PHILIPPINE SEA --
PHILIPPINE SEA (Sept. 17, 2020) After the artillery fire fades and the dust settles down, miles away from the impact zone, the Marines settle next to their Howitzers; their faces turned to the heavens to sleep. One Marine stays up. He isn't with the rest; his utility uniform is soaked with sea water, sand cakes his boots. Around him, riflemen take gear from Combat Rubber Raiding Crafts and begin to set up camp. He is miles away from his Marines, but he looks up at the same night sky.
1st Lt. Alex Cervantes, a field artillery officer with Fox Company, Battalion Landing Team (BLT), 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), from Corona, California, graduated May of 2018 from the University of Notre Dame with a Bachelor’s of Science in Aerospace Engineering before deciding to join the Marines. He commissioned in June 2018, his very first salute to his father, Benny Cervantez, who served from 1984-1992. Cervantez is currently serving with the 31st MEU aboard USS New Orleans (LPD 18). He may be a long way from his Marines, but he is also a long way from where he started as an aerospace engineer.
“The aerospace field will always be there, and engineers will always be needed, so I decided to take the opportunity presented to me and serve while I still can. I also wanted to do something in life that can’t be done in the civilian world, and was fortunate enough to get that opportunity by being an artillery officer and then being assigned as chief navigator for the small boat company,” says Cervantez.
An Artillery Battery, equipped with six M777 Howitzers, provides fire support to the battalion. Heading into an operation, an artillery officer first receives instruction from the company commander and fire support team leader, then coordinates with the battalion fire support coordinator to create a fires plan for the Battery.
"I am currently the Fire Support Officer for Fox Company, BLT 2/4. I am the subject matter expert on all land, sea, and air based fires, coordination of those fires, and matching the correct weapon to target. The Fire Support Team (FiST) calls in both pre-planned targets as well as any targets of opportunity based on what the company commander needs to be successful," says Cervantez.
The Marine Corps isn't just about shooting guns and busting down doors. Just like Cervantes, all the Marines have key rolls planning and prepping gear, and drawing up calculations for trajectory and fires. As part of the BLT boat company, he is responsible for being the "man on the ground" for the artillery in the rear, giving real-time adjustments from the front line, and proving key cover for the landing force.
“Engineering courses definitely make you think outside the box as well as learn to ask for help when you need it; there’s no shame in admitting that you don’t understand something and asking for guidance before messing something up,” says Cervantez. “Artillery and fire support planning never have one, solid, correct answer to any problem. There’s a thousand ways to solve a problem, so being able to think quickly, ask questions, and consult everyone’s experience prepared me well for this field.”
Cervantez’ aerospace engineering background has helped shape his leadership style and operational mindset. He used the same principals of creativity, critical thinking and asking questions to improve himself as an artillery officer, and more importantly, help him as a forward assist to BLT when directing fires from the front lines.
“One battery of howitzers can provide enough fire support for the entire BLT. The battery also has a secondary mission set of embassy reinforcement and riot control,” says Cervantez.
Aboard the Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), Charlie Battery focuses on maintaining gun readiness should they be called away. When they are not performing maintenance, they are training for embassy reinforcement missions where they rapidly assemble, fly to an embassy and provide security for the embassy staff and U.S. nationals.
“Expeditionary force in readiness means that no matter the mission, no matter the time of day or night, the MEU is capable of mustering a considerable response in a matter of hours with all that it has to offer,” says Cervantez. “Every Marine from the MEU commander to the most junior Marine is ready to go on whatever mission is called, whenever it is called.”
As the only continuously forward deployed MEU, the 31st MEU can be called upon at a moment’s notice to support a variety of missions anywhere in the world. The MEU is constantly preparing to provide rapid response in the event of any crisis, and the fire support provided by Cervantez and his Marines is no small part of that.
Cervantez reflected on the most inspirational part of his job, bringing it back to his Marines and the opportunity he has been given: “My inspiration in the Marine Corps is watching the junior fire support Marines learn, become proficient, become leaders, and begin instructing the Marines who come after them.”
New Orleans, part of Expeditionary Strike Group 7, along with the 31st MEU, is operating in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations to enhance interoperability with allies and partners and serve as a ready response force to defend peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.