Udari Range, Kuwait -- As they waited for their fire mission to be called May 16, the sun slid down the sky, casting a golden hue across the desolate terrain. Earlier, the cannoneers found refuge from the 120-degree-blistering heat, in the cool shadows of their 5-ton trucks. Now awake from a brief sun-beaten slumber and sipping water, they talked about the day and the training ahead.
The Marines from Romeo Battery, Battalion Landing Team 2/1, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) took to the desert here to practice fire missions, a vital tool in the MEU's arsenal. Eager Mace 01 is the first training exercise since arriving in the Arabian Gulf Region.
Earlier on the way to the range, ghostly swirls of dust
followed the battery convoy deep into the desert. The landscape was barren except for a herd of camels seemingly walking on the edge of the earth where the white-hot sky met the sun-scorched Kuwaiti sands.
That's when the Marines of Gun Team 6 knew the training here would be different from time spent in Southern California among the shrub covered hills of Camp Pendleton or the rocky desert of Twentynine Palms.
"I was thinking on the way out here, (the desert heat) won't be that bad, but as soon as I got off the truck I knew it was," said LCpl. Larry Lambaren, Gun 6, Romeo Battery.
Lambaren, an energetic 20-year-old, from Chula Vista, Calif. normally enjoys talking about his girlfriend back home with boyish enthusiasm. Now, ferocious, bloodthirsty sand fleas and the sun's fiery heat turned his mood to that of a war-weary veteran, staring blankly into the horizon, quietly battling the elements.
Suddenly, the radio bursts, "Gun 6!"
The battery executive officer's voice crackles over the radio with orders to fire, sending the Marines into a whirlwind of urgency. Lance Cpl. Ben Worchel jots down the information that follows. He's the recorder for Gun 6 and responsible for writing the targeting information as it flows from the fire direction center over the "hook".
The nine-man crew responds to the order with intensity carved into their faces as if they were made of stone rather than flesh and bone.
section chief, SSgt. Travis Edwards, stands motionless, watching his Marines prepare the M-198 Howitzer and 155mm rounds they will send streaking across miles of desert sky. His sharp angled, sun ruddied face lacks emotion except for a confident glare masked by his dark sunglasses. The 31-year-old had high expectations for his gun team and with good reason.
For nearly a year, he has molded them into a focused tight-knit group, dedicated to their work. Edwards doesn't worry about them accomplishing the mission, they always do, he said.
"We're pretty tight - everyone knows what to do," said LCpl. Eloy Martinez, 19, Fort Worth, Texas native. "The section chief doesn't even have to yell to get us to work."
He doesn't have to yell, but when Edwards does, his low thundering voice grabs the Marines' attention instantly. The Marines escaped their section chief's wrath as they worked together with the fluidity of a well-coached sports team where each member relies on the other to get the job done. They did this despite having a new member on the team.
This day, LCpl. Arthur Garabedian was added to the crew. He and the Marines from his original gun team were split up, because of a malfunction with their Howitzer earlier in the day. Not an original member, but he was quickly welcomed into Gun 6 as "one of theirs," Edwards said.
Garabedian hadn't fired the Howitzer since school, so Edwards made him the "one-man", giving him the opportunity to pull the lanyard that triggers the howitzer. The thin-faced, slender Connecticut native eagerly slipped into his new role. When the fire mission ended successfully, Garabedian walked with a swagger of coolness and pride.
A staple in Gun 6's success is to familiarize the Marines with several of the gun positions ranging from preparing the rounds to firing the 16,000-pound Howitzer during missions, according to Edwards. He knows first hand that it works.
As a sergeant, Edwards made a career change from the aviation maintenance field and became an artilleryman. He had to learn the different positions of the gun team quickly, he confessed. He knew he would be a section chief and unquestionable knowledge of the weapon system would add to his credentials.
Now, his Marines have learned something from him. To an onlooker, it's evident that his sincere and earnest approach to his job inspires his Marines to do the same.
"We look up to him because he learned all the gun positions and had his own gun in seven months," LCpl. Aaron Pinnetti, 19, Portland, Maine native, said. "He's a section chief that can relate to us."
Successfully completing their fire missions and finishing a day without error, the Marines shed their Kevlar vests and helmets and settled in for the night.
The sun's trailing twilight fell behind the horizon pulling a curtain of star-filled night sky behind it. They huddled near the truck washing down their evening chow with cool water and swapped stories about each other, the Marine Corps, and being a part of Gun Team 6.