CENTRAL COMMAND AREA OF OPERATIONS -- "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.