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 M77-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 and beat the hell out of them 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 ready saves the Marine Corps money and time by allowing units to tow the guns versus shipping them from their home bases, said Capt. Michael A. Nolan, the ordinance and communications 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 native of Kennewick, Wash.
He attributed part of their success to the mentorship of the two retired Marine contractors, who pass on their intricate knowledge of the weapons systems.
“They have more years of experience on these guns than some of the Marines have alive,” he said. “They provide a wealth of knowledge and skills which really helps my Marines.”
He said the rest of their success is due to the hard work and long hours the Marines 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.”