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Cannoneers provided fire during Fallujah push

Marine Corps News

Story Identification #: 200511511131
Story by Lance Cpl. Miguel A. Carrasco Jr.

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq (Jan. 12, 2005) -- During the push through Fallujah, also known as Operation Al Fajr, the Marines of Battery M, 4th Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment, shot off 1,742 rounds from Nov. 8 to Nov. 19, in support of the Marine and Army infantry units in the city.

Upon arriving in the country, the battery’s primary objective was to provide counter fire support for Camp Fallujah, but as the Marines were in the city their mission changed to providing fire support for the Regimental Combat Team 1 infantry units on the battlefield.

“All six howitzers in the battery were up and ready to support the Marines on the ground at any time during the fight,” said Capt. Mark A. Kiehle, executive officer with Battery M, 4/14.

The M198 155mm Medium Towed Howitzer was made to provide field artillery fire support for all Marine Corps Air Ground Task Force organizations. Some of the artillery rounds used during Operation Al Fajr were high explosive, illumination and white phosphorous projectiles.

The battery is a reserve unit stationed in Chattanooga, Tenn., and for most of the Marines this is the first time they have been activated in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“The Marines have transitioned well from being reservists who had civilian jobs to coming to Iraq to do their job as Marines,” said Caylor, 31, a native of Dalton, Ga.

When the Marines in the battery received fire missions and grid coordinates from the RCT-1 fire support coordination center, they traversed and elevated the howitzer’s barrel in the direction it would be fired. The howitzer weighs 15,000 pounds and takes three to four Marines to move it into position.

From getting the proper projectile, charge, and fuse to pulling the lanyard, which fires the weapon, the Marines on the howitzer section, each share a role in making sure the howitzer fires safely and efficiently.

Before getting the clearance to shoot the 100-pound artillery shells down range, the data is checked at least three times before the cannoneers can fire the howitzer.

“As I wait for the okay to pull the lanyard, there is a lot of adrenaline that rushes through me,” said Lance Cpl. Joshua S. Musser, a cannoneer with Gun 3, Battery M, 4/14. “It is the most exciting job on the gun line. It is like pulling the actual trigger on a rifle, and the rush continues even after the last round is fired.”

Once the amount of rounds launched by the howitzer section has been accomplished, their mission has ended and they wait for the next task.

“I always tell my Marines, the three best words a section chief can hear are, ‘end of mission,’” said Sgt. Jason D. Caylor, a howitzer section chief with Gun 3, Battery M, 4/14.

Since arriving in the country on Sept. 9 and until Jan. 6, Battery M has fired 3,557 artillery projectiles, which is believed to be the one of the highest number of projectiles fired in that amount of time by a single artillery battery, since the Vietnam War.

“We have been busy from the beginning, usually we never go more than 48 hours without firing a round,” said Kiehle. “Now that we’ve taken care of things inside the city, the battery’s operations tempo has slowed down.”

Despite being several miles away, many of the Marines in the battery know that they have been able to contribute to the battle.

“There would be times when we would run into the infantry Marines in the chow hall and I would tell them that I am an artillery Marine. They would tell us how in some situations we helped them out,” said Musser, 20, a native of Lawrenceville, Ga. “It is nice to know that we took the lives of the enemy but it is even better to know that we were able to save the lives of Marines in the process.”

“We know we saved lives. A Marine who was pinned down 60 meters away from insurgents called in for artillery fire (dangerously close) to his position and told us ‘he knew that without us he wouldn’t be alive,’” said Kiehle, 30, a native of Los Altos, Calif. “It is exciting to know that even though we are miles away from the battlefield we still were able to contribute.”

The battery has continued to contribute even though the fight in the city has slowed down. The Marines have gone back to providing counter fire support for RCT-1 and have also teamed up with U.S. Army Tactical Psychological Operation Teams, which travel inside the city to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Fallujah.

“Whether the mission is to conduct artillery fire missions with the battery or to provide humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people, the Marines have adjusted well. We are doing our job as Marines, and as a Marine it is our job to adapt and over come,” said Staff Sgt. Ken B. Matthews, 42, a native of Chattanooga, Tenn., and a Communications chief for Battery M, 4/14.

“In my eight years as a Marine working with both reservists and active duty Marines, this is the best unit I have been able to work with. I would take any of them to my next unit,” said Kiehle.

According to the Internet, the average age of the military man is 19 years old. In the United States, not much is expected at that age and even less is given, but in the Marine Corps they are old enough to make a statement in future history books.

“It has been exciting to be a part of this battery and to have the chance to be apart of history,” said Lance Cpl. Jermel D. Woods, 19, a native of Atlanta, and a cannoneer with Gun 6, Battery M, 4/14. “Not many 19 year olds can say they are apart of history.”

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