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Marines conduct island mortar, close air support training

28 Mar 2008 | Cpl. Dean Davis

In combat, the actions of one Marine or of many working together can result in firepower that suppresses and overcomes the enemy. Mortar teams of 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division, along with aircraft from the USS Reagan battle group trained in close air support at San Clemente Island March 24 to 28.

The Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMTRUEX), an exercise designed to increase the combat effectiveness and, in turn, deadliness, of 1st LAR’s ability to call in mortar fire and close air support, kicked off after Marines and light armored vehicles were transported by landing crafts, air-cushioned (LCAC) to the windy strip of land about 60 miles off the coast.

“The wind definitely presented a challenge, and the friction it caused added to the realism of the training,” said 1st Lt. Chris L. Petersen, officer-in-charge of the exercise with 1st LAR. “But, in dealing with the wind, the proficiency of the mortar teams improved.”

Mortar teams adapted to more than 30 mile-per hour winds and continued through the exercise while also adapting to working with new Marines.

“Overall the battalion did really well; they stayed motivated, sounded off and got rounds on target,” said Staff Sgt. Joseph R. Justice, chief mortar instructor for 1st LAR. “The fire direction control section is new, so this was their first time working with all of the mortar teams, but they stepped up and did well.”

Standardized communication and operating procedures are a key element to the battalion and their mission, explained Petersen.

“Establishing and becoming comfortable with the battalion’s standard operating procedures is critical so that any mortar team can work easily with any forward observer,” said Petersen, 27, from La Canada, Calif.

Because 1st LAR has many different combat arms billets in its ranks, knowing each Marine’s job is important for the battalion’s success, explained Lance Cpl. Robert J. Stewart, a mortarman with Company D, 1st LAR.

“We have done a few exercises like this since we have been back from deployment and the gun line has been doing really well,” said Stewart, 20, from Sacramento. “In (Company D) for instance, we don’t have a full mortar section, so Marines with different [military occupational specialties] have been filling in and getting trained up on our jobs too.”

By gaining this readiness and knowing each responsibility on the gun line, Marines of 1st LAR can take their skills with them when they deploy to Iraq later this year.

“From the fire team level, to mortars, air support and beyond, combined arms is crucial to increasing our proficiency in combat operations,” Petersen said.