MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE --
“Fire Mission! Marines, get to your guns,” yells Sgt. Jacob B. Elliot, a mortar section leader with 81mm Platoon, Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division.
A fire direction control Marine yells grid coordinates, which, in return the Marines repeat loudly so no one has an excuse. “Gun 2, deflection, two, seven, zero, zero,” the FDC Marine yells. “Roger. Two, seven, zero, zero,” yells Cpl. David Rohwer, the Gun Two leader and Pflugerville, Texas native.
Gun Two shoots first, as the other two gun positions refer to their corrections, ensuring all positions are all parallel.
The FDC Marine yells out more descriptive coordinates to the Gun 2 Marines, to which, Rohwer repeats, “Gun Two, deflection. Three, one, seven, eight, charge two! Elevation, one, two, four, niner!” Rohwer’s Marines send rounds down range.
The Marines with 81mm Platoon repeated the fire mission throughout their first day of training. They spent July 24-26 at MP-2 and MP-3 ranges, using the crawl, walk, run methodology.
From the outside looking in, accurately placing indirect mortar fire on enemy positions, where in most situations Marines can’t see the enemy, looks tough enough.
The “infantrymen’s artillery”, as the mortar community is sometimes referred to, is responsible for assisting advancing infantry ground units in any situation deemed unsustainable.
“It’s not that hard,” said Lance Cpl. Adam Flores, a mortarman and Baytown, Texas, native. “Obviously, if you do something over and over again, it comes (naturally) to you.”
The next two days became multifaceted, as the platoon integrated a myriad of scenarios.
“We are making this as complex as possible,” said 1st Lt. William Peek, the platoon’s commander and Haddon Heights, N.J. native. “We put new forward observers in the (observation) towers. They are the eyes and ears. They are learning to assess the battlefield, call in fire missions, assess the fire missions, and make adjustments from there.
“We took the Marines who had a good grasp of the mortar firing systems and put them in those positions,” Peek continued.
Also, the battalion, hasn’t deployed since 2010 and this training helps keep the Marines proficient as noncombat-related deployments are, as Peek put it, “on the horizon.”
The platoon conducted fire missions, such as search and traverse and suppression and marking. Search and traverse fire missions are used against an enemy’s flanking or frontal movements with firing left or right with no range changes (traverse) and firing against a deep target with elevation changes without changes to direction (search).
Suppression and marking is simply as Peek put it, “if you have an enemy anti-aircraft system in one area and an enemy tank in the other, mortarmen will simply engage the anti-aircraft system and mark next to the tank for air support to take it out.”
Early on July 25, the Marines knew they were going to receive a fire mission while on patrol, but Flores said it didn’t matter what type, they just needed to get off the road and set up their mortar firing systems fast and effectively. The Marines were on a patrol known as hip shoots, as the saying goes, “shooting from the hip.”
It was reminiscent from the day prior, minus the time they had allotted to set up their gun positions once they dismounted their seven-ton vehicles. The Marines, nearing the next range with only about 100 feet to go, heard “Fire mission!” from the FDC and sprinted toward the firing line; all carrying components of the mortar firing system.
The Marines had to quickly set up, knowing the FDC Marines were receiving grid coordinates from the FOs in the observation tower.
“If this were Afghanistan, we’d have to dig pits around our positions all the time,” said Flores. “We have to, essentially, “(battlesite zero)” the guns with compasses to take the error out. After that, we receive our coordinates and fire. Every time this weapon fires, it moves which doesn’t make much of a difference. If it moves too much, we have to readjust.
“You move with a sense of urgency, though, because Marines could be pinned down ahead of us and are depending on us,” he added. “We have to depend on the FO, because we can’t see the targets. Marines are getting shot at, so we have to do it right.”