MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Marines depend on their brothers and sisters by their side to defeat their enemy during firefights. But when they encounter difficulty during the fight, they can rely on long range support from artillerymen operating the M777 Lightweight howitzer.
The howitzer is one of the deadliest weapons used in the Marine Corps. It can effectively fire various types of 155 mm artillery rounds on targets up to 18.6 miles away from the firing position, said Cpl. Edwin Aguinaldo, a section chief serving with Kilo Battery, 2nd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment.
“We can fire illumination, high explosive or white phosphorous rounds up to five rounds per minute, depending on the fire mission we receive,” said Aguinaldo, a native of Kapolei, Hawaii.
When Aguinaldo and his section, or gun crew, receive a fire mission, they must be as coordinated and focused as a football team on the field to fire the howitzer and strike their targets accurately and effectively, Aguinaldo said.
“Each job on the gun relies on every other job,” said Cpl. Daniel Menne, a field artillery cannoneer serving with Kilo Battery and native of Bothell, Wash. “We have to run smoothly in order to meet standards and place rounds down range.”
Forward observers, the eyes and ears of artillerymen who scout the battlefield for enemy targets, locate and confirm the targets for a fire mission. They radio the targets’ grid coordinates to the firing batteries’ fire direction center.
The FDC then calls the fire mission to the gun line, which typically in a firing battery consists of at least four howitzers with a squad-sized crew of Marines per gun. The FDC provides the crews with an angle at which to aim the howitzers, the number of ammunition per mission, a charge for trajectory and a rate at which to fire the rounds.
The howitzer is operated by eight Marines who are supervised by the section chief. The crew consists of the gunner, assistant gunner, recorder and cannoneers one through five, Aguinaldo said.
Upon receiving the call for a fire mission, the crew immediately stops what they’re doing and hurries into place on the gun.
“Being an artilleryman is a tough job, but its fun,” Menne said. “Nothing’s more exhilarating than shooting a 100-pound round out of a cannon.”
The recorder’s job is to instruct the crew on the correct aiming elevation, latitude, round and charge to use for the mission. He also coordinates the fuse time for illumination rounds when Marines need to light the battlefield. The gunner and assistant gunner coordinate with the recorder to aim the Howitzer to the proper quadrant and elevation.
Cannoneer one is in charge of opening the ammunition loading tray. Simultaneously, cannoneer two opens the breach for cannoneer four and five to load and ram the100-pound round into the howitzer’s tube. Cannoneer two then loads the charge propellant and closes the breach. While the Marines execute their job, the section chief quarterbacks the crew by checking each part of the play.
“As the section chief, I verify the information the recorder gives us,” Aguinaldo said. “I make sure we have the right round and charge loaded, and we’re aimed right so we can support the mission.”
After the aim, round and charge has been verified by the section chief, he gives the order to cannoneer one to hook the lanyard onto the firing mechanism and fire the howitzer.
The gun line might seem chaotic and complicated during a fire mission, but through teamwork, Marines are able to effectively support their mission of providing deadly and accurate artillery fires for 1st Marine Division.
“Working as a team is key on the gun line,” Aguinaldo said. “Everyone has to be on the same page because working with this 10,000-pound gun isn’t a one man job."