Featured News

Mortar men set aside mortars for heavy machine guns

29 Sep 2004 | Staff Sgt. Nathaniel Garcia

Whether riding down the streets of Iraq positioned behind a 50-caliber machine gun turret or in the back of an armored vehicle, they look like any other rifleman in the Marine Corps.

But these Marines aren't riflemen, they're mortar men with Weapons Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. Normally, they are an independent group of Marines with the capability of unleashing the destructive power of 81mm mortars on the enemy from a distant position. In Iraq, they will ride and fight alongside their fellow Marines on the ground. 

"Every person in those vehicles is doing something completely different from what they are used to," said1st Lt. Paul Callahan, 31, native of Trout Run, Pa., and former 81mm mortar platoon commander for 2/5. "Our 81mm mortar platoon was split in half and integrated into combined arms anti-tank platoons. Basically we are operating as mobile assault platoons."

When the mortar men got the order assigning them to heavy machine guns, these Marines cancelled their scheduled training with mortars and started training to operate machine guns and handle various other tasks.

"What we did for six weeks was train the mortar men as vehicle commanders, machine gunners, drivers and radio operators so we could operate as a movable force for escort missions, raids, cordon and searches and whatever might be tasked," said Callahan. "Some of these drivers didn't even have a drivers license, so the first time they've really driven is here in country in combat."

By taking on these new roles, the mortar men would be able to reduce the amount of damage that mortars are known for causing.

"The mortars were set aside to reduce the amount of collateral damage," said Sgt. Aaron Cadorette, 29, a platoon sergeant with Weapons Company. "Mortars have a large kill radius. It is overkill. This type of environment doesn't call for it. This way, we are on the ground and in the streets were we need to be."

Although there currently isn't a need for the mortars, Cadorette and his fellow mortar men haven't put them out of their minds.

"They are on standby though," said Cadorette, a native of Twining, Mich. "We have them here with us. If they said get them, we can easily break them out."

Although mortars aren't being utilized, Weapons Company has many tasks for their Marines to handle while in Iraq. Currently, Weapons Company is the quick reaction force for the battalion. Within the company, mortar men can be called on to provide escorts, assist in raids, sweep roadsides for improvised explosive devices, conduct cordon and searches and be the quick reaction force at the company level.

"The strength of the Marine Corps is the Marine's ability to adapt and overcome," said Callahan. "These Marines are no exception. They 're just as strong and reliable as any Marine before them."

And like many of the Marines before them, these mortar men hope to make a difference.

"It would be nice to be able to see that progress was being made, to see some changes or at least know progress has been made when we are finished," said Cadorette.

But before they go home, Cadorette hopes to eliminate as many insurgent fighters as possible in their area and do it with out losing any Marines.

"The Marines are doing an outstanding job," said Callahan. "They have been in a few firefights already and they conducted themselves brilliantly, putting down accurate suppressive fire and killing the enemy when they needed to, but also showing restraint when the situation dictated."

With the mortar men's new knowledge they only become more effective and efficient Marines. 

"Part of being with Weapons Company means being a jack of all trades," said Lance Cpl. Edmond Parent, 22, a native of Berlinton, Vt., and a mortar man with Weapons Company. "I can jump behind anything in our arsenal and effectively deploy it or teach it."