MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- “Fire,” the section chief yelled as Marines with India Battery, 1st Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, finished loading an M777 Lightweight Howitzer during a live-fire training exercise here, Aug. 22.
There are seven field artillery cannoneer positions and one section chief. The section chief oversees all the Marines working with the howitzer. He verifies all incoming fire mission data used to confirm target information and ensures the correct ammunition is being loaded into the gun. He must be able to stand back and observe everything that happens and what everyone is doing. He makes sure everything runs smoothly, said Cpl. Patrick Hickey, an assistant section chief with India Battery, 1st Bn., 11th Marines.
“The section chief verifies the rounds, the quadrant deflection and makes sure everything is safe for the gun to fire,” Hickey said.
The section chief of a howitzer must be able to direct his artillery Marines to accurately fire on target to help Marines on the battlefield who need indirect fire support, said Lance Cpl. Philip Morrill, a field artillery cannoneer with India Battery.
Communication between the Marines and the section chief is one of the most important aspects of the job, said Sgt. Ryan Boyd, a section chief with India Battery.
“Communication is crucial,” said Boyd, a native of Quarryville, Pa. “I need to be able to talk to gun one through four, or however many may be out here. I need to have that communication between the fire direction center, whose job is to conduct and send down deflections and quadrants for us to shoot safely.”
Cannoneer one’s job is to open the loading tray for a round to be loaded into the howitzer, said Morrill, a native of Laconia, N.H. When given the command, he pulls the lanyard, which fires the cannon.
Cannoneer two places the rounds and charges onto the loading tray of the howitzer and waits for the chief to verify the correct round and charge issued. After firing each round, he runs a moist swab inside the cannon to cool it down. If the cannon is not cooled down, it has a chance of melting or jamming, causing the gun to become useless until fixed.
Cannoneer three works hand in hand with cannoneer two. He passes rounds and charges from the top of the ammunition truck so cannoneer two can load them into the gun.
In case the artillery Marines are called to conduct multiple round fire missions, cannoneer four makes sure there is always an adequate amount of rounds off the ammunition truck. He makes sure every round has the proper round-and-fuse combination, Morrill said.
The gunner and assistant gunner are in charge of aiming the cannon, said Hickey. The assistant gunner traverses the howitzer left to right, and the gunner elevates the gun up and down.
Other than the chief, the gunner has the majority of the work, Morrill said.
“He’s kind of the right-hand man to the chief,” he added. “He’s entrusted with being able to lay the howitzer in the correct direction in which we need to fire. He accounts for multiple different things.”
Without the gunner, it’s difficult to operate the howitzer because of the workload he deals with, Morrill said.
The recorder keeps track of all the rounds, charges and powders used during a fire mission.
“He probably has the most important job other than the chief,” Morrill said. “Everything essential to firing the howitzer, he keeps a count of it when we’re conducting fire mission, so we can put rounds on target.”
When infantrymen are in a firefight, they can count on the supporting fire of an artillery battery when they are suppressed by the enemy. The team of Marines manning the howitzer must remain composed and work without hesitation to fire rounds with deadly precision, said Morrill.
The Marines of India Battery continue to hone their craft to make their howitzer operational, keep accurate and timely artillery fire on target, and most importantly, support the Marines on the battlefield who need the indirect fire support. When a section of field artillery cannoneers come together, they’ll prove the Cannon Cockers are a deadly force.