Gunner testing ensures proficiency

20 Aug 2002 | Gunnery Sgt. Michelle Smith

"You can't hurt 'em if you can't hit 'em," was the response from a Marine mortarman from Camp Lejeune-based 1st Battalion, 6th Marines when asked of the importance of the Mortar Gunner's Exam. 

The Marines of 81 mm Mortar Platoon, Weapons Company, 1/6, currently serving here as part of the Unit Deployment Program, are being tested on the skills needed to function proficiently in their Military Occupational Specialty - 0341. 

Some of the events are timed and set up in four stations. They include removing a misfire, making large and small deflection and elevation changes, referring an alignment of the mortar and firing a searching mission. 

"All the tasks of the test are important to a mortarman," said 1st Lt. Matthew M. O'Donnell, 81 mm Mortar Platoon commander and Glenelg, Md., native.

"The tasks range from seeing how fast a mortar can be assembled and mounted to ensuring it was done safely."

"The Marines are put into 5-man teams and each member is tested on each portion," according to Gunnery Sgt. Charles E. Dykes, platoon sergeant and testing official.

"It's important that each member of a team is proficient in every procedure.  You never know when a Marine will have to take the place of the other."

"This is a fun way to ensure our proficiency," said Rehoboth, Mass., native Lance Cpl. Darren A. Tucker.  "It (the testing) makes us more effective in combat."

The mortar platoon is a valuable asset to the battalion commander.

"The mortar platoon is the commander's major fire support asset.  As such, we have to be able to provide fast, accurate and continuous fires in support of the battalion's rifle companies," said Dykes.

"In addition to maintaining mortar procedures the mortarman must maintain his 0311 (basic infantryman) skills," he said.

"The testing provides a review of basic mortarman gun skills in a non-livefire environment that covers everything the Marines learned from the School of Infantry to their time spent in the Fleet Marine Force," said O'Donnell.  "It's more than a test.  It's an opportunity for the noncommissioned officers to teach the junior Marines the little tricks of the trade - all making them better mortarman and Marines."