MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
The Marines of 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, performed the traditional role of an artillery battalion for the first time in nearly three years during their support of 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, from Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., during their Mojave Viper pre-deployment training.
3/11 has been the first unit to return to their primary mission, functioning with battalion-sized strength in support of another unit.
“The core competency of artillery is to shoot and maneuver in support of an infantry or mechanized unit,” said Lt. Col. James C. Lewis, 3/11’s battalion commander and a native of Lincoln, Neb. “The Marine Corps asked for a unit to perform the mission of fire and maneuver, and we accepted the challenge. The battalion is the first to do so in almost three years.”
Lewis said the operation was done to get 3/11 to focus as an artillery unit again.
“We’re making a renewed push for artillery skills in our young Marines and officers,” said Lewis. “An exercise like this has usually been conducted with the strength of only one battery, but now that we have the entire battalion here, we are able to keep other batteries firing and relocate another. The ability of a battery by itself to fire and maneuver is very poor, there are not enough guns to be effective, but with using the entire battalion we are able to.”
Capt. Stephen Ford, battalion operations officer and a native of Gage, Okla., said the battalion is becoming much stronger at their job as artillery thanks to operations such as this one.
“We’re getting better, we train in the field more than any other artillery unit in the Marine Corps I think,” Ford explained. “You can really see that it is starting to pay off. We move faster when we maneuver, and we are getting better and more accurate at calling in fire where, when and however the other unit needs it.”
Instead of just firing to kill, the battalion uses different types of ammunition when supporting another unit, said Cpl. Omar Pena, a section chief with 3/11 and a native of Alliantec, Neb.
The battalion fired several types of rounds from their M777A2 howitzers, said Pena. High explosive, white phosphorous, and illumination rounds were fired throughout this operation. The HE rounds were used to blow stuff up and the white phosphorous to mark targets for air strikes. Illumination rounds can also be used to mark targets on the ground, or the fuse can be set to explode in the air and allow the round to light an area wherever the Marines calling in for fire may need it.
The battalion was able to properly support the exercise by using all the different rounds they had and assist in calling in air strikes as well.
“We’re not just putting rounds on the target, we’re able to also mark areas for fire from the air with our white phosphorous and illumination rounds,” added Pena. “That’s like what you’d see overseas and in a normal CAX (combined arms exercise).”
The battalion is growing stronger in their ability to accomplish their mission by fire and maneuver and is the first one to do so in quite a while, said Lewis.
“Our Marines are doing well out here,” said Lewis. “By the time we’re deployed we will be able to easily go through fire mission after fire mission without any real issues, and be able to better support the unit that needs us when they need it.”