'Kings of Battle' polish Howitzer proficiency

‘Kings of Battle' polish Howitzer proficiency

Field artillerymen with Charlie Battery, 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, load a round into the M777 155 mm howitzer system after ensuring the round had the correct charge, during Operation Spartan Fury at Pohakuloa Training Area, Hawaii, Feb. 21. Photo by LCpl Nathan Knapke.

POHAKULOA TRAINING AREA, HAWAII (MARCH 8, 2013) - Marines from Charlie Battery, 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment fired live ammunition with the M777 155 mm howitzer system, during Operation Spartan Fury at Pohakuloa Training Area, Hawaii, Feb. 22.

Marines throughout the battalion attached to Charlie Battery before the training exercise started to get the feel of the battery's operation tempo.

"The tempo was very realistic and allowed everyone to get acquainted with the weapon and each other," said LCpl David Bonin, an artil­leryman with Charlie Battery, 1st Bn., 12th Marines, and a native of Buffalo, Minn. "Sometimes conditions and cir­cumstances are rough, but it builds camaraderie because we get through it together."

In cold, rainy and windy weather high in between Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea and the Hualalai volcanic mountains, Charlie Battery unpacked its ammunition, weapons and gear.

Each section had two trucks that hauled supplies from one firing zone to the other. Once reaching the designated firing zone, the section chief aligned the howitzers in the correct position. Section members dug the guns into place, preventing the weapon from moving during firing.

At least two rounds had to be readily accessible immediately after the gun system was in place in case Marines received a fire mission, but there was more work to complete. In each section a camouflage net covered both 7-ton trucks and the back of the gun, where the crew loaded the rounds of ammunition.

After the net was in place, the crew organized the gear in its correct place. Everyone in the crew knew where anything was at all times.

Each section maintained its weapon system during down time, but they also told stories about childhood and missed friends and family.

"No matter the condition or state of morale, everyone is always trying to laugh and stay motivated through times that aren't always fun," said LCpl Luis Ramirez, a motor transport driver with Charlie Battery, 1st Bn., 12th Marines, and native of El Paso, Texas. "Although we like to keep the mood light, when it's time to get down to business, the mood quickly transitions to do our part to get rounds down range."

The section chief commanded sections to start the loading process by calling out "Fire mission." Once the command was given, Marines began working to make the mission a success.

The Marines first collected the ammunition, either high ex­plosives, smoke, illumination or white phosphorus with a certain amount of charge, which helped the projectile soar through the air. A Marine cradled the round be­ing used and set it on the loading tray. Two Marines used a bore rod to push the ammunition up into the chamber, and awaited orders to pull the lanyard for detona­tion. Before the weapon was load­ed, section chiefs double-checked the round type, charge amount, fuse type and target coordinates.

The sections waited until the operations chief gave the command, "Stand by." When the command was given, the section chief raised his hand in anticipation of hearing, "Fire" from the operations chief. Once it came over the radio, the section chief lowered his arm while simultaneously yelling, "Fire!" His gunner pulled a lanyard attached to the gun system, causing an earthshaking boom, hurtling a 155 mm round downrange.

Once the battery was ready to move to a new location, each section packed everything into the truck, leaving the firing location without a trace.

The Marines of Charlie Battery repeated the steps of unloading, firing and loading gear more than five times a day.

"This training allows everyone in the section an opportunity to practice jobs all over the gun," said LCpl Robert Solberg, an artilleryman with Charlie Battery, 1st Bn., 12th Marines, and a native of Hinckley, Minn. "Operation Spartan Fury forces everyone in the battalion to push to be better at the job specialty."

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