Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"The main thing I want to know about is mortars?"

I just got an email from a 17 year old girl who is interested in joining the Army or the Navy. Her main concern is...mortars. I read this and thought, "awww...she's so cute." Why do I think it's cute that a 17 year old girl is concerned about mortars? Something is wrong with me. I wish no one was concerned with mortars...breaks my heart.

Question: When someone asks you if they should join the military what do you say?


Blogger Akinoluna - a female Marine said...

I hate getting that question and I get it ALL THE TIME. I usually tell them to do it though. :)

11/18/2009 01:03:00 AM  
Blogger 13 Stoploss said...

I can't answer your question, or I don't want to. But, as an artillery and mortar observer in my former life (where do you think 13 came from? [mos]), I know all about how mortars and artillery work.

Mortars are a high angle, indirect fire bomb. Indirect because they are fired from a distance unseen by the person firing the mortar/artillery. High angle means that they shoot very high, like an underhanded granny lobbed free throw, as opposed to low angle artillery and Shaq's straight shove of a free throw. While it is true that an expert can place these rounds onto a target, the general notion of firing mortars is that they are widely inaccurate. There are far too many intangibles to take into account for the accuracy of a mortar. As an example, take a straw, and a spitwad. Place a target, like a piece of paper on the ground, about 20 feet away. Instead of shooting straight at it, imagine that you cannot see the paper target, but that someone closer to the target has given you a direction and distance, or a 10-digit grid coordinate to the target. As a mortar, shoot that spitwad straight into the air to try and land on the target. As you fail miserably (or get incredibly lucky), imagine being outside, with environment conditions like humidity and wind that similarly effect the accuracy of the round.

A good observer such as myself (hey, I rarely toot my own MOS horn) can observe the spotting and have a corrected transmission to the mortarmen in about 5 seconds from the first impact. A spot on hit from the next round will take close to 48 seconds after the mortarmen adjust their coordinates (think hang time due to the high angle). However, US Army radar will have already picked up the exact location of the enemy mortar and air assets will be en route.

Kate, as you and I and many others know, the enemy mortarmen will not stick around long enough for a correction. They pester. They lob one or two successive rounds into the air and are packed into their toyota truck praying to Allah that they make it away safely.

The upshot: enemy mortars only kill when a stray round accidentally lands where it is not intended, ie, near some hapless Fobbit doing PT next to nothing important on a base.

Furthermore, most of the mortars being used in Iraq and Afghanistan require a direct hit to inflict real damage. The are between 60mm and 82mm. The mortar tubes for these rounds have a maximum range of around 3000 meters to 5500 meters. If you aren't familiar, 1600 meters equals one mile. But due to the small size of these rounds, the maximum radius for kill is about 5-10 meters, and the maximum radius for damage is 25-40 meters. That means a round can explode 100 meters from you and it will do little more than scare the shit out of you. It might hurt your ears, or kick up some rocks.

Hope this helps. Lemme know if you have any other questions.

- jason

11/18/2009 01:32:00 AM  
Blogger sgtlejeune said...

When people ask me about joining the military, I immediately say to do it. Then I ask why they want to join, do they have a family, what do they want to do in the military, and are they aware of various details most people don't know about. It at least gets them thinking. There is a nearby recruiter who was one of my soldiers when I was a team leader in Iraq. If they are serious about joining, I give them his card.

11/18/2009 03:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tough question. It should also be a multi-part answer based on whether your being asked about generic service or being outside the wire. My answer is usually that you will have some of the best experiences humanly possible ... and maybe some of the worst. The quotation that always comes to mind is Batty's "tears in the rain" dialog from Bladerunner".
Nietzsche probably expressed it best when he wrote “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” I don't want any human being to know the things I've learned and do the things I've done without a HELL OF A LOT BETTER REASON then we've been given in the last 50 years.
After explaining that position if someone still wants to enlist, my answer is Drive On.

11/18/2009 04:11:00 PM  
Blogger Mun said...

I ask them if they know what the military entails. And then tell them, if they want it, I'm making it and no one thought I would. Though I will also say, Big Navy is over my head for another 2 years. And that no one should make that decision for them -- not parents, friends...

11/18/2009 07:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm surprised Akinoluna didn't point out how indispensable the Navy is: any time you need a ride to a fight they're there! And Corpsmen (Thank you).

11/18/2009 08:02:00 PM  
Blogger Greg P. said...

I used to be a mortar gunner - "Indirect fire infantryman" - and then I changed my MOS (reclassified) to combat medic. I never deployed to a combat zone as a grunt, but I've deployed twice as a medic. The first time I came under mortar fire, I had a strange combination of feelings. I couldn't see the mortar gunners but I could tell they were pretty close, so I thought it was our guys shooting outwards, at the bad guys. Then I heard the rounds pass over my head, and I wanted to see where they landed. I was wondering what target was so damned important that our mortarmen would take the unusual and risky step of shooting over my position to strike at. It was just... bizarre!... to realize that the shooters were the bad guys and WE were the target. Even as I was moving to cover, I listened for the sounds of the impacts and automatically calculated the corrections. They shot over and missed, that time, so I knew they needed to drop 100 and fire again. Fortunately, they didn't stick around to try it. Another time, I was on a highway - a nice, flat, wide open space - and came under mortar fire, and realized that they were bracketing us, successfully, and were going to hit us within the next two shots if we stayed still. We moved. That one was especially unnerving because my unit was in armored Humvees but *I* was dismounted, about to run to a casualty. Another medic was closer, so I got to run back to my nice, safe, armored coccoon.

I don't agree with everything that Jason the F.O. wrote, but the upshot is correct: mortars are not a real big threat to most American troops. Our people rarely get hit or hurt by them. The girl who asked you about them, being a girl, would likely (not definitely, but probably) be stationed on a big FOB if she gets deployed, and thus be RELATIVELY safe from that sort of thing.

People ask me about joining the military all the time. I usually respond by asking what they want and what they expect. I tell them the pros and cons, as I see them, and try to debunk the incorrect assumptions. Some of them have joined, and some of them didn't. Just be honest.

11/18/2009 10:11:00 PM  
Blogger Ryan Placchetti said...

I say, "Maybe."

11/19/2009 08:44:00 AM  
Anonymous Marc said...

I tell them in depends on what's more important to them - happiness and intellectual contentment, or being able to make ends meet, and get back on their feet (or "get a shot" for the younger kids who have no other choice).

I love the military, but I cannot ever comprehend myself doing this for 20 years. Just the inane conversations I hear, or the God-and-country conservative perspectives coming from officers, is enough to make a guy pull out all his hair.

11/21/2009 08:45:00 AM  
Blogger CI-Roller Dude said...

Mortars, rockets, RPGs, IEDs, VBIEDs, snipers, mad insurgents with AK=47's, bad leaders, bad KBR food that gives you the shits, sand in your nose 24 hours a day, camel shit smell in the air, hot vehicles, hot weapons you carry all day.

Mortars are very small and random.

12/21/2009 01:29:00 PM  

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