TWENTYNINE PALMS, California --
Crisp, desert air greets the early rising Marines of Alpha Battery, as they prepare themselves and their M777A2 lightweight 155 mm howitzers for the long, draining day ahead. Digging holes for the “feet” of their weapon systems, and moving rounds that weigh near 80 pounds to different areas on the firing line is common during the average day of a cannoneer.
Marines with Alpha Battery, 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, currently assigned to 3rd Battalion, 12th Marines, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, as part of the ground combat element of Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force 4, provide indirect fire for other units during Integrated Training Exercise 2-15 Jan. 31 at Marine Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms.
“If someone downrange needs suppression or something blown up, they call us. Then, we fire on the target to soften it up so they can roll in,” said Sgt. Daniel M. Gehringer, the section chief for gun three in Alpha Battery, 1st Battalion, 12th Marines.
Artillery is providing support for tanks and infantry engaged in the mechanized assault course at ITX 2-15, according to Lt. Col. Neil J. Owens, the commanding officer for 3rd Battalion, 12th Marines. “We are out here in support of everyone that needs it,” said Gehringer, a Largo, Florida, native. “We support everyone from the infantry on the ground to the (helicopters) and jets in the air.”
One of the great things about ITX 2-15 is that it provides the opportunity to incorporate artillery, mortar and other forms of indirect fire in one setting, according to Owens, a Medford, Massachusetts, native.
“Artillery is very important to the overall mission because if we are landlocked, where they can’t call in naval gunfire, and are not close to air support, we are extremely versatile,” said Gehringer. “We can go in pretty much any terrain.”
The ability to train in the terrain at Twentynine Palms gives you the capability to operate anywhere in the world, according to Gehringer.
“The impact areas at Twentynine Palms are large,” said Owens. “This gives us less restriction on mission options.”
Twentynine Palms allows different elements of the MAGTF to work together because of the large training area, according to Gehringer. “(ITX) is great for us because (the different elements always) plan together, but don’t have enough opportunity to train closely in the field (together),” said Owens.
When every element of the MAGTF can support each other it puts the enemy in position to always be engaged by Marines, according to Owens. However, more elements results in more moving parts.
“Complexity brings a lot of friction, and Marines have to adjust,” said Owens. “(ITX) brings all of those factors together.”
The artillery’s cycle of operations always starts with a fire mission, according to Gehringer. They cannot shoot a single round without it.
Forward observers are Marines, artillery and communications personnel, often attached to infantry units, which submit a series of planned targets to the fire directing center for artillery, according to Owens.
“We load the round, then, load different charges dictating how far the round will travel,” said Gehringer. “Simultaneously, the gunner and assistant gunner are laying out the correct deflection of quadrants to hit the correct target.”
After the FDC issues a call for fire it must be confirmed by the battery fire support team before any rounds can be fired, according to Owens.
“Everyone in the MAGTF has a job,” said Owens. “There isn’t a single excess piece. We’re extremely excited to be here at ITX 2-15.”