MIDDLE EAST --
A common impression of artillerymen is guys pulling triggers on big guns and firing rounds over long distances, but that is only a small part of a job that requires Marines to perform many tasks normally assigned to an infantry line company.
“It takes a lot of muscle, endurance and always being able to think on the fly in order to be artillery Marine,” said Gunnery Sgt. Matthew J. Haugh, battery gunnery sergeant, Bravo Battery, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
The main purpose of artillery is to shoot, move and communicate, which sounds easy, until considering how much effort it takes to break down and then reestablish a battery gun line.
A 7-ton truck drives into position, sand blows from every direction making it almost impossible to see or breathe, yet the Marines of Bravo Battery spring into action. Leaping out of the back of the truck, they quickly unhook a 155mm A777 Howitzer and prepare to sight the gun for accurate firing. Simultaneously a few others dig holes for the support legs or "spades" to dig in when the Howitzer fires.
Two Marines prepare an ammo pit and a powder pit on opposite sides of the truck. Marines then cover any communication wire around their area and dig fighting holes. In a matter of minutes, the gun is ready for action with Marines prepared to load and fire the first round.
"There is much to be done to prepare the gun for a mission, but if the section is working smoothly as a team it takes only a matter of minutes," said Cpl. Dustin A. Berg, cannon crewman, Bravo Battery, BLT 1/9, 24th MEU.
All that is left to do is wait patiently for the command "fire mission." Once this command is announced, the Marines throw on their flak jackets and Kevlar helmets and within seconds they have a round in the cannon and the lanyard, which is what they pull to fire, hooked and ready to go.
"We have to constantly be on our toes out there on the line because at any second we could receive a mission and we have to be ready to fire in no time," said Sgt. Casey Cadet, section chief, Bravo Battery, BLT 1/9, 24th MEU.
On short notice these Marines get their marching orders. They pack up gear, take down the Howitzer, hook it up to the truck, move to another location and start the process all over again.
Occasionally, artillery Marines will have to do a "hip shoot" en route to their new firing location when artillery is needed for immediate support. A hip shoot is when they stop at the first clear area to set up their guns; fire off one round to check aim and make corrections; then the entire battery fires off rounds. The battery quickly packs up and continues on to their scheduled position.
Before a battery can move into position, the new area has to be scouted and prepared. A truckload of Marines, the advanced party, is sent to the new position to reconnoiter and secure the new position. Once secured, Marines place marking posts and a line for the 7-tons to drive into their position and set-up begins.
Artillery Marines may do this several times in one day, including at night, which is dangerous because there are a lot of moving parts and a battery sets up with minimal to no light, said Haugh.
"Although there is a lot of hard work and sweat that goes into our job, the camaraderie and feeling of accomplishment that we have once the mission is completed successfully makes it worth it and keeps us going every day," said Berg.
Aside from gun set-up, these Marines must be proficient in land navigation, security patrols, digging fighting holes and quickly putting up camouflage netting over the truck to conceal their position.
According to Capt. Jason R. Gibbs, battery commander, Bravo Battery, BLT 1/9, 24th MEU every Marine in the battery contributes to the mission one way or another and the job would not be complete without the hard work of each Marine.
"This is my one and only chance at being a battery commander and I couldn't have asked for a better group of Marines, they have proved themselves and I am extremely confident in their abilities as a battery," Gibbs said.