh region, and the areas around Kajaki.
“During the deployment, we’d sometimes get a new movement order every week, sometimes every other week,” said Cpl. Alex Beaver, section leader, Battery A. The Charlotte, N.C., native was on that deployment with Casias. “We were doing it so much, it just became no big deal for us. The real challenge came more from Afghanistan’s terrain (rather) than the equipment.”
Beaver explained artillery can be extremely limited by the location they have to work with. While the wide valleys offered the Marines little resistance, the mountain ranges stretched across the province kept the battalion busy, constantly adjusting the direction of fire and moving along treacherous passes to ensure the 2nd LAR Bn. Marines had the support they needed.
“The Marines who were on that deployment are the perfect examples of being able to adapt to any challenge,” said 1st Lt. Ricardo Bitanga, a Mangilao, Guam, native and the executive officer for Battery A. “They were firing from dried up lakebeds, the sides of mountains and anywhere else they had to. By training here, we give those Marines the opportunity to pass their knowledge onto the battalion’s newest members.”
The Marines also practiced several infantry basics, such as providing security on convoys and patrols and route reconnaissance, since the route recon team also has the additional responsibly of marking the prime locations for each of the guns before they get there.
“Even though most of these Marines know the Camp Lejeune ranges like the back of their hands, it doesn’t make the training here easy,” said Bitanga. “The battalion provides the batteries with different challenges which force them to readjust the gun line, so even though it’s the same old range, it’s never really the same as the last time the Marines came here. These training events are essential to ensure the Marines memorize the basics that they can apply to be an effective fighting force anywhere in the world.”