FORT A.P. HILL, Va. -- With a deployment on the horizon for the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 8th Marines, is making the most of a three-week field exercise at Fort A.P. Hill, Va.
The latest training evolution focused on the BLT’s big guns. The Marines of Sierra Battery, wielding their M198 155mm Medium Howitzers, conducted direct fire training at one of the many ranges here.
Traditionally howitzers are positioned with their barrels pointed at an elevated angle and fire indirectly at their targets, which are generally over the horizon and don’t know a round is coming until it’s too late. With a direct fire set up the barrel is lowered so it’s parallel to the ground and fired straight at the enemy who is generally within a mile of the gun emplacement.
”Rather than have the howitzer positioned to use indirect fire which is shooting several kilometers away,” said 2nd Lt. William Soucie, battery executive officer. “You depress the tube to a zero elevation for instance and you are able to engage targets coming right at you … you can see the impact. It’s an interesting venture and it’s a good time.”
The Marines fired off, volley after volley, of high explosive and white phosphorous rounds at the various, rusted out hulks of long since retired tanks and personnel carriers that littered the artillery range. The shoot was arranged as if the howitzer position was coming under attack from the direct front and the Marines had to adjust fire to not only shoot, but hit the closer than usual target. The Marines were broken down into their teams so the Marines that fired together during the training would be the Marines that they would fire with during an actual fire mission.
These howitzers have been in service since the 10th Marine Regiment received their first ten in January 1982. Since then many advances have been made to make them as lethal and accurate as possible. The oddity of these direct fire drills is that these guns are capable of accurately destroying targets almost 14 miles away with a conventional 155mm round. The range increases to almost 19 miles if rocket assisted ammunition is used. So, engaging a target that is operating within a mile of the gun position certainly is good training.
“There is no comparison to the training we can do here to Camp Lejuene,” said Sgt. Antonio Beezer, section chief for Sierra Battery. “First of all Lejuene is a little bit smaller and is more restrictive…” “For example…we don’t have a direct fire range at Camp Lejuene so this is the first time that 90% of these Marines have ever done this sort of training.”
The Marines of Sierra Battery will continue training while they are at Ft. A.P. Hill and have yet to be told what role they’ll be playing in the upcoming training cycle, but whatever it is they will be there with the big guns. The BLT is scheduled to pull out of Fort A.P. Hill at the end of the month as they continue their pre-deployment training package.