News: Kings of Battle hone artillery prowess, prepare for Pacific shift
Story by Cpl. James Sauter
POHAKULOA TRAINING AREA, Hawaii — As the sun begins to peak above the horizon, a cold wind blows across a barren wasteland, high in the mountains and hills of the island of Hawaii. Used for military field exercises, the Pohakuloa Training Area sits in a valley between two dormant volcanoes, and is covered in loose rock, dust and inhabited by few species of animal.
On a hill side along the flank of the firing batteries, Headquarters and Service Battery of 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, sets up to provide command and control over the battlespace. Shortly after the day reached noon, the battalion’s officers and staff noncommissioned officers gathered around a ground layout design of the area of engagement against an enemy with capabilities similar to their own.
During the following days, the Marines and sailors of 1st Bn., 12th Marines updated their proficiency in mortar and howitzer shooting drills and applying those skills and techniques to a mock battle scenario during Operation Spartan Fury, Nov. 26 through Dec. 16.
“Spartan Fury is an opportunity to conduct live-fire artillery day and night in order to build upon training we’ve already done,” said Lt Col. Michael Roach, 1st Bn., 12th Marines battalion commander and native of Tampa, Fl. “It’s a chance to do what we do best and that’s to support the Marine Air-Ground Task Force. It also helps us build on the battalion’s maneuver element and prepare for the missions that we might do in the future.”
Once Spartan Fury kicked off, there was very little rest for the Marines and sailors out in the field. The guns would fire and the batteries moved to different locations, sometimes three to four times a day and into the night. During the early morning, thick fog covered the ground and the batteries ceased fire until the fog cleared for a better visual of the impact area. A constant factor the Marines and sailors had to deal with was the harsh conditions of PTA, which made it seem like a combat environment.
“Being out here really gets us exposed to the elements of nature,” said Capt. John McNulty, Charlie Battery commanding officer and native of Lafayette, La. “When you think of Marines, we really thrive when we’re under pressure. When we’re hot or hungry, all those things put pressure on us to perform. We can never realistically recreate what happens in combat, but here we can get out, get tired and safely employ our weapon systems.”
The batteries primarily utilize the M777A2 155mm light howitzer and the 120mm rifled towed mortar system. Every Marine a part of a section was responsible for the efficiency of their gun and had to perform quickly to have their section ready to shoot when the order came to fire.
“The most amazing feeling I get doing this job his the adrenaline rush of getting ready, shooting off a round and blowing things up,” said Lance Cpl. Bradley Bizzle, a 1st Bn., 12th Marines ammo technician and native of Washington, Mich. “The process of firing could only take a few minutes from the time the forward observers call in a mission to the time the section is ready to shoot.”
After the section was ready to fire, the section chief called ‘set’ and waited for the order to fire. When it came, a Marine holding the lanyard cord made a swift rotation with cord and the howitzer exploded, sending a 155mm shell down range. Off in the far distance, a cloud of smoke was seen rising above the earth followed by the sound of impact. Using this one shot as a marker for adjustments if needed, the forward observers called in another mission except this time for the entire battery. The battery’s four guns erupted in a constant barrage of the simulated enemy miles away. When the dust cleared, only craters were left of the destroyed enemy. After the day was done, the batteries packed up and trucked to a new location and repeated the missions until the battle scenario was completed.
“This island that we’re on provides great opportunities for training that you don’t see anywhere else in the Pacific,” Roach said. “We appreciate coming here and we get to work closely with other armed services here, and what we get out of this the most is embarkation from ship to shore and back to ship again. It helps us get back to our expeditionary roots.”