During Exercise Hamel 2018, the 7th Combat Service Support Battalion (7 CSSB) took part in a combined arms all arms call for fire activity. This was the first of its kind that a combat service support battalion was to take part in. It was also the first time a live fire shoot would be conducted across Army from the Land 121 fleet.
In the lead up to the exercise, selected members of the battalion took part in the all arms call for fire training. The training included theory lessons detailing how the fire mission would be conducted. The following day, a practice was undertaken at the Weapons Training Simulation System (WTTS) facility at Gallipoli Barracks. At the time I honestly thought I would not be selected as I am only a private soldier. I thought the opportunity to participate would be given to more experienced members of the Battalion. Days later I was asked if I would be happy to partake in the activity. I felt privileged to be considered to take part and was keen to be exposed to something new and different from my day-to-day role as a quartermaster at 7 CSSB.
Once deployed into the field environment we conducted many rehearsals, including dry and blank firing. These rehearsals played a major part in ensuring every soldier involved was certain of their roles and responsibilities throughout. The rehearsals included vehicle drivers, members firing 7.62mm Mag 58’s, and members calling in artillery. In the lead up to the live fire activity we conducted three days of training to ensure everyone was ready.
Day one of training consisted of dry firing and mounted ambush drills. Following this we conducted a blank firing practice to make sure everyone was competent on the weapon system and to ensure that members calling in artillery were sure in what they had to cover when calling in the fire mission.
The following day, all members were taken to the location where the live fire activity was to take place. This was to ensure everybody had a full understanding of the area and its surrounds. Concurrent activities performed at the site, such as the siting of targets and blank firing practice, confirmed that all firers could identify the targets from the firing points out of the cupola of the Land 121 fleet and that all vehicles could manoeuvre into their required firing positions.
Additional rehearsals also helped to enforce the firer’s muscle memory on the weapon systems and allowed personnel conducting the activity to understand where they had to be at the required time. For myself, I was shown my position, how I was to dismount the vehicle and where I was to go on top of the feature in order to call in the fire mission. Later in the day, members returned to the live-fire site and met up with the mobile fire controller (MFC) who would be coordinating the firing of the artillery and mortars. Upon meeting with the MFC, the grid references and information that was required for the fire mission were discussed and confirmed to ensure everyone was on the same page and ready to conduct the activity the following day.
On the day, the activity was broken up into serials. Each serial consisted of different members of the battalion conducting different roles. These included drivers, firers of the Mag 58’s and members calling in the fire mission. I was in the third serial of the day and I travelled from Sam Hill airfield to the activity site in a convoy of vehicles that included a protected mobility vehicle (PMV), HX 77’s and 40M’s. Within the convoy, everyone was in patrol order, ready to conduct the mounted ambush drill at the other end; and for me, I was preparing myself to call in the fire mission. The drive to the location was rough and the soldier’s adrenaline was high as everyone was keen to perform the drills they had been practising for days; it was finally time to fire ‘live’.
As we approached the ambush location, a blue smoke signal was set off that indicated ambush left. All vehicles within the convoy conducted the appropriate drill. I dismounted from my vehicle and made my way up the feature to call in artillery and provide supporting fire for the mission. When I reached the top of the hill, I called in the fire mission and watched for the fall of the artillery rounds that I ordered fire upon a defensive fires target. With Mag 58 rapid fire in the background, it was an experience that I, as a Royal Australian Army Ordnance Corps (RAAOC) soldier, had never experienced before. After my objective was complete, I made my way back down the feature, still with covering fire being provided from the mounted Mag 58’s. After the threat was neutralised and the Commander’s intent was achieved, the vehicle returned back onto the route and returned to Sam Hill Airfield.
By 7 CSSB being the first to conduct this live fire combined arms activity, I believe it has shown that combat service support battalions are capable of protecting themselves when required on road moves along main supply routes in war-like and dangerous environments. Also, conducting the live fire activity from the new Land 121 vehicle fleet has proven that these new vehicles bring greater capabilities to both the Army and to the combat service support battalions. From this experience I definitely developed new skills that I will be able to use throughout my military career, and one day, I may be able to pass these skills on to future soldiers of the Australian Army.
About the author: Brooke O’Neill is in her third year of service within the Royal Australian Army Ordnance Corps and is currently filling a corporal storeman position in the Research, Investigation and Stocktaking Cell of the 7th Combat Service Support Battalion.