News: Battery R, 5/11 ready to put rockets down range anytime
Story by Cpl. Daniel Flynn
CAMP DWYER, Helmand Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan — In the early morning desert heat, a squad of infantry Marines patrols through a seemingly empty field in the southern Helmand Province. Without warning, they start taking heavy fire from a distant compound. To overwhelm the enemy, the patrol leader calls for indirect fire support.
It now falls to three-man teams, manning two High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems with just one mission — to provide precision fires during all weather conditions at any time of day or night.
This is what 2nd Platoon, Battery R, 5th Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, attached to 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, is here to do, according to Sgt. Jeff Witt, a section chief with 5/11.
The Marines of 5/11, stationed out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., are the first active duty HIMARS unit to be deployed to Afghanistan. They are one of only two HIMARS battalions in the Marine Corps, the other being 2nd Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment, which is a Texas-based reserve unit.
There are three platoons strategically positioned in southern Afghanistan to provide fire support for all of the Marine units here. At all times, there is a fire crew on standby at the weapon system in case there is a fire mission, according to Sgt. Luis Mario Barrientos, section chief, 5/11.
The Los Angeles native added that each crew consists of three Marines — a driver, who drives the unit into place for fire missions; a gunner, who keeps an eye out for enemy in the area while outside the wire; and a section chief, who supervises everything to make sure the fire mission goes smoothly.
Once a fire mission is called, it usually takes the crew just minutes before the rockets are ready to be fired. There is more to it than getting the system in place alone. Marines must accomplish several different tasks before the rockets are launched — grid coordinates for the target must be attained and the airspace cleared of traffic, which is coordinated through the Regimental Combat Team 3 fires cell.
With the Marines pushing to have the system ready to strike as soon as possible, the crews are allotted two minutes to get all of their proper protective equipment on and get the HIMARS in position outside of the wire.
"We are here to put warheads on foreheads," said Barrientos, referring to the HIMARS' ability to engage enemy forces with precision.
The HIMARS has a pod mounted on the back of a truck and carries six rockets. The system is about 24,000 pounds in weight, seven meters long, two and a half meters wide and three meters in height.
The HIMARS more than doubles the distance of a howitzer, said 1st Lt. John O'Connell, platoon commander with 5/11.
He added, after a couple more deployments with the system, they will be able to operate it even more efficiently. During their first deployment here in Afghanistan, the feedback they have received from the infantry Marines is all positive.
The Marines on the ground have praised the system's precision, reliability and quick-strike capabilities.
The Marines of 5/11 have their specialty down to a science. Although given a two-minute window during fire missions, they can have the system primed to attack within a minute, and it does not take much more time before all six rockets can be reloaded and ready to fire again, according to Barrientos.
They also employ radio operators so that those on the fire crews can keep in contact with their higher command.
"Working with the HIMARS is just awesome," said Lance Cpl. Travis Roark, a radio operator with 5/11. The Dewey, Ariz., native added, watching HIMARS in action is one of the most amazing experiences of his life.
The HIMARS is a system that is fairly new to the Marine Corps, having only been used by Marines in combat for about two years, yet it is quickly proving its worth.
Barrientos feels he is truly making a difference on the battlefield while operating this weapon system which is used to complement traditional artillery.
With the Marines of 5/11 always ready to put "warheads on foreheads," the infantry Marines on the ground have yet another reason to be confident while conducting combat operations.