TOWNSHEND ISLAND, Australia --
United States Marines are world renowned for their devastating efficiency in combat, their ability to deliver accurate direct and indirect fire, and closing with and destroying the enemy.
That reputation has been earned and upheld throughout the generations.
To ensure that reputation is not tarnished, Marines train around the world continuously, perfecting their skills and preparing for their next combat deployment.
For mortarmen with the 81mm mortars platoon, Weapons Company, Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, the training starts in the School of Infantry, and continues for the remainder of their Marine Corps career.
“Getting good at firing the 81mm mortar system is a challenge,” said Lance Cpl. Samuel E. Robertson, an assistant gunner in 81mm mortars platoon, Weapons Co., BLT 2/7, 31st MEU. “It took three to four months of always wanting to learn. I’m constantly on the gun practicing just making sure I’m good at my job.”
Currently, the 81mm mortar platoon is participating in exercise Talisman Sabre 2011, and spent four days on Townshend Island for a combined arms exercise. Before the Marines started firing, they spent a day preparing their positions and doing drills with the weapons.
Such drills are not only conducted to maintain proficiency, but also to ensure the Marines are prepared for combat deployments.
“Constantly being in the field and working with the weapon system creates that good muscle memory,” said Cpl. Michael Hanna, the squad leader of gun three, 81mm Mortar Plt. Weapons Co., BLT 2/7, 31st MEU. “That way when it comes down to it in real life and people’s lives are in danger, we are able to do our jobs fast and ensure the rifleman are able to close with and destroy the enemy while we suppress them.”
Throughout the training, trust is built between the Marines in each gun team.
“You have to have a huge amount of trust in your team all the way from the squad leader to the gunner, the assistant gunner, and ammunition man,” said Robinson. “The ammunition man has to have the right charge on the round, if he doesn’t the round will either go too far or fall short, and that could cost lives. If the squad leader is not doing his job and checking the data, the gunner could be wrong, which could also cost lives. You have to be able to trust that the Marines you’re working with are doing their jobs the right way.”
During the live fire portion of the joint combined arms exercise, Marines put that trust to the test as they fired 800 mortar rounds in coordination with naval gunfire and airstrikes.
“We can’t let one round go out to late or too early,” said Staff Sgt. Robert L. Gallup, a section leader with 81mm Mortar Platoon, Weapons Co. BLT 2/7, 31st MEU. “Aircraft coming in can’t fly under our rounds like they can with artillery, so the timing has to be exact, accounting for the time it takes for a fired round to hit the target, the time the aircraft has to drop its ordinance, and for us to cease our fires.”
As the Marines conducted the exercise, trust was built between the Australian forces coordinating the fire missions and the Marines executing them.
“I was surprised by how quickly the Australian forces and U.S. Marine Corps integrated,” said Australian Maj. Stuart Seabrook, the senior exercise controller for exercise Talisman Sabre on Townsend Island. “They produced some amazing results coordinating all the assets that were present for the exercise.”
This exercise is a major undertaking which reflects the closeness of the Australian and U.S. alliance and the strength of the military-military relationship.
The 31st MEU is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU and remains the nation’s force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.