WAIOURU MILITARY TRAINING AREA, New Zealand – Mortar blasts rippled through the valley night and day as New Zealand gunners and U.S. Marines completed the three-day mortar trials during Exercise Brimstone here, June 21.
The New Zealand Army hosted U.S. Marines for their annual training and evaluation event held in the winter for gunners with the 16th Field Regiment. Sharp peaks and ridges surrounded the service members, who trained just miles from Mt. Ruapehu, the largest active volcano on the North Island of New Zealand.
The Marine artillerymen from Alpha Battery, 1st Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment are currently partnered with the New Zealanders as part of a joint military exchange called Exercise Galvanic Kiwi. A detachment of New Zealand Army soldiers are training in California while U.S. Marine engineers are building with New Zealand sappers on the South Island of New Zealand at Dip Flat.
Exercise Brimstone, which is part of Galvanic Kiwi, began June 18 in the pitch black night with cold rain falling down. The soldiers and Marines hiked field packs, L16A2 mortar systems, IW Steyr rifles, and ammunition to their firing points a mile and a half up steep terrain.
The resilience of the New Zealand soldiers impressed Marine Cpl. Gabriel M. Gonzales, an artillery section chief with Alpha Battery, 1/11.
“It’s good to know that Marines aren’t the only ones out there training hard,” said Gonzales, a 28-year-old native of Houston.
Upon arrival to their firing points, the gun crews grabbed shovels and worked throughout the night to dig in and construct fighting positions complete with wooden backstops, camouflage netting and dirt parapets.
The next morning, the gun crews received fire missions from the command outpost and lobbed mortars into the mountainside, concluding well after sunset. The troops caught sleep whenever possible, with some staying up for 36 hours or longer.
The rough training helped bring the New Zealanders and Americans closer together, and by the end of the first day they worked smoothly, said Sgt. Robert W. Morgan, an artillery section chief with Alpha Battery, 1/11.
Many New Zealanders helped coach the Marines on their army’s tactics and techniques. Some of the Marines here fired mortars for the first time during Exercise Brimstone, however, it was a learning experience for both units because mortars only entered the New Zealand gunner community within the last three years, said Lance Bombadier Denzel N. Lepua, a detachment commander with 163 Battery, 16th Field Regiment.
Even though the mortars are relatively new to the 16th Field Regiment, the New Zealand gunners taught the Marines everything they needed to know to fire safely and efficiently, added Gonzales. The Marines maintained a positive attitude and hard work ethic throughout the training.
“They’re always willing to carry on,” explained Lepua, a 22-year-old native of Auckland, New Zealand. “They have a lot of charisma. They’re very easy to get along with, and they look ready to fight.”
Galvanic Kiwi is a U.S. Marine Corps and New Zealand Army training exchange designed to enhance interoperability and foster military-to-military relations between the U.S. and New Zealand.