MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
Sergeant Miguel Hernandez paces up and down the rows of chairs as Marines frantically compute the location of a nearby enemy threat. The fire direction control is considered the brains of the mortars platoon. With Marines plotting numbers and analyzing graphs Hernandez watches the brain at work.
These Marines are conducting the first part of infantry mortarmen course, while Hernandez, the chief mortar instructor with 1st Marine Division Schools, keeps a close eye on their progress here, Oct. 31.
Hernandez stood in their shoes seven years ago taking the same course. This course is necessary for the Marines because it creates cohesion between the separate sections in the mortar platoon.
“Going through the course originally made me want to teach it,” said Hernandez, a native of El Paso, Texas. “It gave me an idea of how I wanted the course run, and I based my mentorship around that.”
Currently Marines with 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, are attending the class. Hernandez’s job is to ensure the Marines graduating the course can provide fast and accurate fire support when called upon.
“There is a lot riding on my shoulders when I know the information I give these Marines could one day save their lives in combat,” Hernandez said. “I don’t want someone to leave this course without knowing they are prepared to do their job.”
While the FDC is considered the brains, the forward observers are the eyes and the gun line is the muscle of the platoon. Hernandez must make sure Marines are proficient in all three of these before the course is finished.
“My job is important because like any leader in the Marines, I want to train the Marines to a certain standard and then push them to go past that standard,” said Hernandez. “In doing this, we’re creating better Marines.”
The three-week course is designed to give the Marines confidence with all these roles. The final event is a two-day field exercise where Hernandez will work with the Marines to see if they have mastered what he taught them.
“I need to make sure the Marines retained everything they learned,” Hernandez said. “The field training exercise really shows me who mastered the course and who did not.”
During the FDC portion Marines received coordinates from Hernandez, plotted them on a map and translated them into fire coordinates used on the gun line. He constantly patrolled around the classroom and monitored the progress of his students.
Hernandez uses this type of training because it is important to both the experienced Marines and the younger mortarmen.
“I really love getting young and senior Marines and pushing them to the limit of where I think they should be at and beyond,” Hernandez said. “I thoroughly enjoy molding these Marines into excellent mortarmen.”
With two deployments to Iraq and one to Afghanistan, Hernandez has experience to pass on to the younger Marines who come through his course. One thing he considers essential is understanding all the roles of a mortar platoon.
“Marines have to know what’s going on at the other sections in case there are any delays,” he said. “They must have a good idea of what is happening on the other end of the radio.”
After computing data for a week during the FDC portion of the course, Hernandez felt confident in their capabilities to progress to the next section. The next portion will include live fire ranges where the Marines will hone their skills with operating the mortar system.