FORT A.P. HILL, Va. -- The six artillery pieces of Kilo Battery, 3rd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, stood aligned in the high grass of an open field, cloaked from the merciless heat of the noonday sun by camouflage net shelters. The air was still as the Marines of Gun Five waited for the command to shatter the silence and send a 155 mm shell booming down range.
The gunner stood to the right of the gun, the firing cord, or lanyard, pulled taught across his body.
The crew reflexively put their hands to their ears to suppress the imminent explosion of sound.
"FIRE!" squawked the emplacement's radio.
With a smooth, practiced twist of his torso, the gunner pulled the lanyard and the gun leapt backwards, its report splitting the air as white smoke belched from its barrel and the projectile boomed into the cloudless blue sky.
As a part of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit's Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Bn., 2nd Marine Regiment, the Marines and Sailors of K Battery bring an awesome amount of long range firepower that can decimate an enemy more than 18 miles away.
Kilo Battery made use of the extensive training ranges here to practice direct fire with their six M-198 Howitzers at targets in the open in front of the guns.
The unit also rehearsed indirect fires at targets beyond the horizon during a four day field exercise.
During the live fire exercises, the battery's gun crews remained on continuous stand-by as the units fire control personnel created fire missions and relayed them to the waiting emplacements.
While the Howitzer's are the battery's hallmark and specialty, they are not the only weapons the unit brings to the MEU, said 1st Lt. Chris E. Solis, the battery fire direction officer.
He added that while the battery's mission is to provide all-weather fire support to the BLT, today's battlefields often call for the unit to also serve as a provisional rifle company.
Kilo Battery boasts more crew-served weapons and vehicles than a regular Marine infantry line company, making the unit a versatile addition to the three line companies of 2nd Bn., 2nd Marines, he said.
Knowing they could be used in such a capacity, the Marines and Sailors of K Battery have been hard at work here honing basic infantry skills such as land navigation and squad attacks.
"We're jacks of all trades and masters of artillery," said 2nd Lt. Josh K. Byers, the battery assistant executive officer.
Kilo Battery trained here with the rest of BLT 2/2 as a part of the 26th MEU's rigorous six-month pre-deployment training program which will culminate in a deployment in support of the Global War on Terrorism scheduled for early 2007.
For more information on the 26th MEU, go to www.usmc.mil/26thmeu