MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
As classic rock music blasted from a stereo in the Exercise Support Division’s artillery mechanic shop, three Marines and two retired Marine contractors spent endless hours toiling away on the eight artillery pieces they are tasked with keeping mission ready.
Cpl. Cole Shepherd, Lance Cpl. Sam Engebose, Lance Cpl. Mark Holinsworth, Paul Gegenfurtner and Bob Bowman spend their workdays maintaining and preparing their eight M777-A2 Howitzer artillery pieces to keep them ready to check out to various training units which come to the Combat Center to participate in Enhanced Mojave Viper pre-deployment training, nearly 10 times a year.
In addition, if any of the guns break down during training, ESD’s artillery mechanics repair them, sometimes working late into the night to get the guns back into the field to put rounds downrange.
“Units coming to the Combat Center for training can come to our shop, check out our guns … to complete their training,” said Cpl. Cole Shepherd, the artillery mechanic section leader. “It’s our job to make sure the guns are ready for them at any time.”
“Having the guns and equipments pool located aboard the Combat Center saves valuable transportation, time and money for the units and the Marine Corps as a whole,” said Capt. Michael A. Nolan, the ordinance and communications maintenance officer of ESD.
With only five people in the artillery mechanic section, it is quite a chore to keep all eight guns in perfect working condition, said Holinsworth.
However, Nolan said the mechanics do a great job keeping the guns prepared and mission ready.
“It’s pretty amazing they can keep eight guns going given they support so many training evolutions a year,” said the Kennewick, Wash, native.
He attributed part of their success to the mentorship of the two retired Marines, who pass on their intricate knowledge of the weapons systems.
“Between the two of them they have been working in the artillery field longer than some of my Marines have been alive,” said Nolan, explaining their nearly 100 man team is comprised of 90 percent civilian mechanics.
He said the rest of their success is due to the hard work and long hours the crews spend making sure their guns are always mission ready.
“I take a lot of pride in what we do,” said Holinsworth, a native of Fort Gibson, Okla. “We work hard, but it’s nice to know we help support the Marine Corps mission — it gives me a feeling of accomplishment.”