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Hoisting howitzers can be risky business

A Marine totes charge canisters for a howitzer at the live-fire range at Pohakuloa Training Area, Hawaii, July 19, 2016.

WYATT OLSON/STARS AND STRIPES

By WYATT OLSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 21, 2016

POHAKULOA TRAINING AREA, Hawaii — Hoisting a 10,000-pound howitzer cannon into the air can be a nerve-racking affair.

“It never feels easy doing this,” Lt. Col. Benjamin Harrison, commander of the 1st Battalion, 12th Marines, said while watching as one of the Marine Corps’ workhorse helicopters, the CH-53E Super Stallion, hovered above two M777 howitzers at the Pohakuloa Training Area airfield on Hawaii’s big island this week.

Harrison added that there’s a lot at stake when you’re risking injuries and a lot of money by hoisting a $1 million-plus weapon in the air.

The cannons were brought to the island aboard a ship, then hauled by truck to the training area.

The cannon’s weight is at the upper end of the helicopter’s lift capability, and variations in a helicopter’s maintenance life and changes in altitude — the training area is about 6,000 feet above sea level — can make a lift a no-go.

But the Super Stallion did its job, delivering both howitzers for an artillery raid on the edge of the live-fire zone, an apocalyptic-looking bed of twisted volcanic rock, into which artillery batteries fired 24 rounds each.

The drill was part of the Rim of the Pacific exercise and offered a rare opportunity for units from Marine Corps Base Hawaii to operate as an ad hoc Marine Air-Ground Task Force, which combined elements of a heavy helicopter squadron and logistics and artillery battery teams.

“It is absolutely a MAGTF effort to get this done,” Harrison said of the howitzer raid.

olson.wyatt@stripes.com
Twitter: @WyattWOlson

Marine cannoneers prepare to insert a charge into the barrel of a howitzer during an artillery raid at Pohakuloa Training Area, Hawaii, July 19, 2016, as part of the Rim of the Pacific exercise.
WYATT OLSON/STARS AND STRIPES

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