Bad weather for good times

22 Sep 2006 | Lance Cpl. Bryce C.K. Muhlenberg

An eardrum pounding blast detonates and you grip your rain drenched head as the explosive round from a M-252, 81mm, Medium Extended Range Mortar system, escapes its iron chute and sends “steel death” flying towards its target.

Marines with 81 mm Mortar Platoon, Weapons Company, 2nd Marine Regiment, 1st Battalion began a week-long training cycle here to reinforce knowledge, platoon unity and leadership, said 1st Lt. Nicholas L. Vogel, the platoon’s commander.

“We are primarily out here to coordinate and mark targets for aircraft by shooting smoke or illumination rounds,” Vogel said.  “We also brought out some of our own ammunition to do platoon training in preparation for upcoming field exercises and deployment.”

The mortar platoon’s most common role in Iraq is providing firm base security and air marking by means of indirect fire, said Vogel, who deployed to Iraq with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit from November 2005 to May 2006.

“Indirect fire means we never really see what we are shooting at,” said Sgt. Jason O. Sack, a section leader with the 81 Platoon.  “But using provided coordinates we can get within five to ten meters of a designated target.”

Training to provide indirect fire is not all the platoon is doing though.  The Marines at mortar position two are not inexperienced at all. 

“Most of the Marines out here right now have been through two, three or four deployments so far, and they all know what they are doing,” said Sack, who deployed with the unit in 2003 to places like Haditha, Baghdad, Nasiria, and East Canteria.  “A normal mortar platoon is composed of around 60 people, but we can perform the same job in equal or less time with close to half of that number.”

The bulk of the motarmen of the 81 platoon are experienced and have an understanding of the weapons system.  The Platoon is using this time in the field to become not only technically proficient but also to become better leaders for when new Marines arrive.

“We are out here in this bad weather sharpening our skills so we can be prepared to teach our Marines what they need to know before entering a deployment,” said Sack, describing how the Marines had set up camp in the rain.  “In fact, we knew it was going to be bad conditions this week and we still came out here, just so we know we can train, perform, and teach our job in any condition.”

The better prepared the platoon is before the new Marines arrive, the better they will be able to lead them.

“We are going to have to break these new Marines in early, break old habits, and teach them properly from the get go by using the experience we have and instilling it in them,” Vogel explained.  “Plus, spending a week in the field builds platoon unity,” Vogel said, with a smile.  “The worse the conditions here, the better and closer we get as a platoon.”

As a mortarman yells out “half load,” and a Marine places the lower portion of a round in the iron tube, everyone surrounding the mortar placement waits in anticipation for the call to fire.

2nd Marine Division