MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- The siren shrills in the fire direction control center giving the signal for Cpl. Cody Allen’s section to prepare to fire. Allen’s section quickly rushes into action, performing their final checks in preparation for the launch. Seconds later the screeching sound of the high mobility artillery rocket system could be heard echoing across the open plains.
Allen, a HIMARS launcher section chief with 5th Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, conducts a fire support mission devastating their target with superior firepower in support of Exercise Steel Knight 2014 here, Dec. 9.
Steel Knight is an annual exercise that includes elements from the entire I Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF). The exercise focuses on conventional operations and provides realistic training that prepares the Marines for overseas operations.
“This exercise gives our entire regiment a chance to come out here and work together and hone their skills,” said Lt. Col. William Chronister, the 11th Marines operations officer. “These types of exercises prepare not only our entire regiment, but also the entire I MEF for the challenges they might face on deployment.”
As a section chief, Allen is responsible for overcoming the challenges his HIMARS could encounter.
“A lot of work goes into preparing to fire one of these things,” said Allen, a native of Twin Falls, Idaho. “We have to make sure our grid coordinates are correct, all our systems are functional and we have to make sure there is no miscommunication between us and the FDC.”
Allen said mistakes can result in the rockets not firing, ultimately putting the troops on the ground in danger. There is also the chance for mechanical errors, or they can lose communication with their command. Allen and his crew perform drills daily to ensure the HIMARS will fire when called upon.
Allen is responsible for maintaining the system, readiness of the Marines and their multimillion dollar equipment. To prove he was ready to work with the HIMARS, he graduated as the top of his class at the Marine Cannon Crewman’s Course, and was selected to move on to the HIMARS Operator Course.
“This job isn’t always the easiest one,” Allen said. “A lot of stress is put on your shoulders when you’re a section chief especially when you’re in charge of such an expensive piece of equipment.”
He always wanted to be an artillery crewman and he loves what he does, Allen said.
“Before I joined the Marines, I knew that artillery is what I wanted to do,” he said. “Working with the HIMARS and seeing what they bring to the fight gives me a lot of motivation. Knowing my section is a lethal part of the ground combat element is a good feeling.”
The HIMARS system carries six rockets on a five-ton truck, each one of them have the capability to level entire buildings.
“It’s a really remarkable thing to see these things in action,” said Pfc. Fidel Banda, a HIMARS operator with 5th Bn., 11th Marines. “They can really have an impact on the battlefield and reach out beyond the range of conventional artillery.”
After a week of performing fire missions during the battalion phase of the exercise, Allen and his section will progress to the regimental phase. During this phase, they will work more closely with the regimental FDC and with other battalions involved with Steel Knight.