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Pennsylvania Marine reserve unit trains with howtizers at Fort Drum

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FORT DRUM — A Pennsylvania-based Marine Reserve unit has received its first taste of the north country as members have trained with howitzers at the post’s ranges for the past two weeks.

The 3rd Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment has been firing the massive M777 howitzer. The unit’s headquarters is in Bristol, Pa., but its four batteries are in Richmond, Va., Chattanooga, Tenn., Allentown, Pa., and Fort Dix, N.J. The battalion also has a small group of Navy reservists who do medical support work.

Lt. Col. Christopher J. Warnke, the battalion’s commander, said each of the batteries has smaller installations to train at, but they have fewer firing positions and limited firing areas.

“They can’t really push the envelope that much,” he said.

Col. Warnke said his battalion had never trained at Fort Drum, and the larger space brought in new challenges of dealing with terrain and navigation.

“We can get a whole battalion in here and move us around and we’re not cramped together,” he said.

The 8,900-pound howitzer is one of the military’s strongest ground weapons.

Col. Warnke said the weapon plays a major part in supporting ground forces who encounter enemy forces.

“The impact is immediate,” he said.

On Thursday morning, the battalion’s four batteries each manned a howitzer as they locked in on targets four to six miles away.

Receiving the call to fire, section chief Sgt. Jake D. Maier got Lance Cpls. Joshua A. Amandor-Rosario and Kevin M. Herrity to load in a round. After Sgt. Maier verified the shot’s target, Pfc. Dondre L. Banks loaded powder and the weapon soon was fired.

The howitzer’s shot made a loud boom as its base dug deep into the ground.

“It’s really controlled chaos,” Sgt. Maier said.

The reservists came to the training from a variety of civilian roles. Sgt. Maier said he was a branch manager for a septic system wholesaler. Lance Cpl. Amandor-Rosario said he worked at a Rugged Warehouse. Pfc. Banks said he was about to begin classes in criminal justice at St. Augustine’s University, Raleigh, N.C., in August.

Other unit members came from law enforcement and corrections backgrounds.

Post officials said it is not uncommon for military units from other services to use the post’s ranges to train.

Col. Warnke said he hopes his battalion can use the post again and possibly work with the 10th Mountain Division.

The battalion will end its training today.

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