Field artillery units are essential components of military ground forces, and their role is to project cannon, rocket or missile fire on enemy positions or destroy military installations, including enemy artillery batteries that threaten friendly infantry units. Artillery pieces are also found aboard naval ships, and their purpose is to inflict damage to enemy naval vessels or coastal enemy positions, or to provide suppressive fire during naval infantry operations. However, the Army and the Marine Corps are the branches that are traditionally associated with artillery batteries. An artillery gun piece such as a howitzer, a rocket launcher or a surface-to-surface missile launcher is manned by an artillery crew that may consists of up to five members. The howitzer cannon is the classical example of an artillery weapon that requires a crew for its operation. Artillery crew members may perform various tasks such as operating transport vehicles, setting the howitzer at its location, inputting target coordinates into the gun settings, loading the howitzer with ammunition, and firing on enemy positions according to received coordinates.
Artillery crew members are enlisted soldiers or marines. Currently, this position is closed to female personnel. The operation of an artillery howitzer is a complex task that requires several components that need to be integrated. The crew of a howitzer usually does not see the enemy position on which they execute artillery fire. The artillery pieces are organized in batteries, that are located deep behind infantry positions. Forward observers are the ones who actually visualize the target and relay target coordinates to a fire control center, which transforms the data and computes gun parameters that are introduced by artillery crew members into howitzer settings. The artillery crew also receives permanent feedback that allows them to adjust the fire according to the input received by the forward observer. After coordinates are received and transformed into gun settings, the howitzer is loaded with ammunition and fire is executed. It may take up to five crew members to ensure a smooth operation of a howitzer, but in crisis situations, fewer crew members may operate the artillery piece.
An artillery crew member performs a specific task that is required during the operation or maintenance of an artillery piece such as a howitzer, rocket or missile launcher. Specific tasks may include positioning the gun, driving the vehicle, loading the gun, receiving target coordinates, changing gun settings, cleaning or making small repairs on the spot. Artillery crew members communicate with their superior officers who supervise the entire artillery battery or unit. They communicate with fire control specialists who make the necessary fire adjustments depending on the input received from forwards infantry units or a forward observer. Artillery crew members need to effectively communicate between themselves to ensure quick decision making in stressful situations. A bond is usually formed between crew members of an artillery piece during military operations or training drills.
Field artillery may receive requests for artillery fire from forward infantry units that are located in close proximity to the target, which means that they are vulnerable to poorly directed artillery fire. This places an enormous responsibility on the shoulders of artillery crew members, who need to provide fire that is properly directed with carefully relayed coordinates. In crisis situations, artillery fire may save entire units from becoming surrounded by enemy forces or from direct fire of enemy artillery installations or tanks.
In the United States, artillery crew members are usually soldiers or marines that need to undergo Basic Combat Training before going to Advanced Military Training that is specific to their military occupation. Potential candidates must graduate from the Army's Basic Training, which takes 10 weeks; whereas Marine Corps Basic Training takes 12 weeks. After successfully completing the basic training, they are directed to advanced training according to the military occupation of choice. In the case of artillery crew members, they undergo intense and demanding field artillery training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Almost every country with a powerful military has a field artillery training course that teaches candidates the basics of artillery gun operation and artillery combat tactics. After finishing specific artillery training, artillery crew members are assigned to their crews and units, where they begin their active duty military service.
Artillery crew members need to possess qualities such as mental toughness to cope with rapidly changing combat situations, physical endurance, attention to detail, especially when inputting target coordinates, excellent communication and teamwork abilities. They must also possess some degree of technical knowledge to make small gun repairs on the field during missions when large scale military equipment replacement may not be immediately possible.
On active duty, artillery crew members work on the field close to their howitzers. They may sleep and eat in tents together with their fellow crew members. In between missions, they may work on military bases, where they maintain the artillery equipment and conduct training drills. Naval artillery crew members work aboard ships, where they ensure proper operation and maintenance of naval artillery guns.