Fire mission!

25 Feb 2001 | Sgt. Andrew D. Pomykal

"I see red!" yelled the gunner as he confirmed the color of the propellant charge bag being loaded into a howitzer.

Seconds later, Lance Cpl. Richard C. Buckson of Charlie Battery, 1st Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment simulated the actions of delivering a 95lb., high-explosive projectile toward a predetermined target miles away.

Had the gun actually fired when he pulled the cord, the Clayton, Del. Marine would not have even flinched when the barrel recoiled violently backward just inches from his body and a resounding "Boom!" ripped through the air. The whole artillery piece would have thrust itself deeper into the muddy ground after hurling the menacing metal round down range. The team would have then hastily prepared to follow it with another.

This was the scene at Tactical Landing Zone Plover where artillerymen from Charlie Battery got an opportunity to practice their "rapid raid skills" here Feb. 21. Three M198 Howitzers were sling-lifted and lowered into position by CH-53E helicopter.

"Raids are different from assaults because they don't require heavy supporting elements," said Capt. Jeffery C. Smitherman, Charlie Battery commander. "It's a capability that we can't exercise enough."

The Marines boarded the helicopter by "stick" assignments on the LHA deck (an aluminum-paneled mock-up of an amphibious assault ship's deck) alongside the New River adjacent to the Snead's Ferry Gate, and were flown with their gun dangling below the "bird" to the firebase.

"It (helicopter insertion) was pretty much standard in Vietnam," said Smitherman of Longview, Texas. "The inherent limitations of a seventeen-thousand-pound Howitzer and a five-ton truck made it the obvious method of insertion."

A potential firebase is swept for enemy forces prior to guns being moved. Gun positions are then marked for pilots with highly-visible florescent air panels, explained Gunnery Sgt. Steve J. McNamara of Waterloo, Iowa.

"Once carefully dropped into place, a ten-man crew should have its gun ready to fire in six minutes under daylight conditions," he added.

That six minutes could be the difference be the difference between life and death for an infantry patrol in a conflict, so the unit takes this training very seriously, said McNamara.