News: Rocket Artillery Marines fire precision missiles
Story by Cpl. Ned Johnson
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – A pillar of counterinsurgency operations is protecting local civilians and one specialized artillery battery is proving their weapon system does just that.
Marines with Sierra Battery, 5th Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division (Forward), fire a GPS-aided, precision rocket system called the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System in support of Coalition forces in Helmand province.
“We are the perfect counterinsurgency weapon,” said 1st Lt. Daniel Beck, a platoon commander with Sierra Battery. “We provide precision fire that destroys everything you want it to, but causes very low collateral damage.
“The best example is that we have destroyed compounds and the farm animals outside were unharmed,” Beck said.
The 298 mm rocket, which is an M31A1, contains a 196-pound warhead with 51.5 lbs. of explosive that can detonate above the ground, on impact, or deep in a bunker.
In a war often fought around locals and in villages, not causing civilian casualties is an important consideration, which the Marines take very seriously, explained Beck.
“The rocket lands at 88 to 90 degrees most of the time and the fragment is small, which allows us to destroy what we want and leave everything else,” said Beck, a 24-year-old native of Huntsville, Ala.
Precision is not the only thing that makes these Marines so good. Their ability to reach far beyond their firebase makes them even more deadly.
“We have platoons that are spread across bases that cover the entire NATO area of operations,” said Capt. Jeff Curtis, commanding officer of Sierra Battery, who proudly call themselves the Spartans.
The use of multiple platoons is effective, but the range of the missile helps as well. The range of the rocket is more than 80 kilometers or 50 miles.
“With coalition forces here, it is important to be able to support every unit that is out here,” said Beck, a graduate of the University of Michigan.
This includes being one of the first units to fire in support of the 31st Georgian Battalion, one of the newest members of the Coalition forces in Helmand province.
“We want the troops on the ground to know we are there for them,” Beck said. “When that call comes in, it’s usually because Marines are pinned down, and we have the opportunity to save lives.”
Sierra Battery Marines give a lot of credit to the weapon system, but their commanding officer has another explanation for their success.
“The Marines in this battery are great because they have discipline, pride and a strong work ethic,” Curtis said. “Their motivation is incredible.”
The Marines admit they have to be patient, waiting for fire missions to come in, but they use physical training, the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, and individual development to keep their edge, said Curtis, a 33-year-old native of St. Louis.
The Spartans improve their unit and personal skills in their down time, but they also understand the importance of having an “always-ready, war-time mentality.”
“Sometimes we are the only thing that can get those on the ground out of a bind, so we have to be timely,” Beck said.
While the rocket system is GPS-aided, the Spartan Marines use motivation as their guidance and their mission success is always on target.