AL-ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq -- Reservists from 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment
, Regimental Combat Team 5, and Marines from 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, RCT-5, linked up here for a Tactical Air Control Party live-fire exercise at a remote desert range in western al-Anbar province Dec. 27.
“Basically, a TACP shoot is taking elements of the battalion such as your forward air controllers, FIST (fire support team) leaders and the 81-millimeter mortar platoon, and incorporating aviation and surface-delivered fires to maintain and exercise your combined arms skills as an infantry battalion,” said Maj. D.C. Brown, the assistant operations officer for 2nd Bn., 25th Marines, who served as the officer-in-charge of the range.
Brown, 42, from Wheeling, W.V., joined the battalion during their pre-deployment training at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. in July.
2nd Bn., 25th Marines arrived in country in early September. In addition to conducting sustainment training at every opportunity, the battalion has been operating non-stop in support of Iraqi security forces to eliminate the last vestiges of the insurgency in their area of operations, which borders both Jordan and Syria.
Staff Sgt. Rene Dabreau, the platoon sergeant for Mobile Assault Platoon 3 Weapons Company, 2nd Bn., 25th Marines, is on the inspector-instructor staff at the Weapons Co. headquarters, which is co-located with the battalion’s headquarters in Garden City, N.Y.
Inspector-instructor staff members are usually active duty Marines who work full-time to directly support the reserve component, lending continuity to the reservists’ training and ensuring that allotted time is maximized during drill weekends and annual training. This is Dabreau’s third deployment to Iraq, but his first with a reserve unit.
Dabreau supervised all fire direction control on the 81mm mortar gun line, ensuring that missions were conducted safely and in a manner that mirrored the way the weapons would actually be employed in combat.
“This really hones their MOS (military occupational specialty) skills,” said Dabreau. “This is something I’ve noticed with multiple deployments. The Marines usually don’t utilize this asset when they’re deployed to Iraq and they can lose their proficiency.”
This skill in mortar gunnery is especially vital for those Marines who intend to remain in the Corps, as future deployments may require them to fire mortars in combat.
Junior Marines from Weapons Company, 1st Bn., 2nd Marines, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., served on the fire direction control team. They plotted targets and trajectories to make sure that the Marines on the guns knew exactly where to shoot in order to put steel on target.
Although they have not yet used mortars in combat action during their four months in country, the infantrymen of 1st Bn., 2nd Marines acknowledged the vital necessity of mortar gunnery.
“You never know when the insurgency will attack, and we need to keep our skills sharp in case they do,” said Lance Cpl. Kenneth Magobet Jr., 25, a mortarman from Harrisburg, Pa., who is a team leader with Weapons Co., 1st Bn., 2nd Marines, on his second tour in Iraq.
Lance Cpl. James Hall, 20, from South Webster, Ohio, also serves with Magobet. Hall explained that this is his first time working with Reserve Marines, and that his impression has been very positive.
“I know that we train differently,” said Hall, “but you can put the two together and get the best of both worlds.”
The mortarmen slugged away for hours at their targets, which consisted of old bunkers used during the Saddam Hussein regime to house aviation ordnance.
Meanwhile, the fire support team also communicated with AH-1 Cobra pilots from Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369, based out of Camp Pendleton, Calif. The helicopters assaulted the targets with machine guns and rockets.
One of the aviation experts on the ground, guiding the gunships through the battle space, was Capt. John Spohrer, 28, a cobra pilot serving as the forward air controller for 1st Bn., 2nd Marines.
“This is an excellent opportunity for all fires to integrate,” explained Spohrer. “We have indirect fire and rotor wing combining to maximize the effects of our capability and to support a (notional) ground unit’s scheme of maneuver.”
A native of St. Amant, La., and 10-year veteran of the Corps, Spohrer has worked with reserve forces before. During Hurricane Katrina in 2005, while visiting his family on leave, he volunteered to assist the Louisiana National Guard, flying on search and rescue missions in and around New Orleans.
“This kind of exercise here gives everyone the opportunity to work together,” said Spohrer. “Whether active or reserve, we’re all on the same team, doing the same thing.”