FORWARD OPERATING BASE EDINBURGH, Afghanistan --
There was enough explosive material to construct hundreds of improvised explosive devices. Marines from 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment lacked the power to destroy the huge IED cache. They called for fire, and eight rockets landed within seconds of being fired. According to the after action report from the artillery platoon, all rounds impacted on target, the site was destroyed, and there was no collateral damage.
The artillery battery fired precision, GPS-guided rockets from a fast, and accurate fire system called the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, said 1st Lt. William Prom, the fire direction officer with 3rd Platoon, Tango Battery, 5th Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment. The High Mobility Artillery Rocket System enables the Marines to take out enemies within minutes and strike within feet of a target, every time.
The HIMARS is composed of the M142, a five-ton chassis vehicle with a launcher pod of six rockets loaded into the bed, said Cpl. Abbas Alhmedi, a launcher chief with 3rd Platoon, Tango Battery, 5th Bn., 11th Marines. When the Marines receive a call for fire, the trucks roll out within seconds and position themselves in the direction of the target. Through strict communication with the fire direction center, a launcher crew of three Marines inputs the grid coordinates of the target and launches rockets on command.
“When I launch that rocket, my heart is beating quickly,” explained Alhmedi, a 24-year-old native of Chicago. “As the chief of a launcher, I have to verify that this rocket is gonna hit the right target. My heart is always racing when it's going downrange and I get the excitement, the nervousness, the butterflies... it's all going through my mind.”
After the launch, the rocket often lands sooner than 30 seconds. Alhmedi said he receives a report verifying a successful launch, giving him a sense of relief and satisfaction.
“When I confirm a successful mission, it's a great feeling knowing that if it wasn't for me, something could have happened to my fellow Marines,” added Alhemdi.
The High Mobility Artillery Rocket System rockets are able to launch within minutes and in poor weather, an advantage over close air support, said Staff Sgt. Andrew N. Heath, the operations chief with 3rd Platoon, Tango Battery, 5th Bn., 11th Marines.
“When you're having bullets slung at you, a couple of minutes seems like an eternity,” explained Heath, a native of Oceanside, Calif.
Heath said the rockets allow artillery to quickly support Marines who are under fire and give them confidence when they patrol.
The High Mobility Artillery Rocket System outranges traditional artillery by up to three times, allowing smaller units to cover a larger area. In previous deployments without HIMARS, it was common to send an entire artillery battalion, composed of several smaller batteries, to cover a large area of operations, said 1st. Lt. Tom V. Worthington, the 3rd Platoon commander with Tango Battery, 5th Bn., 11th Marines. With HIMARS, a single battery is able to cover the entire battle space for the partnered forces in Helmand province.
“It's a big game changer,” said Staff Sgt. James D. Sanders, the 3rd Platoon sergeant with Tango Battery, 5th Bn., 11th Marines. “It can take out targets unthinkable by traditional artillery.”
One HIMARS rocket can destroy a target which previously required four rounds, added Sanders, a 26-year-old native of Wichita, Kan. It has allowed the artillery element to support more units and more operations than before.
“Knowing that I can support the Marines on the ground through thick and thin, through firefights, through indirect fire, through IED emplacers... knowing that we're saving lives is a good feeling,” said Alhmedi. “It's what we're meant to do.”
Editor's Note: The 3rd Platoon, Tango Battery, 5th Battalion, 11th Marines are currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team 6, which is a part of Task Force Leatherneck. First Marine Division (Forward) heads Task Force Leatherneck, the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest), and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Force and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.