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After getting a fire mission call, Marines with 2nd Platoon, India Battery, 3rd Battalion, 12th Marines reposition a Howitzer at Camp Fallujah on Tuesday morning to coordinates dictated by the fire direction center. The call for artillery was called off moments later.
After getting a fire mission call, Marines with 2nd Platoon, India Battery, 3rd Battalion, 12th Marines reposition a Howitzer at Camp Fallujah on Tuesday morning to coordinates dictated by the fire direction center. The call for artillery was called off moments later. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)
After getting a fire mission call, Marines with 2nd Platoon, India Battery, 3rd Battalion, 12th Marines reposition a Howitzer at Camp Fallujah on Tuesday morning to coordinates dictated by the fire direction center. The call for artillery was called off moments later.
After getting a fire mission call, Marines with 2nd Platoon, India Battery, 3rd Battalion, 12th Marines reposition a Howitzer at Camp Fallujah on Tuesday morning to coordinates dictated by the fire direction center. The call for artillery was called off moments later. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)
Cpl. James Wagner, 21, of Golden, Colo., records information for a fire mission call for artillery. Based on calculations other Marines make in the fire direction center, he records the deflection quadrant, amount of charge to be used, type of propellant, shell and fuse, and calls that out to Marines who then position the Howitzer and fire.
Cpl. James Wagner, 21, of Golden, Colo., records information for a fire mission call for artillery. Based on calculations other Marines make in the fire direction center, he records the deflection quadrant, amount of charge to be used, type of propellant, shell and fuse, and calls that out to Marines who then position the Howitzer and fire. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)
An M-198 Howitzer at Camp Fallujah, Iraq.
An M-198 Howitzer at Camp Fallujah, Iraq. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq — They napped through the night Tuesday, 15 minutes here, maybe 30 there, their slumber disturbed repeatedly as the call for fire missions came across the tactical radio.

It’s rare the Marines of India Battery, 3rd Battalion, 12th Marines step away from their small camp and sleeping quarters set up inside protective concrete Texas barriers — eating, sleeping, showering and exercising within a roughly 50-foot radius from the M198 Howitzer.

“We’re not off, not when we’re down here supporting the missions,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Williams, 32. “We’ve got a duty driver who will make the runs, take our trash or laundry, bring us chow. When we’re here on position, this is it.”

Periodically, a Marine or two will get an hour, maybe an hour and a half, to run to the Morale, Welfare and Recreation tent to log onto the Internet and send e-mails or call home, he said.

Home: That’s about all the groggy Marines of 2nd Platoon talked about Tuesday morning between aborted calls for fire missions, games of dominoes, or insulting one another in jest.

The battery is at the tail end of its seven-month deployment to Iraq, and the Marines are counting the days. As of Tuesday — if all goes well, they cautioned — it was 13 days and a wake-up before they start heading home to Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Their banter was interrupted often Tuesday morning by the squawk of the tactical radio barking out orders in a complex jargon they’ve come to understand.

Cpl. James Wagner, 21, of Golden, Colo., rapidly scribbled information for a fire mission call for artillery. Based on calculations other Marines make in the fire direction center, he records information such as the deflection quadrant and the amount of charge, propellant, shell and fuse to be used and hollers the order to the rest of the platoon already in the process of swinging the mammoth weapon into position.

When he enlisted three years ago, Wagner wanted to be assigned to a tanker unit.

“But they had a need for artillery,” he said. “It’s exciting. I mean, it’s the largest weapon in the Marine Corps. I can’t be too depressed about that.”

A maximum of nine Marines is needed to fire the powerful weapon, but the mission can be done with as few as six — a gunner, ammunition team chief and four to seven others who physically swivel the Howitzer so its barrel points in the right direction.

On Tuesday night, they were awakened 15 times for fire missions, with all but one called off at the last moment. When they do fire, the counterbattery rocks Camp Fallujah. They can hit just about any target, moving or stationary.

Missions are called off for varying reasons — a target can’t be fully confirmed, or the extent of collateral damage is too risky, the Marines said.

Every now and then, they receive a BDA, or battle damage assessment, said Cpl. Aaron Arroyo, 21. It lets them know if they hit the intended target, whether it was a kill, and if there was any collateral damage, he said.

BDAs don’t come often, the Chicago native said, but often enough to keep the Marines pumped.

“Let’s us know we’re not just shooting at dirt,” he said.

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