NEAR CAMP LEMONIER, Djibouti -- It has been more than six months since Lima Battery, Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 8th Marine Regiment, has been able to send rounds down range from their M198 155mm Medium Howitzers.
On July 13, the Marines of Lima Battery hit the beach and rolled into position at one of the ranges near Camp Lemonier, Djibouti, to start knocking the rust off their powerful howitzers and fine-tune their firing skills.
Once in position, the Marines waited somewhat impatiently for one command to be given, "Fire mission, fire mission, charge five green bag, one round..."
With this fire command, the artillery Marines' morale and motivation seemed to instantly boil over as every Marine scurried into his position to fire the Battery's first round of the deployment.
"It was awesome training," said Staff Sgt. Charles Kilgore, section chief for Gun 3, nicknamed "Payback 9-11."
"It gave us a chance to do what we do best -- shoot, move and communicate," Kilgore said.
The mission of an artillery battery is to provide fire support for units from 13 to 18 miles away depending on the type of charge and projectile.
When an artillery unit receives a fire mission, the gun crews go to work. A recorder is stationed in the back of the seven-ton truck that pulls the howitzer. His job is to write down all information passed from the Fire Direction Center, which includes the type of projectile, the number of gunpowder bags necessary to send the projectile down range and the coordinates for the target. The recorder then relays this information to the other Marines manning the different positions around the howitzer.
As the gunner and assistant gunner aim the artillery piece onto the assigned target coordinates, the powder man gets the correct amount of powder ready to load.
At the same time, three other Marines in the ammunition pit place a round onto a tray and carry it to the gun. They place the tray at the edge of the breach and "ram" the round into the tube.
The powder man hands the propellant bag over to the "number one" man, who actually fires the howitzer. Next, the number one man puts the powder into the tube, closes the breach and places the primer in. Then, he waits for the command to fire, and with a swift pull of the lanyard, the round is sent hurtling towards the target.
"This is the first time I have been the 'number one' man since school," said Lance Cpl. Daniel Schuetze, one of the "Payback 9-11?s" crewmembers. "It was awesome firing before anyone else."
Like any other Marine Corps unit, healthy competition fuels Marines' motivation and Lima Battery is no different. Each gun crew competed to see who was the fastest at placing steel on target and eliminating the threat.
Every fire mission is fair game as Marines pride themselves on their combat proficiency. When a mission is given, whether it is one round or a call for multiple rounds, bragging rights are given to the gun that can send their steel flying accurately toward the target first.
Round for round, "Payback 9-11" consistently led the line and owned bragging rights in Djibouti.
For two days, the unit fired in more than 100-degree Djibouti heat. Many of the Marines said that the training area reminded them a lot of the training area at Marine Air Ground Task Force Combat Center 29 Palms, Calif., which is used for the Combined Arms Exercises or CAX.
Once the artillery Marines' training was complete, they packed up their gear and returned to the USS Carter Hall for some rest, air conditioning and a well-cooked meal.
To learn more about the Marines of Lima Battery and the rest of the 26th MEU (SOC), visit them on the web at www.26meu.usmc.mil.