MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- As the week began Jan. 23, Marines were rolling out to start Exercise Firestorm.
Marines from 2nd Marine Division conducted the operation against simulated terrorist activity in the town of Impact City in the made-up country of Katruna, in reality, a training facility here.
“The purpose of Exercise Firestorm was to get us back in the artillery mindset,” said Maj. Kevin J. Keating, 10th Marine Regiments assistant operations officer.
For many of the Marines, this was the first exercise in which they praciced their primary military occupational specialty.
“A lot of our units have been going to Iraq as provisional infantry battalions, doing everything but artillery,” Keating said.
Cpl. Ryan P. Pedroza, assistant firing chief, F Battery, had to adjust to being an artilleryman again after spending seven months in Iraq in a provisional infantry battalion doing convoy operations.
“At first, it was cool to change and to do a different job, but it is always nice to be able to come back and do your original job,” Pedroza said.
An exercise of this type hasn’t been done since the middle of 2003.
“This is the first time we’ve had two battalions on deck in a long time that were able to fire artillery,” Keating said.
Along with other battalions and regimental combat teams, personnel from the 10th Marine Regiment all displayed their own specialties.
The regiment’s mission was to provide accurate, timely, massed cannon fires and fire support for the 2nd Marine Division in order to disrupt and destroy the enemy in Impact City.
“We came up with a scenario that was similar to the things going on in Iraq,” Keating said. “We set it up to fight them how we would fight as a regiment.”
Upon arriving to their destination in the training area, Headquarters Battery quickly set up to start giving direction to the artillery batteries.
“We ran fire support for the grunts,” stated Staff Sgt. Jack O. Hendrix, fire chief, F Battery. “Anytime they got in trouble, we came out and provided fire for them. We also destroyed any hard targets they couldn’t get to.”
The artillery Marines rode in seven-ton trucks to the site of the exercise, pulling the massive 155mm Howitzer cannons behind them.
“The seven-ton took us to our position, where we set up the gun and started the process,” Hendrix said.
Running the huge weapon seemed like a daunting task, but the Marines of the regiment appeared to do it with timeliness and ease.
“To run the gun, you need one section chief and six men, but the more, the merrier,” Hendrix said.
On Hendrix’s team, there was a gunner, assistant gunner, recorder, an ammo team and a plugger.
The ammo team deals with the rounds and the propellant, preparing them to be fired and loading them into the tube. The gunner and assistant gunner make sure the cannon is firing on target, while the recorder takes note of all the information taking place.
“The number one man, or plugger, puts the gun powder in after the ammo team loads the round into the tube,” Hendrix said. “He then closes the breach, puts the primer inside the hole, pulls the lanyard and shoots the gun.”
The cannons are extremely accurate, sending rounds to a distance of up to 18 miles.
Hendrix looks forward to the near future when the Marines will be working with a new gun, the M-777 ultra-lightweight field howitzer.
“They are smaller and it takes less Marines to man them,” Hendrix said. “It shoots the same size round the same distance.”
The Marines worked hard to complete their exercise.
“It turned out better than expected,” Keating said. “I know what I have to work on to make it quicker paced for the firing battalion. This exercise is a stepping-stone toward our next exercise.”
During the week-long field exercise, the Marines were able to go out and complete the mission assigned to them. The training will help the Marines in preparation for upcoming deployments to Okinawa and in fighting the Global War on Terrorism.