FORT LEWIS, Wash. - The Strykers rolled all but silently across the prairie grass, maneuvering into position. The top hatches banged open and mortar tubes peaked out the top of the MCV-B vehicles. Soldiers swiftly prepared 120 mm mortar rounds to take out multiple enemy targets. The assistant gunner positioned the 35 pound round over the tube and waited for the command to drop it.

"Hang it...Fire!" The crew chief shouted.
The instant the AG let the round go, an ear-splitting crack sounded as the mortar round, engulfed in flame, shot out of the tube and sailed 5,000 feet into the air. Some 20 seconds later, a ground-shaking thud and a rising cloud of dust down range indicated that the mortar had found its target.

Soldiers from 8th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment's reconnaissance troop mortar sections spent the week of May 19 engaged in such activities while in the field being certified on their weapons system.

"It's been a good day," said Sgt. Nguyen Tran, crew chief for B-53, after completing a mission that Wednesday evening. "Everyone really did a great job."

The sections spent Monday practicing and Tuesday completing certification before carrying out a simulated mission Wednesday. The mortarmen fired more than 100 rounds a day, Tran said. Even with a few technical difficulties, Tran was satisfied with his crew's performance.

"We got the rounds out real good," he said.

Every six months the Army requires that 11C Soldiers be certified on the mortar systems and their vehicles. The field exercise was designed to certify the squadron's mortar sections on the RSM6-L system, according to Capt. Andy Kerin, fire and effects coordinator for 8-1 Cav. A scenario-based training was built into the exercise too, "so these guys can get a feel for what it might be like in Iraq when they go forward," Kerin said.

"A lot of the Soldiers have never deployed, so they have no experience over there," Kerin said. "What we wanted to try and do is give them a purpose for why they are going out to the field."

Sgt. 1st Class Van Do, mortar section sergeant, was satisfied with the performance of his Soldiers in their evaluations, but, because most of his Soldiers have not deployed yet, Do wanted them to get a little more out of the exercise.

"My goal was to make sure they understand the difference between getting evaluated and actually doing combat," Do said. "When you get evaluated, it's all about time. In combat, it's a little bit different."

Another purpose for the exercise was to validate a standard operating procedure for crew certification for use at the battalion.
"We're trying to establish a base certification program," Kerin said. "Because we're a brand new unit, none of this stuff was in place, so we're creating it."

The sections shot more than 1800 rounds over the course of the exercise, which, according to Kerin, was an astronomical number for the training. The sheer number of rounds shot meant some tired Soldiers, but that didn't seem to be a problem for 11Cs of 8-1 Cav.

"Any mortarman will tell you they love to shoot - the more the better," Kerin said.

Rachel Young is a reporter with the Fort Lewis Northwest Guardian