CAMP GRAYLING, Mich. – Members of a Michigan National Guard unit are improving their skills as mortarmen during annual training at Camp Grayling Maneuver Training Center in northern Michigan.
“We are conducting a Table 5 of MORTEP, which is a certification process for the mortars,” said Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Schultz, mortar platoon sergeant, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 125th Infantry Regiment, Michigan Army National Guard. “A MORTEP certifies us as a mortar platoon to conduct live fires for maneuver units on the ground during training exercises.”
Annual certification consists of six tables that must be completed.
“Table 5 is a more advanced phase in which I will be evaluating the platoon,” explained Schultz. “We will actually operate as a section through the Fire Direction Control and not through the squad as this is internally evaluated, where we are actually conducting live fires for processing these missions.”
Mortars have been around since the 15th century. The first mortars were large and heavy, not becoming portable until around the Civil War, where mortars influenced operations and the outcomes of battles. In today’s Army, the mortar requires a small team of experts to function properly.
“The duty of a gunner is to aim the weapon system, and there are a couple of different ways gunners can be used,” said Spc. Andrew Withers, gunner, 1st Battalion, 125th Infantry Regiment, Michigan Army National Guard. “A gunner can typically fire in handheld mode, where you actually squeeze the trigger, while a second gunner could use an aiming site to get on target.”
Withers recently joined the Guard after three years on active duty as a mortarman with the 82nd Airborne Division.
“Right now we have heavy mortar platoons, and that is where you will see 81 mm mortar and 120 mm cannons, said Withers. “Typically, a mortarman will be exposed to both elements.”
Mortars have many uses and benefits to commanders and troops.
“The main goal of these mortars is to be able to provide indirect fires in support of maneuver units,” said Schultz. “We have capabilities to fire infrared illumination, high explosives with various fuses, and red and white phosphorous, which is used for smoke screening.”
The infrared illumination is a valuable resource for troops on the battlefield.
“The infrared illumination has a smaller light, so to the naked eye, you just see a tiny light in the sky, which keeps us from exposing ourselves,” said Schultz. “While wearing night-vision goggles, it actually lights up the whole battlefield and creates a tactical advantage for us as we are not lighting up the entire area giving away our positions.”
“Some of the mission sets we would use infrared for would be forward observers, as we could actually fire an illumination round where there are suspected targets and coordinate our high explosives rounds,” he said.
The unit uses mortars that can pack a punch with 60 mm, 81 mm or 120 mm rounds. Although smaller in stature than field artillery, the Army finds them advantageous to the mission.
“This is all very mobile,” said Schultz. “Another benefit of being a mortarman is that we can shoot and move continuously and faster than field artillery, and mortars are an immediate fires asset to the battalion commander where artillery may have to go up higher levels.
“Our main goal is to take away the enemy’s will to fight, and a platoon of 120 mm mortars firing for effect will do just that.”
Once Table 5 is complete, the unit will face its final assessment to be certified.
“Table 6 is an external evaluation where someone from First Army comes in to evaluate this table,” said Schultz. “Once we pass each table, we are a certified mortar platoon for the next 12 months.”