CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Artillery units traditionally support ground troops with precise, long-range indirect fire, and are rarely called upon to engage targets with direct fire. Though direct engagements are not an artilleryman’s primary mission, Marines on the gun line are expected to be adaptable and effective under any and all circumstances.
This expectation was put to the test when Marines with Battery B, 1st Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, conducted direct fire training aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, Nov. 3, 2014. The training re-established specific close-quarters firing skills with the Marines, ensuring successful future combat operations.
“Direct fire with artillery is very unorthodox,” said Sgt. Codi Fisher, a section chief with Bravo Battery. “It’s so much different than a traditional fire mission. It’s more about the judgment of the Marines behind the weapon than anything else. Everyone must act with speed and confidence. When firing at close quarters, even the smallest mistake can be disastrous.”
Typically, an M777 Howitzer engages targets more than 20 miles away, safely out of harm’s way. From time to time, though, an artillery battery can find itself under attack from enemies only hundreds of meters away. At that point, time is limited and the tempo of the battle drastically changes.
“There’s no room for laziness on the gun line,” said Lance Cpl. James Stevens. “Every second counts when you are putting rounds downrange. It’s even more important when you are under fire and the lives of the Marines to your left and right depend on you working fast. This training put the idea of short range engagements into perspective. Every Marine is expected to perform, even when bullets are flying overhead.”
The training began with nearly an hour of dry fire, giving the Marines a chance to get a handle on making large adjustments quickly between targets. These adjustments were not the incremental bracketing of fires with which the artillerymen were accustomed; they were drastic adjustments going from high-angle indirect fire postures to dropping the guns almost horizontal to engage threats directly ahead of the gun line.
Following their dry runs, the artillerymen began firing live rounds at metal targets, representing enemy tanks. They were required to follow orders over the deafening blast of the howitzers and traverse between multiple targets, all while continuing to load and fire the cannon.
“There’s so much going on during a fire mission, training is sometimes all that a Marine has to go off of,” said Fisher. “We attempt to make the training as realistic as possible, so they have the best chance at success if and when they find themselves in a combat situation.”
Realistic training for every combat contingency is the hallmark of 11th Marines’ constant preparation to support the 1st Marine Division as part of I Marine Expeditionary Force’s ground combat element.