By Airman 1st Class Luke W. Nowakowski, 460th Space Wing Public Affairs
/ Published August 24, 2015
BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- "Fire mission!" comes out over the radio and creates a frenzy in the gun pit, as each Marine moves rapidly into position to fire the M777 A2 Howitzer. Within seconds, a round is loaded and a Marine stands waiting for the command to fire. 'Fire!' the chief yells, after a last glance at the sights. A thunderous boom shakes the ground as the 100-pound round is ejected out of the barrel. Dirt and gun powder fill the air as the other Howitzers on the line follow suit. Miles away, black clouds appear on a hillside identifying where the rounds impacted. Quebec Battery, 5th Battalion 14th Marines, has made its presence known in Guernsey, Wyoming.
Q Battery is a reserve Marine artillery unit staged out of Buckley Air Force Base. Recently, Q Battery, which is made up of over 150 Marines, took to the countryside for three days to train at Camp Guernsey.
"Every single Marine plays a huge role in making those guns go boom," said Gunnery Sgt. Zachary Storrud, Q Battery 5/14 battery gunnery sergeant. "Everyone in artillery needs to be there. It's probably the coolest military occupational specialty in the Marine Corps, because we have 13 to 14 different MOS's that do one job, which is make those guns go boom."
Firing artillery is much more complex than just point and shoot. From fire direction control, to communications, to the gun line, the choreography of artillery takes many men with varying specialties to put rounds down range effectively.
Before a Howitzer can fire, an advanced party must scout out an area that the Marines feel is appropriate to fire from. When the advanced party reaches an area they feel comfortable firing from, they scout the area for any signs of enemy combatants before calling in the guns. Once an area is deemed safe, communications, survey, and fire direction control are set up and await the arrival of the guns.
When the guns arrive on scene, they are brought to pre-determined locations marked with aiming posts which help align the guns. Marines use compasses to correctly place the guns on a line they feel will give them accurate fire. Once in line, they lay the guns in place and ready them to be fired.
Geometry is used to calculate the correct position the gun needs to be in for accurate fire. When a round impacts, a forward observer radios back whether the round was on target or if adjustments need to be made. If the round was off target, data collected from the forward observer will be used by fire direction control to calculate what adjustment needs to be made to the position of the gun, which are radioed to the gun line.
"The howitzers have to get laid on an azimuth of fire and it's done by trigonometry," Storrud said. "Once that's done, then they pick a firing point. After the firing point is done, then they can start getting missions."
As a reserve unit, Q Battery only has an opportunity to fire live rounds a few times out of the year. Because of this, these types of exercises are crucial in keeping the Marines proficient at their craft.
"You always learn something new every time you go out," said Lance Cpl. Ulises Araiza, Q Battery 5/14 cannoneer. "Being in the reserves as a cannoneer, you don't get as much experience as active duty does."
This three-day field-operation in Guernsey came with its challenges for Q Battery. Not only was a new staff directing operations, but many of the reservists were doing jobs they hadn't done before.
"We put new guys in new places," Storrud said. "Anytime you put someone new in a new position or a new billet, you degrade the quality. It wasn't due to the Marines, but due to the new jobs. We can't continue to keep our top dogs in the same positions. You have to rotate guys through so we get a wealth of knowledge."
Although the exercise wasn't as clean as Q Battery would have liked, a lot of insight came out of the three-day field-op.
"I thought some of the pluses were we actually came together as a staff and we're now implementing new procedures for drill dates for when we go out to the field and shoot artillery," Storrud said. "I think it was a good thing that we didn't have the best field-op because we learned as a battery what some of our downfalls were and where we can improve and are now putting in procedures for that."
One of the staff members that helps train the reservists, Lance Cpl. Daniil Kravchuk, Q Battery 5/14 towed artillery systems technician, comes from the Fleet and brings experience and knowledge to the reserve battery. As a 'gun doc,' he is able to give valuable training to reservists whose job is to maintain the Howitzer.
"Coming out here, I like to think I bring experience here that other individuals don't have," Kravchuk said. "I am able to pass that down to the reserve artillery mechanics and teach them and give them real world scenarios they can use and learn from."
Active duty Marines like Kravchuk help to train the reservists and keep them up to speed with what is expected from a Marine artillery battery. Although Q Battery was met with challenges during the exercise, it was apparent these Marines are motivated warriors.
"They are dedicated hard working Marines and they want to be there," said Kravchuk. "The guys out there do go the extra mile, they care about their job. We have fantastic chiefs and fantastic cannoneers. Quebec Battery is dedicated."
Quebec Battery is a motivated, hardworking group of Marines. Despite facing hardships during the exercise due to new positions within the battery and limited time conducting live-fire exercises, the Marines came together and showed they can bring the fight to the enemy anytime, anywhere.