TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- "Stand by - Fire!" - the command
came over the speakers to the gun line from the fire direction center. The number-one
man pulled the lanyard. Dust boiled up from the ground and the smell of gunpowder
filled the air. The looming howitzer recoiled, sending its round down range.
The Marine Air Ground Task Force 2 desert warriors remained vigilant throughout
FINEX, the final stage of Combined Arms Exercise 9-02, as it came to a close here
Master Sgt. Anthony E. Nicholas, field artillery chief, 3rd Battalion, 10th Marine
Regiment, said CAX has been a great exercise. He said it's the total package.
"As the all-weather, all-capable arm for the infantry, we can lay waste to anything in front of us, given the right logistical and ammunition support, keeping the pilots and
infantrymen out of danger," the Endicott, N.Y., Marine said about the artillerymen
India and Kilo, 3/10's batteries, along with Alpha Battery, which was augmented from 1st
Battalion, 10th Marines for CAX, answered the call for fire throughout the exercise.
"We are the extended arm for maneuver units," Capt. Nelson I. Delgado, commanding
officer, Alpha Battery, said. "We're an integral part of combined arms training - giving them support to take out their objectives and providing markers for aircraft to follow as the uppercut for the maneuver."
The Swansboro, N.C., battery commander said being part of the planning process is
imperative for artillery - to understand the sequence of the battle plan and to make sure
everyone gets their needed support.
"In the last two or three weeks, I've seen levels of progression. These Marines have
really stretched their legs here," Delgado praised.
Pfc. Robert M. Hill confirmed that his first CAX has been a good learning
experience. The Bowling Green, Ky., Alpha Battery artilleryman got to see larger charges than normal while in the Mojave Desert, which he said isn't as bad as he had heard.
Alpha Battery isn't the only unit to benefit from the training here, according to 1st Lt.
Erik V. Orient, executive officer, Kilo Battery, 3/10. He said his Marines have come a long way, since recently returning from deployment with an infantry company. Orient
explained that while on float, the Marines didn't employ their artillery skills.
"CAX has been a good learning experience," the Pittsburgh, XO said. "It's been great for getting these Marines back in the artillery mindset."
As assault amphibian vehicles packed with infantry Marines sped past the heavy guns'
position, battalion surveyors made their way to scout the howitzers' next location.
Sgt. Steven C. Howk, 3/10 survey chief, led his Marines to the site. They already
marked the spot, but went to ensure the guns had safe passage to the next position.
Chief Warrant Officer Gary W. Schmidt, the survey, meteorology, radar and target
acquisition officer for 3/10, said his Marines bring a lot to the battlefield.
"The guns require five elements of accurate predictive fire before they can send rounds
down range: target location and size, firing unit location, weapon and ammunition
information, meteorological information and computational procedures. My 'nomads of
the battlefield' provide three of these," the Wilmington, N.C., Marine accredited.
Gun smoke filled the air from the crack of dawn to the hours of darkness as the
artillerymen fired throughout FINEX using the information Schmidt's Marines provided,
which was processed in the fire direction center and radioed to each gun on the firing
"There is a lot of physics and geometry involved to get the rounds on target," Capt. Erik B. Eldridge, commanding officer, Kilo Battery said. "The Marines here in the FDC take target locations from the surveyors, who serve as forward observers. With that grid they use computers or the 'charts and darts' method to give the Marines on the line their needed settings for putting the rounds on target."
The Keystone, Iowa, commander compared the Marines in the FDC to professional
jugglers because of the amount of information they keep up with and disseminate to the gun line. Eldridge said the battery has many moving parts, but internal communication has been exceptional.
Staff Sgt. John C. Eatmon, Headquarters Platoon, Kilo Battery, said without good comm. the gun batteries can't fire. The Bailey, N.C., communications chief and platoon sergeant, praised his Marines for working so well as a team, getting the antennas set up in less than 12 minutes each time they moved, therefore helping the rest of the battery accomplish its mission with the clear transmissions.
At the end of the day, as CAX 9 came to a close, Eldridge commended his Marines for a
job well done. He told them to take what they learned here and apply it during CAX 10.
Everyone returned safely to Camp Wilson to prepare for a much deserved liberty trip to
When the 3/10 Marines return from liberty, they will once again get in the "desert
warrior" mindset, readying themselves for CAX 10. They will return home to Camp
Lejeune, N.C., after completing the exercise in mid-September.