Face of Defense: ‘Gun Doctor’ Keeps Howitzers Firing

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.
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.

Artillery Relocation Training Program at the Hijudai Training Area, Japan
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 to enlarge

“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.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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