FORWARD OPERATING BASE HIT, Iraq -- In the middle of a relaxed game of soccer, the frantic call for counter-fire brings the fun to an abrupt end. While the ball continues to roll, Marines of the 81mm mortar platoon race to their guns and scramble into Kevlar helmets and dusty flak jackets.
“We [the 81mm mortar platoon] can do all types of missions,” said Lance Cpl. Jesse L. Evans, of Clifton Springs, N.Y., a mortarman with Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines. “We fire counter-fire missions against insurgent mortar teams, fire illumination missions, or even mark targets.”
“But, most of what we send down range is high explosive,” continued Evans, who is on his second deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The mission this day was exactly as Evans described -- sending high explosive rounds down range onto an enemy mortar position that was targeting other BLT 1/2 forces in the vicinity of Hit, Iraq.
Among the ranks of the platoon’s many Iraq veterans is Sgt. Jason O. Sackey, who returned to Iraq for a third tour. According to Sackey, the 81s platoon is capable of providing quick, responsive, accurate fire support, all under the watchful eye of a forward observer.
“We always hit our targets,” added Sackey.
Veterans like Sackey, Evans, and Cpl. Raymond C. Ramos pass their knowledge and experience down to the younger, less experienced Marines in the platoon in order to continue their legacy of success.
“Most of what we do isn’t learned in the school house, it’s learned out here in the field,” said Ramos, a Miami native. “We run drills constantly, before we fire, after we fire, even when we don’t expect a mission. When you hear ‘counter-fire’ or ‘get on your gun’, you see people fly every time.”
“I was a gunner last year, now I’m the squad leader, so it’s my turn to teach,” he said through his Caribbean accent.
One of Ramos’ pupils, Lance Cpl. Edward Elston elevates the mortar tube to the desired height as he swivels it into position for the next shot. This Hackettstown, N.J., native trusts in the abilities of the 81mm mortar platoon regardless of situation or mission.
“We can set up our guns in a matter of minutes,” said Evans, who serves as gunner for Ramos’ M-252 81mm mortar. “We can drop out of a (helicopter), set up the gun, drop 10 rounds and be back in the air in just a few minutes.”
For several minutes, the Marines dropped and adjusted their rounds until the call for cease fire was sounded, bringing the fire mission to a halt. After cleaning the mortar and realigning its sights, the Marines have one final task before returning to their game of soccer – prepping another stack of rounds for the next mission.
“I make sure the Marines in my charge are always ready,” said Sackey. “If the grunts on the streets ever run into something they can’t handle alone, they can always call on us.”
The BLT 1/2 is the ground combat element of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), which also consists of its Command Element, MEU Service Support Group 22, and Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 261 (Reinforced). The MEU is in Iraq conducting counter-insurgency operations under the tactical control of the 2nd Marine Division.
To learn more about the 22nd MEU (SOC)’s role in Operation Iraqi Freedom, visit the unit’s web site at http://www.22meu.usmc.mil.