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05-06-06, 10:14 AM #1
Downtime important for Combat Center’s Mike Battery, 3/11
MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif.(May 5, 2006) -- They’re an artillery battery that can load a 100-pound artillery round into an M777 Lightweight Howitzer, capable of destroying any target up to 18 miles away.
Upon a call for fire, they can execute the mission on a moment’s notice, whether or not their howitzer is hitched to a 7-ton truck. They’re trained proficiently in the field of artillery, as well as in their infantry skills. Their noncommissioned officers are known as great leaders, contributing to their overall expertise in the field.
In the training area is where they reign, commonly known to them as “the field.” But what does this regime of artillerymen do when they’re not in a firing mission?
“My next tattoo is going to be a cyclone of water and fire,” says one to another. “I can’t wait to go home and see my girl on leave,” says another. “You’re expected to take initiative in this battery, but you need to know your boundaries,” says one, counseling another.
The downtime of an artillery battery dominates their time in the field. This is the time when the Marines and Sailors reflect on their past times, whether good or bad. They also talk about their personal lives, become familiar with one another and, more so, counsel and teach each other about their military occupational specialty and their role in the Corps.
Mike Battery, 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, convoyed to Niland, Calif., March 24 in support of a Weapons Tactics Instructions course, a training evolution, which lasted until April 21.
The battery was tasked with providing artillery support for Marine pilots who where attending the aviation schoolhouse.
During this four-week long training evolution, the battery supported the course on several different occasions over nine days. They also executed their own battery objectives, to include enhancing their infantry skills. But most of their time spent in the field was “downtime,” a time when they were waiting for a firing mission.
“Most of the time I try to give a class on the weapon system to the Marines,” said Cpl. Guillermo J. Alvear, a 21-year-old artilleryman with Mike Battery and a Charlotte, N.C., native. “I also include the M198 Towed Howitzer in the classes, since we will be using them on our next deployment to Okinawa [Japan]. Other than knowledge, we try to talk about ourselves.
“It’s important that everyone in each gun section familiarizes themselves with each other because those are the people they will be depending on and living with in the field,” he explained.
For 20 of the battery’s Marines, the training evolution was a first-time experience in the fleet, such Pfc. Valente Polanco, a 19-year-old artilleryman with Mike Battery.
“I like how time goes by fast when you’re in the field,” said Polanco, a McAllen, Texas, native. “It is very rough out here most of the time. We’re always doing something – either working on the gun or talking with each other, and we talk about almost everything. We share a lot of personal stuff without holding back.”
It’s important the Marines relieve some stress when they’re in the field, said Alvear. But aside from giving Marines a chance to connect with one another, downtime is also a time used to counsel Marines who are new to the unit, or need the advice.
“I try to break in the new Marines by counseling them,” said Sgt. Michael E. Gilliland, a 23-year-old artilleryman with Mike Battery. “Downtime is a time to feed off other Marines and see what they’re all about. We can’t let Marines we work with section themselves off from the section. We try to bring them closer to us.
“Downtime can also be like a sit-down session at a psychologist’s office,” said the Chula Vista, Calif., native. “The NCO’s are always willing to share their opinion or give advice to any Marine who’s in need of some.”
There is no predominant conversation in the field during downtime. The conversations do not always have to do with counseling or knowledge, but range from personal stories to what’s going on in the world today. The Marines talk about anything during their free time, said Cpl. Frank S. Cauthorn, a 21-year-old artilleryman with Mike Battery.
“Sometime we have conversations about the most random things,” said Cauthorn, a Manteca, Calif., native. “We had a deep conversation in this section about gangs. Sgt. Gilliland was sharing what kind of tattoo he’s going to get with Sgt. Stone. I was talking about how great our deployment to Thailand was. Some of the junior Marines ask about marriage and having kids. We help each other out with financial advice and about savings plans. There’s never a normal conversation, especially when you’ve been in the field for about four weeks.”
Everyone shared one common interest in the field – what they were going to do on their leave period and who they have waiting for them at home.
“Everyone knows who is married or who has girlfriends because Marines tend to think about them a lot in the field,” said Alvear.
“I have a girlfriend at home who I am planning to see during this [liberty period],” said Polanco. “I think about her just about every day, when I’m not working. We like to exchange stories about our relationships as well.”
Downtime is never wasted in an artillery battery. Most of the Marines and Sailors share the same interest, which lead to similar conversations. Some Marines catch up on learning the weapon system. In all, there is never a dull moment during downtime in the field.
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