Pohakuloa Training Area, HI –
The waning dusk’s light shines dully through the low-lying clouds scattering the Martian-like lava rock landscape of Pohakuloa Training Area (PTA). It is mid-January and the air is thin at 6,800 feet. Situated at the base of one of the many hills amidst this Spartan landscape is the 100th Battalion 442nd Infantry Regiment’s mortar platoon. Three squads assigned to separate 120mm mortar weapon systems, awaiting the order to fire.
At this point, the mortar platoon has occupied this range for little more than a day, but in that time the platoon has continued to hone its skills through constant fire missions. As night approaches, Forward Observers from the 1-487th Field Artillery Battalion of the Hawaii Army National Guard (HIARNG) issue a fire mission to the fire direction center (FDC) from their vantage point at the top of the hill, Observation Point Ahi.
With the fire mission received, the FDC issues the orders to the mortar platoon. As the FDC sergeant issues his commands, the three mortar squads reply in unison. deflection, charge and elevation are repeated to ensure accuracy and in quick succession the mortar rounds shatter the stillness of the evening air.
The mortar platoon of the 100th Battalion 442nd Infantry (100/442) spent the second week of January conducting mortar live-fire training at PTA. The purpose of the week-long training exercise was weapons familiarization, improve platoon and squad proficiency and set the conditions for a successful battalion-wide collective training exercise during the battalion’s upcoming annual training this summer.
“Leading this platoon is a challenge. As an infantryman, the majority of our training consists of squad and platoon-level light infantry tactics. Effectively integrating mortar fire in conjunction with the movement of light infantry requires precision and deliberate practice,” said 1st Lt. Christopher Arakawa, former Mortar Platoon Leader and current C Company, 100/442 Infantry Company Commander.
Although Arakawa is currently the C CO commander, he continues to provide guidance and oversight to his former platoon. Beyond his responsibilities as a drilling Soldier in the Army Reserve (USAR), he also works as the senior civilian for the 100/442 and was one of the lead planners for the training exercise.
“Beyond attaining platoon-level proficiency for the mortar platoon, each company’s mortar section is also out here training on the 60mm weapon platform,” added Arakawa.
“The mortar platoon and company mortar sections are here to conduct squad and platoon-level training which will culminate in an integrated live fire exercise with aviation assets provided by the HIARNG,” explained Lt. Col. Alan Perkins, Battalion Commander of the 100/442. “The hard work done here will set the conditions for the training we have planned for the battalion this summer during annual training.
On the morning of January 14th, the consolidated company and platoon mortars received their air mission orders. The mission consisted of landing, hasty emplacement and firing of their 60mm mortars and air retrograde.
“This is the first time we’ve executed a mission like this,” said Sgt. 1st Class Chris Ryan Makinano, platoon sergeant for the mortar platoon. “The Soldiers will be pushed out of their comfort zone integrating with air assets and I think it will only improve our mortar skills.”
The 100/442 is the only infantry unit in the Army Reserve. Supporting infantry units, especially away from the mainland, comes with unique challenges that require collaboration between the USAR and external organizations to maintain readiness and maximum warfighting capability.
“This training would not be possible without the assistance of the HIARNG. They provided aviation support and forward observers to support our training,” said Arakawa. “Being a lone infantry battalion in the USAR requires us to be innovative in the way we plan and execute training. The relationship we’ve built with the HIARNG has given us access to additional capabilities to enable unique training opportunities.”
As the week-long training exercise ended it was a chance for the soldiers to reflect upon all they had accomplished. For most soldiers home station was just an island hop away. For others, their families were within miles of the exercise area. Yet all of them know that they carry on a legacy. Membership in the most decorated unit in U.S. history is something they all take very seriously. For them, executing their infantrymen jobs with skill and precision is a point of pride, not only for them as individuals, but for their pacific island forbears, their families and their nation. Thanks to missions like this, the 100/442 mortar soldiers are ever more ready to defend all they love and engage America’s enemies if and when the call comes.