Spc. Emilio Bailey, left, and Spc. Ryan Brust, both indirect fire infantryman with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 125th Infantry Regiment, Michigan Army National Guard, make adjustments to an 81 mm mortar while taking part in exercise Northern Strike 24-1 at Camp Grayling Maneuver Training Center, Michigan, Jan. 21, 2024. Northern Strike 24-1 is the winter warfare component of the annual National Guard Bureau-sponsored Northern Strike exercise series. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy)
Spc. Emilio Bailey, left, and Spc. Ryan Brust, both indirect fire infantryman with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 125th Infantry Regiment, Michigan Army National Guard, make adjustments to an 81 mm mortar while taking part in exercise Northern Strike 24-1 at Camp Grayling Maneuver Training Center, Michigan, Jan. 21, 2024. Northern Strike 24-1 is the winter warfare component of the annual National Guard Bureau-sponsored Northern Strike exercise series. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy) (Photo Credit: Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy) VIEW ORIGINAL

CAMP GRAYLING, Mich. - Indirect fire infantrymen, commonly referred to as mortarmen, provide offensive, defensive and retrograde ground combat tactical operational support.

During Northern Strike 24-1, winter iteration, Guard Soldiers with Michigan’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 125th Infantry Regiment, used the cold-weather training exercise to gain better understanding when operating in an Arctic-like environment that enhances our military Arctic region capabilities to deter threats.

“Working in the cold temperatures isn't an enjoyable time,” said Sgt. Shane Vanderhoek, a mortarman gunner. “Everything is just cold, and a lot of our equipment takes longer to start to work.”

Improving cold weather operations and familiarity in an Arctic-like region can add to the cold weather experience, as Vanderhoek noted.

“When you place the base plates in (the ground), we like to dig a little hole so the base plate can settle down easier and it takes longer when the ground's frozen to do that,” he said. “A challenge we thought we might face if the base plate wouldn't actually sink and if the ground was frozen solid, it (mortar) would just bounce up.”

The mortarmen have met other challenges when adapting to the frozen ground.

“The other issue we're facing are the (tripod) legs because they're sitting on ice or frozen ground,” said Vanderhoek. “A couple of times when firing, the legs would slide so we're having people hold the legs each time we’re firing. If we don't, then we're running the risk of the legs sliding out when we're firing, which will cause a round to go somewhere completely different.”

Mortars are suppressive indirect fire weapons with multiple uses such as neutralizing targets, providing concealment with large areas of smoke, and providing illumination or coordinated high-explosive and close and immediate indirect fire support for maneuvering units.

During NS24-1, the troops train during the coldest part of the year. Snow, high winds, and below-freezing temperatures are common at the National All-Domain Warfighting Center as visiting units train in near-Arctic conditions to be better able to meet the objectives of the Department of Defense’s Arctic strategy.

“We are (supporting) the SOF (Special Operations Forces) element that's out here,” said Staff Sgt. Alex Reams, a section sergeant and mortarman with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 125th Infantry Regiment. “We’re coordinating fires with air and artillery (and) echelons of fire and to coordinate with SOF, providing fire for them on whatever objectives they're hitting.”

Mortars can launch illumination rounds that can be used to disclose enemy formations, signal, or mark targets, assisting troops on the ground.

“I have the ability to light up an objective,” said Reams. “If Special Forces are on an objective … maneuvering somewhere … and think they see something 300 meters in front of them, they'll call in for illumination rounds and we’ll light up the area so they can see what's there.

“Night illumination is probably key. … It's such a benefit considering most of the stuff the United States' military likes to do is at night — so it's a big deal,” he said.

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