CAMP FUJI, Japan - Thirty seconds can be the difference between life, death and victory. One second too late and all could be lost. It is within that demanding time standard that artillerymen must execute their fire-missions in support of the infantry.
Marines with Battery F trained to this high-pressure and rigid standard at the Combined Arms Training Center Camp Fuji Oct. 2, 2013 in support of Artillery Relocation Training Program 13-3.
Marines with Battery F fire an M777A2 155 mm lightweight howitzer Oct. 2, 2013 at Combined Arms Training Center Camp Fuji as part of Artillery Relocation Traning Program 13-3. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Henry J. Antenor)
Battery F is with 2nd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, currently assigned to 3rd Bn., 12th Marines, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force.
On the gunline, the fast-paced process of a fire mission begins with an order issued over the radio via Marines from the fire direction center, or what could be seen as the nerve center of an artillery battery.
For gun one of Battery F, that order is issued to Lance Cpl. Austin B. Duane, who relays the message as the Marines assigned to the M777A2 155 mm lightweight howitzer spring into action.
“I keep track of everything that happens, like how much ammunition we used,” said Duane. “I keep track of the deflections and the quadrants by writing it down and reporting it to the section chief. Once I relay that to the chief, he verifies if it is safe.”
The deflection determines which way to turn the howitzer left or right, and the quadrant dictates the elevation. These numbers are crucial to keeping the gun on target, and communication between the recorder and the section chief has to be quick and clear in order to avoid making a mistake.
“As a section chief, I am responsible for everybody and the gun,” said Cpl. Kenyun D. Scott. “Lance Cpl. Duane is my right-hand man, writing down everything the FDC says and verifying what I say is correct as well. Then my gunner will turn the gun based on the deflection and my assistant gunner will elevate it based on the quadrant.”
Cpl. Anderson Castano, the gunner for gun one, must react immediately to input the information into the M137A2 panoramic telescope and turn the traversing hand-wheel.
“My sights are going to move, so I realign it with the hand wheel. When the sights are correct the round is going to hit accurately,” said Castano.
Meanwhile, the assistant gunner Lance Cpl. Krystofer A. Harris is altering the quadrant of the gun by using the M138 elbow telescope and elevation hand-wheel.
“I am elevating the tube up and down to increase or decrease the (distance) we are going to shoot,” said Harris. “After I enter the sight, I spin the wheel and make sure the gun is aligned. If I get it wrong, the gun can overshoot or undershoot.”
As Castano and Harris align the howitzer, Lance Cpl. Gabriel Alcantar hauls a 155 mm high-explosive round weighing 110 pounds to the section chief, Scott.
“My job is to get the ammo ready, make sure the fuses go on the correct round, and take it over to the section chief to verify it,” said Alcantar. “I want to make sure nobody is waiting on me, so I do my job as fast as possible.”
After Scott verifies the round with Duane, he orders Alcantar to put the round on the howitzer's feed tray and it is left to Cpl. John J. Stubbs and Lance Cpl. John R. Chiri to load the round. This is through a method known as ramming in which two Marines must ensure the round is properly seated in the firing tube.
“Ramming takes a lot of strength,” said Stubbs. “Once Alcantar places the round on the tray, we place the staff behind it and I'll say ‘ready, drop!' The tray drops and we run it in (to the firing tube). It's a two-man job.”
Once the round is seated and the ramming staff is removed, a Marine loads the charges necessary to propel the round down range.
Lance Cpl. John R. Chiri, left, and Cpl. John J. Stubbs ram a 155 mm high-explosive round into the breech of an M777A2 155 mm lightweight howitzer at CATC Camp Fuji, Oct. 2, 2013 as part of Artillery Relocation Training Program 13-3. Ramming the round is a two-man job, according to Stubbs. It takes a lot of strength and, through teamwork, Stubbs and Chiri are able to load the howitzer quickly. Chiri and Stubbs are field artillery cannoneers with the unit. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Henry J. Antenor)
“I load the powder (charges), open and close the breech, and prime it,” said Cpl. Eric D. Barr, cannoneer two for gun one. “I have to make sure I don't get ahead of myself, like opening or closing the breech when I am not supposed to. A mistake like that can slow us down.”
At this point, Barr has already received the charges from Lance Cpl. Adam J. McPherson, cannoneer three for gun one.
“It's very essential for me to run powders so we can shoot faster, or Barr would have to run back and forth as well as maintain the duties of his job,” said McPherson.
Scott verifies that the correct charge is inside the tube before ordering Barr to close the breech. Scott runs back and forth, looking through the quadrant sights and the deflection sights and shouts to verify with Duane. Scott stands back and looks to cannoneer number one who holds a lanyard, which initiates the firing mechanism.
“As cannoneer number one, I have to pay attention to the rammers and to cannoneer two because I drop and raise the loading tray,” said Lance Cpl. Michael M. Doughty. “The round can't be loaded without me, and the breech can't be closed unless I lift the tray. On the command “stand-by,” I hook the lanyard to the firing mechanism.”
With everything in order and all safety checks completed Scott commands “fire!” Doughty pulls the lanyard, sending the round to its target, bringing a thunderous end to the chaos of man and machine, which had begun 30 short seconds before.
By USMC Lance Cpl. Henry J. Antenor
Provided through DVIDS
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