UDAIRI RANGE, Kuwai -- Marines from Battalion Landing Team 2/2's 81mm Mortar Platoon, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, sharpened their ability to deliver devastating effects on enemy targets through live-fire training here, May 2-3.
The mortar shoot marked only the second time the platoon has been able to conduct live-fire training with its primary weapons system during the MEU's current deployment.
Taking full advantage of the chance to shoot, the Marines established a gun line and sent more than 2,000 rounds streaking down range during the two-day evolution. The total of rounds expended exceeded the amount of ordnance the platoon fired during the MEU's entire six-month pre-deployment training program, said Staff Sgt. Jason C. Thompson, a section leader with the platoon and native of Papillion, Neb.
According to Thompson, refreshing the basic concepts of mortar fire through constant repetition was what the training was all about.
"Shooting mortars is like riding a bike," he explained. "You never really forget how to do it, but you can get rusty without practice."
During the training the platoon fired three types of rounds: high explosive, illumination and phosphorous.
The type of round employed by the platoon's six mortar squads depends on the nature of the mission. High explosive rounds are used to suppress and destroy enemy vehicles and troops, illumination rounds shed sustained light on the battlefield, and phosphorous rounds mark targets and ignite flammable materials.
With these diverse mission capabilities and a maximum effective range of more than six-thousand meters, the platoon serves as a high-powered, internal fire-support asset to BLT 2/2.
"We are essentially the battalion commander's hip pocket artillery," said Thompson.
In addition to honing the Marines' basic mortar skills, the live-fire training provided an opportunity to further ongoing cross-training between the platoon's different elements.
Throughout the shoot, Leathernecks from the platoon's gun, fire direction control and forward observer sections frequently swapped places to further skill diversity among the separate elements.
"Just like any other combat arms (military occupational specialty), you need to know the jobs of the guys to your left and right, because you never know when you'll have to step up," said Thompson.
The wide-open desert terrain here provided an ideal place for the platoon to conduct the exercise, said Lance Cpl. Andrew M. Cunniff, a mortarman from the platoon.
"Here we actually get to see the effects of our fire on the targets," said the Boston native. "We always hear the impacts but rarely get the chance to see them."
The arid climate also gave the Marines a chance to get accustomed to the desert environments they could find themselves operating in during the current deployment or in the future, said Thompson.
Ultimately, the training served to enhance skills and morale among the Marines.
"We love dropping rounds," stated Cunniff. "We get paid to blow things up."
The 26th MEU is currently in Kuwait for a scheduled, two-week sustainment training exercise.
The MEU is in the fourth month of a deployment that began Jan. 6 as the landing force for the Bataan Expeditionary Strike Group.
For more on the MEU, visit www.usmc.mil/26thmeu.