Big guns go boom as Marines do heavy artillery training at Fort Bragg
The Fayetteville Observer, N.C.
One Marine hefted a 103-pound round of high explosives.
Five others helped him load and ready the hulking cannon, a M777 Howitzer.
For 30 or so seconds, the Marines waited for their final orders.
Twice each year, Marines from Camp Lejeune travel to Fort Bragg for heavy artillery training.
To the Marines, it's a long awaited trip - a chance to make "bigger booms" than what is possible on the smaller Camp Lejeune.
To Fort Bragg's neighbors, it rumbles windows and scares pets.
Today, that training comes to an end.
Marines will fire the final volleys from their M777 Howitzer cannons about noon, said Marine Col. Cliff Weinstein, commander of the 10th Marine Regiment.
Weinstein thanked Fort Bragg and its neighbors, the latter for their patience during nearly three weeks of training that sometimes stretched into late night.
"This is the only base in the area that has the facilities, the size and the resources," Weinstein said. "This is essential training that we're doing."
Weinstein commands the only Marine artillery force on the East Coast, and his men have been continuously deployed since 2001.
But without the Fort Bragg training, which has occurred regularly for two decades, his troops would not be ready to go overseas.
"This is why they join the military," Weinstein said after a 103-pound explosive landed in Fort Bragg's Coleman Impact Area. "The only way you can do that is by practicing."
Weinstein said he once lived on Fort Bragg and understands that the firing, particularly the night missions, could be irksome to residents.
The training can often be heard for miles, shaking houses and startling homeowners as far away as Fuquay-Varina.
"I have high regard for the people who live here and tolerate us," Weinstein said. "If we could figure out a quiet way to do this, we would."
On the All American Drop Zone on Tuesday, soldiers with L Battery, 3/10 2nd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment readied four howitzers to fire.
Over the past few weeks, the Marines have lived alongside their guns, moving every few days and standing ready to fire anywhere from one to 12 rounds at a moment's notice.
The training is "absolutely critical," said Marine Sgt. Ryan Eaton. But it's also fun.
"I get to shoot 100-pound projectiles way out there and they explode at the other end," Eaton said. "I love it."
Fort Bragg is the only training area where the entire regiment can unload on a single target, he said. The Marines also can fire farther.
"It's essential to what we do," said 1st Lt. Chad Greene, 2nd Platoon leader. "It's the sound of freedom right there."
After the last volleys today, the Marines will pack up their guns and, on Friday, head back to Camp Lejeune.
Officials said they expect to return in about six months.
Staff writer Drew Brooks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.