FORT DRUM, N.Y. - Indirect fire infantrymen from across 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment "Golden Dragons," 2nd Brigade Combat Team, completed more than two weeks of their semiannual Mortar External Evaluation Program, or MORTEP, Wednesday on post.

The event afforded them an opportunity to certify or recertify on weapon systems organic to the battalion while simultaneously allowing leaders to evaluate each Soldier's skill level, identifying those who are ready to move toward positions of greater responsibility.

"We are a battalion mortar section … (with) 60-, 81- and 120-mm mortar systems," explained 1st. Lt. Doug McFarland, platoon leader with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2-14 Infantry. "For MORTEP, we bring in all 11Charlies (indirect fire infantrymen) from their companies for a combined evaluation."

For many of the indirect fire infantrymen (sometimes called mortarmen), returning to HHC for this event is a homecoming, since all newly assigned Soldiers spend roughly 18 months there before being certified and sent to a line unit.

"I receive all brand-new privates into HHC," McFarland said. "Once they are specialists and have gotten to the position of gunner or assistant gunner, I'll send them down to a 60 section.
"The guys we (send to companies) are well trained."

To achieve the desired training results, McFarland adheres to Army field manuals and training guidance to ensure that regardless of where his mortarmen are sent, they will perform with efficiency and expertise.

"This is where I can evaluate my guys," he said. "I have to consider if my new guys are good enough right now. Are they squared away enough for me to be confident in sending them to a line unit where they will have less supervision?"

Sgt. Adam Gramegna, 4th gun squad leader assigned to HHC, conducted his own crew internal evaluation.

He explained that spending time with his Soldiers makes him a better leader.
"I like to know how they operate," he said. "So (MORTEP) helps me as a leader to know how to deal with (my Soldiers), how to talk to them.

"Are they good under stress? Are they not good under stress? It also helps me identify the gunner who doesn't deserve to be."

Gramegna also said the gunner position, the highest position on a mortar team, is not a rank-specific job. If a Soldier fails to show the motivation to hold that position, he will be replaced.

"Usually, you want your E-4s or your most senior guy to be the gunner," he said. "But if that E-2 or E-3 is outgunning him, I'll move them up quickly."

He went on to explain the diversity of his section and how the range of experience helps everyone grow and learn.

"The way it's set up right now is actually really beneficial," Gramegna said. "I have a guy who has been here for three years helping the guys who are newer. I have a guy (who) recently arrived from Fort Hood (who) has other tips and tricks he can show our newer guys."

In addition to the invaluable training experience that MORTEP provides Soldiers, the event also allowed them to step away from the daily tasks of garrison life and execute the tasks they joined the Army to do.

"They love hanging rounds," McFarland said. "It's great to get a chance to get out here and do our jobs.

"No one likes the admin tasks of being a Soldier back in garrison," he added. "But when we come out here, everything clicks, everything works right. So this is really the time they get a chance to be mortarmen and do the tasks they want to do."