MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif., --
Marines sit around a 7-ton vehicle, laughing and joking, throwing rocks, sleeping, a normal field op for the Marines awaiting orders for a mission. Suddenly, “Fire mission! Fire mission!” comes over the radio. Everyone jumps up and assumes their positions. The gunner and assistant gunner sight in, the powder and round are loaded, the order “FIRE!” comes through the radio and then a loud boom is followed by silence.
Such is the life of an artilleryman. The Marines make sure the M777 howitzer is ready when needed, then sit tight while they wait for an order. Patience is a trait artillerymen must learn. But when the mission comes over the radio, there is no room for complacency.
“It’s intense, gets your adrenaline pumping,” said Australian Army Lance Bombardier Karl McGrith, artilleryman, 1st Brigade, 8/12th, who trained at the Combat Center with Marines.
On average, the M777 howitzer has a 10-man gun crew, each member knowlegable in all roles of the crew, while maintaining their individual responsibility.
“Cannoneers can do any job, so everyone is well-rounded. In case anyone goes down, we can jump in and fill their spot,” said Cpl. Greg Jenkins, an artilleryman for 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment.
The recorder receives the information first, always keeping the radio to his ear to wait for the order to fire. Immediately when the order is called in, he shouts the coordinates out to his team. The gunner and A-gunner then set the howitzer.
A Marine lowers the tray while another loads the round. Others work the breach and put the powder and primer in place. All this is done with the section chief watching over for safety, completion and speed.
In 15 to 20 seconds, the round goes off.
The team is quick, concise and ready at all times, with a rhythm that creates impeccable teamwork.
“If one part gets jacked up, it messes up the whole thing,” Jenkins said.