By Senior Airman Ryan Lackey, 92nd Air Refueling Wing
/ Published November 21, 2017
FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- At the ready
On a brisk October morning, The Marines of Battery P, 5th Battalion, 14th Marines, 4th Marine Division, U.S. Marine Forces Reserve, stood ready at their firing positions in the hills of the Yakima Training Center, WA.
Four artillery gun sections stood camouflaged against the surrounding scrubland, unimposing at a distance; a battery of Marines milled about handling minor tasks and talked amongst themselves as they waited.
“Fire mission! Fire mission!” squawked the radio at artillery gun emplacement two.
“Fire mission! Fire mission!” the team of Marines cried out in unison as they leaped to task, dropping everything else.
The gun section leader, Staff Sgt. Alexx Bullion, Reserve Marine Battery P 5/14 artillery section chief, huddles with the radio operator to receive specifics from the battery’s fire direction center on the number of shots, ammunition type, fuse setting, charge strength, bearing and elevation. The chief relays the directions to the hustling crew and in one swift motion, the Marines of gun emplacement two readied their Howitzer with well-oiled precision.
Fairchild reinforces USMC Battery P
Marine Battery P commenced their latest exercise October 11-14, 2017, one of four live-fire artillery exercises performed each year, in addition to small-arms marksmanship and machine gun training. This most recent display of skill was a direct result of their dedicated training efforts, aided by the support of Fairchild Air Force Base.
“We've been working with Fairchild for the past five years to service the guns, not long after the M777 Howitzer was adopted for use with this unit,” said Capt. Andrew J. Miller, Spokane U.S. Marine Corps support inspector instructor. “We service the guns at the base when possible, because they have the maintenance spaces with the overhead cranes needed to lift the barrels from the howitzers for high-level servicing. It saves us a lot of time and headache it would take to maintain the guns otherwise.”
This support is possible due to service agreements the Department of Defense provides, allowing different service branches and allied partners to assist one another, saving resources, time and money.
“We all fall under the DoD as one military, so the funding also comes from one place and is dispersed according to needs,” said Tech. Sgt. James Williams, 92nd Logistics Readiness Squadron plans and programs NCO in charge. “If Fairchild can support any of our sister service team members, we will do so.”
Battery P lives a significant distance away from a Marine base, so Fairchild fills the gap; supporting them with medical care, continuing education, legal assistance, chapel services and even housing.
"We have a healthy relationship with Fairchild,” Miller said. “We don't have allocation or space for everything here as we are stationed far from the rest of our cloth, so it’s great to have support for our troops and our mission.”
Battery P means business
"Papa Battery is a Marine Core artillery unit that utilizes six M777A2 155 mm lightweight, medium-towed Howitzers,” said Miller. “They have the mission of providing fire support to infantry ground forces down-range, typically the reserve component, but may serve the active component if the need arises.”
An artillery Battery is expected to be self-sufficient when deployed, where each Marine is charged with providing multiple roles as weapon systems crew and fighters to handle missions, security and transport, Miller said.
“These Reserve Marines are highly skilled to operate these weapon systems," Miller said. “Their performance speaks to their level of dedication to the mission, to their personal sacrifice and accomplishments. Their proficiency is amazing if you consider that they only shoot four times a year vs. an active unit that receives significantly more time training.”
Battery P has safely and accurately fired over 2,000, 155mm projectiles during training exercises over the past year, said Gunnery Sgt. Alton Currie, Battery P 5-14 operations chief.
“It was a good exercise. Training readiness standards is our top priority,” Currie said. “Some Marines have stepped up to greater responsibilities as new emplacement chiefs and this was essential training for them, breaking out all our gear and working with it to get ready for the year ahead.”
The breech is opened; the barrel cleared, oiled and made ready for action. The loader lugs a 100-pound, 155 mm projectile to the gun, and has Bullion check the fuze prior to placing it onto the loading slide. A long metal rod wielded by two Marines ram the ordnance into the barrel, propellant charges are added; the breach closed and locked.
A Marine announces the gun is ready to fire. Bullion raises his hand: “Prepare to fire!” he warns, less than a minute after the crew was given the fire mission order.
“Fire!” Bullion ordered with a chopping motion.
The howitzer thundered: firing with a power that quaked the ground, causing the surrounding dirt and dust to fly into the air; the shockwave crashing against the crew and reverberating throughout the firing position.
“Reload!” Bullion ordered -- the firing process began anew.