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Marines work to make safe a deadly business

7 Jul 2004 | Cpl. Shawn C. Rhodes

The giant 155 mm howitzers from Battery E, 2nd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment are the longest, largest and most destructive weapon added to 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment's arsenal.

But the Marines manning those cannons are working to make them one of the safest.  

"Every position we have plays a small part keeping the gun running," said Gunnery Sgt. Michael P. McCreesh, a 32-year-old battery gunnery sergeant from Victorville, Calif.  "They also each have to make sure they're being safe.  The guns have a 50-meter casualty radius."

McCreesh added that is why they train to make sure the rounds don't go off before they're fired from the howitzers.

Surprisingly, there are a lot of things that can go wrong if safety isn't first in the Marines' minds.  The Marines working the gun have to make sure they follow the procedures they were taught to keep themselves alive.

The job of the "cannon cocker" is crucial to making sure the gun fires and can continue to fire in the future.  Something as simple as a mop or "swab" can mean the difference between life and death for the gun team.

"The number one cannoneer position has the job of swabbing the chamber every time a round is fired," said Lance Cpl. Brian T. Jackson, a 26-year-old field cannoneer from Long Island, N.Y.  "The water on the swab douses any hot ashes which could be left inside the chamber.  If there are hot ashes in there when we put the powder charge in for the next round, it could be very bad for us."

Jackson explained how if the powder caught before the howitzer' chamber door is closed it could fire back on them.  Training and continual practice make sure the Marines don't overlook crucial steps in their work.

"We have a saying in school to help us remember to swab: one, two, around and through.  It means swab inside twice and then hit the door to make sure there's no ash there either," Jackson said.

There are other things for the number one cannoneer to remember during a live fire.  One of them involves the gun's firing mechanism, which is a thin lanyard that is pulled to fire the weapon.

"When the number one cannoneer is setting up a shot he loads the round, powder and then puts the primer in the hole which fires the shot, said Sgt. Arnold R. Allen, a-24 year-old cannoneer section chief.  After all that he hooks the lanyard on." 

The Navajo, N.M. Marine added that if the lanyard is left on between firings, it could be accidentally stepped on before the final order is given to fire.  It could be too late for the Marines in the field if the gun goes off prematurely.

"Safety is paramount out here.  From the time these guys go to school that's what they're taught," McCreesh said. 

"I really like what I do here.  When we get the order and everyone is doing their part to make it all work, as a team, no one's thinking about it," Jackson said.  "We're all just doing what we were trained to do and making those rounds fly downrange.  That gives me a good feeling."