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Face of Defense: ‘Gun Doctor’ Keeps Howitzers Firing

By Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jovane M. Holland
Marine Corps Bases Japan

HIJUDAI TRAINING AREA, Japan, Feb. 24, 2011 – People who feel under the weather see a doctor. If a dog isn’t feeling well, a visit to the veterinarian is in order. If an M777 howitzer is on the fritz, Marine Corps Cpl. Daniel Rivera is the man to call.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Marine Corps Cpl. Daniel Rivera, left, explains troubleshooting procedures to members of Gun Team 2 in support of the Artillery Relocation Training Program at the Hijudai Training Area, Japan, Feb. 8, 2011. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Jovane M. Holland
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

As a second-echelon artillery mechanic with the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force’s 3rd Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, Rivera is responsible for troubleshooting errors, implementing solutions, and supervising operations to ensure Marines accomplish their mission.

“It’s basically my job to step in if a misfire occurs or the gun isn’t operating properly,” said Rivera, who has worked in his field for three years. “I oversee everything from gun levels and pressure to suspension, breach movements and recoil maintenance.”

Marines qualified to conduct artillery maintenance are categorized into four echelons, Rivera said.

“The members of the gun team are the first on the scene to troubleshoot when there’s a problem with the howitzer,” he explained. “If they can’t solve the problem, I step in. If the damage is beyond my control, the third echelon, heavy ordnance, is called in. When and if the repairs are considered too extensive, then the gun is sent to the fourth echelon, which is basically a repair shop where full maintenance can be applied.”

To qualify as a second-echelon artillery mechanic, Rivera attended the two-month artillery technician course in Aberdeen, Md. The course focused on two main objectives: taking the M777 howitzer apart, then reassembling it piece by piece. In the process, Rivera said, he learned the purpose and importance of each item.

“It’s always easy to take something apart, but when it comes to putting it back together and having to account for each piece, it’s really tough,” the Jacksonville, Fla., native said.

The task took about a month and a half to complete, he added.

Rivera is aided in his troubleshooting by a portable computer that serves as a digital problem-solving companion, hooking up to the digital fire-control system attached to the howitzer and providing step-by-step instructions to aid in maintenance procedures.

However, the computer can’t decipher every malfunction, Rivera said. Sometimes it comes down to trial and error.

“A majority of the solutions I use on a daily basis were learned through on-the-job training,” Rivera said. “Whether or not the computer can aid me in fixing a gun just depends on the situation.”

After more than a dozen exercises and training events, Rivera says he still finds his job intriguing and relevant.

“Even though I did auto mechanic work before I came into the Marines, I never pictured myself working on a weapon this complex and expensive,” he said. “I feel accomplished knowing that my assistance ensures missions go smoothly and the goal is reached every time.”

To the Marines Rivera assists in the field, he is not a distant repairman who steps in only when there’s a problem, but is a valuable asset and productive member of their team.

“Even when the gun is firing perfectly, you can still find Rivera helping load rounds, run errands, whatever we need,” said Marine Corps Cpl. Dennis Price, assistant chief of Gun Team 2. “We consider him just as much a member of the team as anyone else.”

Rivera recently re-enlisted for his second term, and said his job not only is an important aspect of artillery, but also is a non-negotiable asset to the Marine Corps as a whole.

“Without gun doctors, Marines wouldn’t be able to send rounds downrange if they encounter a malfunction beyond their expertise,” he said. “Without rounds pushing out toward the target objective, the howitzer is just an 8,000-pound paperweight.”

 

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