By Ally Rogers, Photo Editor, Belvoir EagleJanuary 26, 2012
The Presidential Salute Battery conducted its quarterly training at Fort Belvoir Tuesday -- firing 75mm blank rounds from four of its 10 vintage World War II era M5 anti-tank cannons.
This unique unit is the only one of its kind, rendering honors to visiting foreign dignitaries and heads of state at the White House, the Pentagon and other area around Washington D.C.
"We fire in honor of the President of the United States and at Arlington National Cemetery for general officer and flag officer funerals for the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps," said Capt. Thomas Gearhart, the platoon leader.
Training at Fort Belvoir is essential to the success of the battery. Since Fort Meyer, the unit's home station, is within the D.C. metro-area and the noise level of the cannons, training is only permitted between the hours of 7 and 8 a.m.
"By coming out here it gives us a much longer period of time that we can train, we can fire more rounds, and overall be better trained," said Gearhart.
During the Belvoir training, the unit conducted a "blank fire crew drill," which is used to train new Soldiers in the various positions of the battery. The battery positions include a loader, gunner, backup loader, backup gunner, whereas the staff positions include battery commander, sergeant of the watch, watchman, assistant watchman, and counter.
"There are a lot of positions (in the unit)," said Private 1st Class Daniel Bayless, a backup gunner. "We need to get out here as often as possible. If we don't little things start to go wrong, like people are late (in firing) or they don't react the way they should."
"It's about muscle memory," he added. "That's what the repetitive training is good for to make sure that you don't have to think about what you're doing and you can just do it."
According to Gearhart the unit trains seven hours a day, every day. This training includes dry fire, where rounds are loaded and ejected without being fired. While this helps perfect their performance, making sure all actions are crisp and precise, the live firing at Belvoir is most realistic.
"With dry fire you don't have the boom," said Bayless. "With the boom it adds a little bit of stress and people seem to get flustered. The other thing with the boom is that the rounds are being counted; with the dry fire it's hard to count a click. Then there's the smoke, which has a visual effect. With the smoke you can't see the (fire signal), you're just looking for any type of movement."
The mortar-men used only 200 of their 300 available rounds to execute their training, performing several 11 Gun Salutes and five Volleys, where four cannons are fired at once. Gearhart explained it was unnecessary to "waste" the extra ammo because the unit had met their training objectives, re-qualifying each Soldier.
"The training went pretty good," said Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Patterson, the noncommissioned officer in charge. "This is the first time we've done this in a couple months, so we had a lot of guys qualify today."
In one calendar year the Presidential Salute Battery executes more than 300 missions. Understanding this busy schedule, Private 1st Class Ethan Durnez said, "We really needed to get out here. We have a bunch of missions coming up so it's good we had this to make sure everyone knows what to do."