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Lance Cpl. Chris McKenzie, 23, from Moore, N.C., serves with Headquarters Platoon, Headquarters and Service Company, Task Force 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, Regimental Combat Team 5.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Joshua Murray

Steel rain: Marine gets his first chance to make it pour

13 Jul 2008 | Lance Cpl. Joshua Murray

Lance Cpl. Chris McKenzie, 23, from Moore, N.C., with Headquarters Platoon, Headquarters and Service Company, Task Force 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, Regimental Combat Team 5, works in the Combat Operations Center (COC) as a watch clerk every day. As part of his duties, he tracks missions, patrols and other events that the battalion executes.

McKenzie has another duty on top of his responsibilities in the COC. A duty that could decide the outcome of a combined-arms mission, and one he must be ready to perform if lives are at stake.

McKenzie left for Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island on an open-contract agreement with the Marine Corps May 31, 2007. Open-contract agreements leave the choice of military occupational specialty up to the needs of the Marine Corps.  A recruit will eventually learn what his primary skill will be upon completing boot camp and becoming a Marine. In McKenzie’s case, he would become a fire supportman.

“I lucked out with my job,” McKenzie said. “I didn’t know what a fire supportman was until I went to school for it, but once I learned about it, I really liked it.” 

As a fire supportman, McKenzie learned the basics of calling for supporting fire, which could consist of artillery, mortars and other weapons.

After completing his MOS training, McKenzie arrived at his parent artillery unit, 2nd Bn., 10th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division. McKenzie didn’t have any time to get comfortable before transferring to another unit to begin his first deployment to Iraq.

“As soon as I got (there), I went on Christmas leave, and then one and a half weeks after I got back, I (checked-in) to Second Battalion, Second Marines,” said McKenzie.

McKenzie knew what part of the battalion he would work for, but he didn’t know exactly what he would be doing on a daily basis.

“All I knew was that I would be working in the battalion’s operations section,” McKenzie said.

McKenzie understands the battalion’s need for him to complete other tasks in Iraq besides being the fire supportman he was trained to be.

“That’s not the kind of war we’re fighting anymore,” he said. “I love (being a fire supportman). I just can’t wait to do more of it.”

Since graduating from his MOS school, McKenzie did not have the chance to practice being a fire supportman. His first time calling in fire support from mortars, besides his initial schooling, happened during a fire support coordination exercise here June 29.

As he called for fire on simulated targets with a beaming grin on his face, he said, “I love this.” “My confidence is growing and with a little more practice, I know I could complete a mission when it really counts.”

In preparation for the exercise, his fellow Marines drilled him with questions and scenarios to work on every day for a month. Staff Sgt. Michael Golembesky, 32, the artillery liaison chief with the battalion from Philadelphia, observed him during the exercise.

“For his first time out of the gate, he’s doing an awesome job,” Golembesky said. He’s got a good base of knowledge for someone with so little experience at calling for rounds.”

Golembesky is confident that the live fire exercise has improved McKenzie’s abilities to complete his duties as a fire supportman and made him much more proficient than if he just studied the books he has.

“He did superb,” Golembesky said. “This only made him better. Calling in rounds and adjusting fire isn’t something you can learn from a textbook, and he will have to do it in person more to continue getting better.”