News: US Marines fire artillery in support of combined arms exercise
Story by Lance Cpl. Jose Lujano
SOUTH KOREA - “Fire mission!” is the initial command yelled as the gun line prepares their M777A2 155mm howitzer to fire, making the earth tremble from its booming rounds and engulfing the target area in clouds of smoke, dust and debris.
U.S. Marines with Alpha Battery conducted artillery support to a combined arms live-fire exercise April 17 at Rodriguez Live-Fire Complex during Korean Marine Exchange Program 13-5, which is part of Ssang Yong 13.
The battery is with 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force. The battery is attached to 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd MarDiv, III MEF, and are currently deployed to Okinawa under the Unit Deployment Program. ROK Marines with Battalion Landing Team 71 also participated in the CALFEX.
The intention of staging the CALFEX was to increase interoperability between ROK and U.S. forces, allowing them to interact and practice synchronization between the different elements in the most realistic combat scenarios, according to Capt. John C. Huenefeld II, the commanding officer of the battery.
“It is important for all elements of the Marine Corps to participate in these exercises,” said Huenefeld. “Regardless if one deploys from Okinawa or Hawaii, the nation’s defense has oriented its focus on the Asia-Pacific region. These exercises demonstrate our commitment to our regional allies.”
This training has enhanced the battery’s operational readiness by improving capabilities while working with ROK counterparts, according to Huenefeld.
Prior to the exercise each unit completed several rehearsals of the offensive attack, starting with dry runs and moving on to blank fire.
“When not in a combat deployment, it is unusual to have air support, tracks, mortars, artillery and infantry in the same rumble,” said Sgt. Joshua R. Kopling, a field artillery cannoneer with the battery. “It builds confidence in each element knowing how to work as one powerful unit.”
Communication is key to the success of the exercise, as artillery stops firing when air support takes the sky. The battery waits for the next fire mission after the air space has been cleared.
“It is important to get rounds down range accurately and rapidly,” said Kopling. “Due to constant training our gun can fire a round off in seven seconds. Every round counts, and the more we are able to engage, the shorter the fight for our infantrymen.”
Shoot, move and communicate is the way of life for the battery, according to Kopling.
The U.S. Marines’ endless hard work in attaining their training objectives did not go unnoticed.
“I would stand next to any Marine because I have personally seen their commitment to their fellow friends— us,” said Cpl. Kim Cho, an infantryman with BLT 71.
Besides training, living in two-man tents through the same environment and tough climate developed a certain bond between the ROK and U.S. Marines.
Waking up to frost on their sleeping bags, wearing layers of cold weather equipment, and experiencing rain at the most inconvenient times is a mutual lifestyle the U.S. and ROK Marines related to, helping them create interaction through a language barrier, according to Cho.
The CALFEX illustrates how the annual exercise Ssang Yong supports ongoing U.S. and ROK efforts to strengthen interoperability and combat readiness in both forces.
“During these exercises I see the level of military friendship and understanding that progresses between our nations,” said Kopling. “This exercise is a crucial warfare-fighting tool and truly improves our alliance.”