Breaking out the big guns

19 Aug 2002 | Sgt. Brian J. Griffin 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit

"Firing mission! Grid coordinates one-five-niner!" crackles over the radio.  The words, repeated an instant later, are now yelled by Marines sitting under camouflage netting in the vast landscape of the desert surrounding them.

The Marines instinctively leap from their shade covered seats and position themselves at their appointed location.  As the section chief yells "Load, load, load!" they hurry to place a round in the barrel of their M198 Howitzer.

Training thousands of miles away from home, the dust covered cannoneers of Gun Team Four, Battery C, Battalion Landing Team 3/1, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), test their ability to perform in an environment unfamiliar to them.  For many Battery C Marines, this is the first time they have fired on ranges other than those in Camp Pendleton and 29 Palms, Calif.   

"It's great sustainment training for us," said 1stLt. Spencer Speer, executive officer, Battery C.  "It's a different type of environment here and it's good for us to be able to train somewhere most of these Marines have never been before."

Despite the unfamiliar surroundings, the cannoneers respond without hesitation when the call for fire is heard.  As one Marine places the loading tray at the base of the barrel, another uses a ramming rod to push the round into place, followed by a powder bag to add the 'oomph' to send the round down range.

Making the final preparations on the gun by adding the primer to the firing mechanism that will detonate the powder when triggered, one cannoneer attaches a lanyard to the trigger and waits for the command to fire.

Maintaining their skills by training in unfamiliar terrain is essential for 11th MEU Marines throughout their six-month deployment.  As a crisis-response force, 11th MEU Marines must always be prepared for the call from higher headquarters to conduct real-world missions.  

"The training is good to make Marines remember things and to keep them up to speed with the equipment and prepared for any mission we are called upon to execute," said Sgt. Wilfrido Valenzuela, section chief, Gun Four, Battery C.  "You never know what the mission is going to require us to do.  We have to be ready."

And ready they are when the call "Fire at will!" comes over the radio.  Immediately, the section chief yells "Fire!" and the cannoneers react.

With a quick tug on the lanyard, the primer is ignited.  The powder detonates and the howitzer comes alive, showing its fierce power as the King of Battle.  The weapon cocks back with a thunderous blast that shakes everything, sending a monstrous dust cloud into the surrounding area.

Hurling effortlessly down range, the round whizzes through the air only seconds before arriving on target.  Exploding on impact, the round makes a boom that echoes throughout the desert.

Amazingly, before the first round even becomes airborne, the cannoneers of Gun Four are already standing by with another round ready to be loaded.  As this process continues and more rounds are sent down range to annihilate their intended target, the radio crackles again--  "End of mission!" -- signaling to the cannoneers that another firing mission is complete and they are finished for the day.

Marine Corps News

Colonel Thomas M. Siverts
Commanding Officer

Colonel Tom Siverts is a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in August 1989. He achieved a commission as a Second Lieutenant through the Marine Corps Enlisted Commissioning Education Program following his graduation from the University of Virginia in May 1999. Colonel Siverts has deployed in support of Operations DESERT SHIELD, DESERT STORM, IRAQI FREEDOM, and ENDURING FREEDOM. His other operational deployments include serving with Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 2/8, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU); BLT 3/8, 22d MEU; BLT 2/8, 26th MEU, and Task Force 61/2.

Read Biography

Lieutenant Col. Steven M. Sprigg
Executive Officer

LtCol Sprigg was born in Parkersburg, WV. LtCol Sprigg enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in September 2004 and recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, SC. LtCol Sprigg was selected for the Enlisted Commissioning Program and commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in March 2008. He was designated a Naval Aviator in February 2011 and reported to HMLAT-303 for training as an AH-1W pilot. LtCol Sprigg is currently serving as the Executive Officer for the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit in Camp Pendleton, California.

Read Biography

Sergeant Major Travis L. DeBarr
Sergeant Major

Sergeant Major DeBarr enlisted in the Marine Corps and reported to MCRD San Diego, CA, for recruit training in October 1994.Staff Sergeant DeBarr completed two combat tours in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from September 2005 to April 2006 and again form March 2007 to September 2007. While serving with 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines, First Sergeant DeBarr completed one combat deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom to Helmand Province, Afghanistan, from October 2012 to May 2013. Sergeant Major DeBarr currently serves as the Sergeant Major for the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Read Biography