MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Mortar indirect fire, an artillery gun line and close air support all came into play during 3rd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment’s recent Fire Support Team Exercise, also known as a FiSTEX.
Fire support Marines with the 2nd Marine Division unit worked during the event to hone the skills they’ll be using in their upcoming deployments to Afghanistan and future deployments with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit as they coordinated strikes against dozens of simulated enemies.
The Marines trained to perfectly memorize the procedures for calling in fire orders. Making it almost a muscle memory helps keep the Marines focused when they needed to perform their job while actively fighting with an enemy.
“When we’re doing our jobs during a deployment, there is an insane amount of information that we have to keep track of,” said Cpl. Mason Robertson, a fire support man with Headquarters Battery, 3rd Battalion, 10th Marines. “During a deployment, each infantry unit only gets one fire support man for a patrol and it’ll be my responsibility to make sure that artillery strikes are hitting the enemy, I need to know what everyone’s movements are going to be, ours, the enemies’ and other Marine units, to ensure accuracy and avoid friendly fire, and I have to know what sort of strikes and rounds would be the most appropriate for a given situation.”
The Mt. Airy, Md., native talked about his seven-month deployment to Afghanistan that started in September of 2010 where he served as a fire support man with 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, an infantry unit with 2nd Marine Division.
“With all of the things we have to keep track of there is a ton of pressure on us that can have some deadly consequences if we mess up,” said Robertson. “The thing I love most about my job is the level of responsibility that even the newest fire support Marines have. When we’re on patrol we’re not just forward observers for artillery, we’re also another rifleman that the other Marines are relying on to have their back and help protect everyone on the patrol.”
While Robertson and his fellow fire support Marines were only practicing calling in and coordinating strikes during the latest FiSTEX, they have also spent several weeks studying infantry tactics and procedures to prepare themselves in every way possible.
“Fire support Marines are absolutely essential for us in artillery and for the infantrymen they’re on patrol with,” said Gunnery Sgt. Mark Kamenszky, the battery gunnery sergeant for Battery K, 3rd Battalion, 10th Marines. “We could teach infantryman how to call a fire order and many of them know the basics of it but the fire support guys and forward observers are masters of their trade. They have the experience and knowledge that infantrymen don’t have time to learn because they’re busy mastering their own jobs.”
The Deland, Fla., native praised the fire support Marines of the battalion for their ability to call in a variety of fire orders, from artillery to air support and naval gun fire, while under the same intense pressure of an infantryman in enemy territory.
“We’re constantly reminded of just how much responsibility we have every day,” said Cpl. Glen Phillips Jr., a fire support man with the battalion. “For me, it gives me a lot of confidence to know that I’ve been trusted with the mission to help provide the artillery and air support that infantrymen need on patrols and in combat.”
The Oxford, N.C., native is getting ready to go on his first deployment as a fire support man but says he’s not worried about having to perform under pressure at all thanks to the training he’s received.
“We all develop a way to stay focused when we’re doing our jobs,” said Robertson. “For me, when I start to call in a fire order it’s almost like I go into my own personal bubble and everything around me is just background noise. I’m still aware of everything going on but my main concern becomes making sure that the strike lands where it needs to. When the bullets start to fly in a firefight that’s when the Marines we’re with need us to be at our best and training events like the one we’re doing today are what help us make it all second nature and keep our heads in the game at those critical moments.”