Michigan Guard Soldiers conduct MORTEP certification training

Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 125th Infantry Regiment, Michigan Army National Guard conduct Table 5 MORTEP mortar training at the All-Domain Warfighting Center, Camp Grayling, Michigan, August 10, 2020. A MORTEP certifies the Soldiers as a mortar platoon to conduct live fires for maneuver units on the ground during training exercises. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. David Eichaker/released)

Story by Master Sgt. David Eichaker

Michigan National Guard

CAMP GRAYLING, Mich.— Annual training is one of the cornerstones of readiness for National Guard members which maintains and guarantees their skill level in the duties they must be prepared to carry out in a deployed setting. One Michigan National Guard unit continues improving their skills as mortarmen during annual training held at Camp Grayling Maneuver Training Center, located in northern Michigan. This vital opportunity to hone skills that could save lives in combat is even more critical in 2020 because of several weekend drill periods cancelled earlier in the year during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are conducting a Table 5 of MORTEP, which is a certification process for the mortars,” said Sgt. First 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.”

The certification process consists of six tables that must be successfully completed as an annual certification.

“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 and have contributed greatly to the maneuver force. The first mortars were large and heavy, not becoming portable until around the time of the American 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 spending 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 81mm mortar and 120mm cannons, said Withers. “Typically, a mortarman will be exposed to both elements.”

Mortars have many uses and benefits to commanders and troops alike.

“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 in 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 60mm, 81mm, or 120mm rounds. Although smaller in stature compared to field artillery, the Army finds them to be 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 120mm mortars firing for effect will do just that.”

Once Table 5 is complete, the unit will face their 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.”

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