MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- "Hanging on Gun 4. Fire in the hole!"
Fingers burrow deep into ears, jaws clench tightly, and faces contort in anticipation. A hand releases its grip on the mortar round. A bone-rattling explosion erupts from an upward-pointing iron tube known as a M252 81mm Medium Extended Range Mortar.
The Marines and Sailors of 81mm Mortar Platoon, Battalion Landing Team 1/1, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, launch projectiles down-range with a chant. "Steel rain, steel rain. Death from above! From No Love with no love!"
A mortarman grasps another high explosive round and slips it in the tube's now smoking mouth. Once again the gunner sounds his warning. The round swiftly slides toward the firing pin in the bottom of the tube. Another deafening boom sends a shock wave through the crew. The gun line is reining terror onto an impact area some 5,000 meters away.
The section leader calls down the line, "End of fire mission. Let's get moving!"
Crews scurry to disassemble their weapon systems. Firing tubes, base plates, bipods and remaining rounds are loaded into HMMWVs. Each complete system weighs a bulky 90 pounds, and each round adds at least another 15 pounds to the load.
Mortarmen lug their weary bodies onto the trucks as well. Each team clings to their weapons and gear while bounding over rutted roads of northern Camp Pendleton. Dust kicked-up by the convoy sticks to the Marines' sweat and covers everything except a thick gunpowder odor, which will remain long after training ends.
They await another fire mission. When the call comes, the platoon is ready to spring into action -- laying down "steel rain" and providing indirect fire in support of their brothers at arms.
Each gun's ability to put more than 30 rounds on a target nearly 6,000 meters away is why support from a mortar platoon is a valuable asset to rifle platoons. Enemy convoys, fortified areas and hostile forces as a whole stand in peril when mortars are on the scene.
The platoon, whose radio call sign and nickname is "No Love," practiced conducting "hip shoots" during Composite Training Underway Exercise here May 3-6, 2001. The mortarmen continuously move from one firing position to another providing simulated support to rifle platoons on the move.
"This is how we'd be used in actual combat situations," explained Gunnery Sgt. Eddie Lozano, a field artillery direction chief and No Love's platoon sergeant. "We're hauling down roads, stopping when fire support is needed, and clearing the way for the line units. We can set-up and get our first round off within a minute or two. That is what mortars is all about - mobile, fast, accurate and deadly. We are the MEU's hip pocket artillery."
The platoon, which took top honors in the 1st Marine Regiment as a mortar platoon, knows each exercise prepares them for the 1st Marine Division mortar competition in July.
"This exercise had intensity. We were breathing hard, and our blood was pumping - that's realistic training," Lozano told his troops. "This wasn't shooting over and over from a static position. That serves a purpose too, but this gives us the realism we need to get to the next level."
For more information, articles and photos on the 15th MEU, visit http://www.usmc.mil/15meu