Photo Information

Cannoneers with gun two, Kilo Battery, 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, plug their ears as their M777 Lightweight Howitzer blasts a round down Combat Center?s Lead Mountain desolate terrain Sept.16. The battery conducted a battalion field exercise from Sept. 13 to 19 and a regimental exercise from Sept 20 to 23 known as Desert Fire Exercise.

Photo by Pfc. Michael S. Cifuentes

11th Marines show their big guns

23 Sep 2005 | Pfc. Michael S. Cifuentes

Eruptions took place deep in the Mojave Desert from September 13 to the 23rd. The Earth shook and peace in the desolate region was no longer existent. There were trails left behind from demolishing mobs of nomads that caused the raucous – trails of dust, smoke and markings of fire. The legions that created such havoc came from Camp Pendleton, Calif., and the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif. Their battalions of artillery and their support joined forces at the Combat Center’s training area where they left nothing but destruction.

The 11th Marine Regiment’s 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and Headquarters battalions executed an exercise at the Combat Center’s training area known as Operation Desert Fire-Ex.

Combat Center’s 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, hosted the exercise in their back yard being that it is the largest training area in the Marine Corps.

“The operational tempo of the Global War on Terrorism has prevented 11th Marines from executing live-fire, regimental level operations for the last 10 months,” said Lt. Col. Douglas H. Fairfield, 3/11’s commanding officer.

“The result for [3/11] has been similar. We have not conducted a battalion live-fire operation since May.”

A lot of the regiment’s batteries are currently deployed or afloat thus their battalions didn’t show full strength.

First Battalion conducted battalion operations with a specific focus on command field-testing, using their unit operations center. 1/11 did not have any firing batteries in support of the exercise.

Second Battalion conducted battalion operations in direct support of 5th Marines during the exercise.

Third Battalion and Fifth Battalion conducted battalion operations in the exercise with firing batteries Kilo, Tango and Sierra.

Headquarters Battalion conducted the command-and-control element of the 1st Marine Division’s regimental operation.

Third Marine Air Wing provided assault support for the placing and re-supplying of retransmission station teams for the exercise and close air support during the division phase. Combat Center’s Marine Wing Support Squadron 374 provided a Forward Arming and Refueling Point support for helicopter operations at the Expeditionary Air Field.

The exercise allowed Combat Center’s Kilo Battery, 3/11, Marines and Sailors to train to each of the mission essential tasks that make up the battalion’s MET list, which is to deploy tactical forces; conduct fire support coordination; conduct indirect fire; perform logistics and combat service support; and exercise command and control.

The purpose of the mission was to conduct challenging standards-based artillery training to provide timely and accurate support of Division units.

Kilo Battery also continued its M777 Lightweight Howitzer training in preparation for deployment. 3/11 couldn’t afford to exercise its tactical, direct support mission in support of an infantry regiment during the 2005 [fiscal year],  said Fairfield. Operation DESFIREX serves as the battalion’s sole opportunity to do so.

“It’s very important the we incorporate previous exercise lessons learned and maximize the training opportunity of DESFIREX since this may be the last opportunity to train with our 11th Marines higher headquarters for the foreseeable future,” continued Fairfield. “It may also be the last training opportunity in the foreseeable future that we conduct direct support fires to the [Combat Center’s 7th Marine Regiment] with logistical support provided by Combat Logistics Battalion 7. In order to accomplish this, battery commanders and section heads must focus on executing the acknowledged artillery training and readiness manual tasks while ensuring all rounds impact safely and on target.”

On Sept. 13, Marines and Sailors departed Mainside in a tactical mindset, while understanding the plan, focusing on the mission and avoiding complacency.

The exercise was broken down into two primary phases: the battalion phase and the regimental phase.

In the battalion phase, sufficient opportunity was given to conduct battalion-level training while exercising command-and-control procedures. This provided support for the Joint Terminal Attack Controller training package, a technique combining and coordinating firing support from air and ground forces. The phases also conducted rehearsal for the Division phase.

During the first phase, 3/11 deployed to Combat Center’s Lead Mountain for firing preparation and began their JTAC training. The battalion moved to the Combat Center’s Cleghorn Pass where they conducted indirect, live-fire missions and set up local security around their perimeter of operation. Mass casualty drills were executed, as well as nuclear and biological chemical warfare drills.

The battalion continued these drills and firing missions throughout the first phase, keeping in the northeast region of the Combat Center’s training area until Sept. 20, when the 1st Marine Division phase began.

The Division phase was the second phase of the exercise. All battalion rehearsals led up to the point where all firing batteries and command units would join forces for fully drawn out artillery missions in support of 7th Marines. Realistic, relevant and safe combined-arms training was put together for both regiments. During the second phase, the entire Combat Center training area was used.

“The exercise was bigger than any regular combined arms exercise here,” said Fairfield. “DESFIREX has been planned for almost a year. It was very important. Even though Iraq is mainly a war on urban terrain, it is very important that we maintain the capability to conduct combined arms operations.”

The Global War on Terrorism will not allow a similar opportunity for some time, and this was the best time for the battalions and regiments to train each of their Mission Essential Tasks. The “Cannon Cockers” executed a series of firing missions that proved 11th Marine Regiment a recognized force of destruction.
Headquarters Marine Corps