MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – Loud booms echoing throughout Camp Pendleton added to the ambiance of the Marine base April 2-4. The culprit of the noise was gunfire from its Expeditionary Fire Support Systems and impacts from 120 mm mortar rounds.
The Marines of Echo Battery, 2nd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, took the field with the M-327 Towed Rifled Mortar Weapon variant of the fire support system as part of their pre-deployment training. They are scheduled to join 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, as a supporting unit on the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.
Many Marines have heard the sounds of artillery being fired in training or when calling for fire support in combat, but there is more that goes into employing these capabilities – especially when using the mortar weapon system. The gun line is the key to fight.
The purpose of the gun line is to safely and accurately deliver fire support ground units in combat, said Cpl. Brandon Salazar, a field artillery cannoneer and a mortar section chief serving with Echo Battery.
But to be a gun team on the gun line, Marines must be able to work together, have a high level of intensity and be able to communicate under pressure.
“What most people don’t realize is how much teamwork is involved with just firing one round,” said Cpl. Mathew Christman, a field artillery cannoneer and a mortar section chief serving with the battery.
Among the six-man gun team operating the M-327, each Marine plays a unique and important role in order to accurately engage the targets, said Christman, a 25-year-old native of Las Vegas.
Success on the gun line also calls for the Marines in each gun section to move fast when setting up their gun and aiming down range.
“Intensity and moving fast plays a huge part in operating on the gun line”, Christman said. “If you’re moving slow as molasses and not sounding off, you can slow down the whole team and miss the opportunity to save a Marine’s life who needs our support.”
Communication is an integral part of the gun team. The Marines shout commands for fire missions before they fire their mortars to ensure that every member of the gun team understands his duties and can safely implement the standard procedures for their given rate of fire.
“Communication and intensity work hand-and-hand on the gun line,” Christman said. “If you hear a firing mission, yell it back so we know we’re all on the same page.”
When every member of the team is communicating and moving fast, the gun line gets into a bit of a rhythm, said Salazar, a 23-year-old native of Gallup, New Mexico. That’s when teams start successfully putting “rounds down range” – quicly and safely.
“The infantry relies on us to provide that extra bit of fire power in a safe and timely manner,” Salazar said. “We are dropping high explosive rounds on the enemy in their vicinity, so we have to be accurate.”
The Marines of Echo Battery completed their readiness examination and became a deadlier asset for the 31st MEU, leaving small craters in the hills of Camp Pendleton in their wake.
Editor’s Note: The 31st MEU provides a forward-deployed, flexible sea-based Marine Air Ground Task Force capable of conducting amphibious operations, crisis response in the Asia-Pacific area.