Exercise Lava Viper: Direct fire training

Exercise Lava Viper: Direct fire training

Marines with Bravo Battery, 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment's "Black Sheep," prepare their M777 Lightweight Towed Howitzer by digging and burying the gun's rear spades during a direct fire training exercise as part of Lava Viper 17.1, a staple in the battalion pre-deployment training on Oct. 16, 2016, at Range 13 aboard Pohakuloa Training Area, Hawaii. Lava Viper Provides the Hawaii-based Marines with an opportunity to conduct various movements, live-fire and tactical, integrating combined arms exercises. Photo by: Lance Cpl. Jesus Sepulveda Torres.

OHAKULOA TRAINING AREA, Hawaii  (October 26, 2016) – Bravo Battery, 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment's "Black Sheep," conducted a direct fire training exercise on Oct. 16, during their annual training exercise, Lava Viper, a staple in the battalion's pre-deployment training, at Range 13 aboard Pohakuloa Training Area. 

Lava Viper is an annual combined arms training exercise that integrates ground elements, such as infantry and logistics, with indirect fire from artillery units, as well as air support from aviation elements. 

Observing from behind the gun line was 1st Lt. Andrew Schafer, the Bravo Battery guns platoon commander with 1st Bn., 12th Marines.

"We were conducting a direct fire shoot, which is part of Exercise Lava viper 17.1," said Schafer, a Southlake, Texas, native. "Direct fire shooting can be used offensively or defensively, depending on the situation. Offensively, if you are in a convoy and a target of opportunity is presented within close range, then we can engage that target without having a forward observer. Usually, we'd have a FO, but in this situation the gun chief would direct the fire mission and lay down fire."

Schafer said in the case of a convoy being attacked, the howitzers can be unhitched from their trucks and redirected towards the assaulting enemy.

"During a defensive maneuver, the gun chief and artillery crew have direct sight of the target and the decision is made to return direct fire using the iron sights on the gun," said Schafer. "We can engage approaching tanks and hostile troops, and then defend our positions using our actual howitzers for a short range weapon."

He said that this type of training is important because it helps enhance the lethality of the battalion and adds a way to respond to attacks while in a convoy.

"At the end of the day, these drills will save your life," said Schafer. "Besides having crew served weapons to assist in protecting ourselves, we now added howitzers and literally turn them into the heavy weapons against short range targets. This training only helps in the Marines being more proficient in their roles on the gun line and I saw a lot of leaders stepping up today helping out their junior Marines."

On the gun line was recently promoted Cpl. Adrian Rojo, an artillery recorder for gun two, with Bravo Battery, 1st Bn., 12th Marines, who was loading, firing and helping his junior Marines with their jobs.

"We fired the howitzers, practicing attack and defense drills," said Rojo, a Havana, Cuba, native. "In simple terms, if the convoy is over run or the infantry needs back up in defending it, we jump out of out of the trucks and we turn the guns toward wherever we can physically see the enemy and fire rounds down range."

Rojo said that artillery units don't have many opportunities to conduct this type of training in Hawaii, and that they take full advantage during Lava Viper.

"I have been a part of multiple Lava Viper exercises and we go all out every time we get to come to this island," said Rojo. "I've gained knowledge and experience during my time here, and now I have the opportunity to share it with my junior Marines. I'd like to see more training opportunities like Lava Viper in the future."

He said he has set goals for his Marines and expects them to work every second on the gun line. Rojo also added that this training is vital for the development of his Marines.

"You can never do enough, you can always do better," said Rojo. "It doesn't matter if you went through every position on the gun; there is still knowledge and experience to gain. The last Lava Viper exercise I participated in I was a private first class. I know what junior Marines will go through and the mistakes they will make. There are new Marines coming all the time and I want every one of them to be able to say, ‘I have done this.' This training is necessary for Marines in artillery field and even more vital for when the day comes to deploy, where these drills could be the difference between life and death."

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