Artillery in Iraq, August 2016

artillery-02They came out of the sky in the night, using tactics invented in Vietnam and honed by generations of artillerymen since. Mobile warfare demands mobile fire support; overnight, a barren scrap of desert becomes a counter in the Game of War, a temporary home to a battery of M777 lightweight howitzers.

The Army describes a recent (August) mission involving the establishment of a forward firebase, and execution of multiple fire missions.

“Do you have eyes on?” Joseph radios to the CH-47 Chinook helicopter pilots as they approach. Given the affirmative, he watches as they float toward the landing zone. With a dull thud and a cloud of dust the guns are released onto the ground and the CH-47s turn off into the night.

The 101st is known for air assault operations and Fort Campbell, the home of the unit, is where the Sabalauski Air Assault School resides. For the team on the ground, this operation is business as usual.

“Let’s go, let’s get a move on,” Joseph says to the gun crews. Working under the lime-green hue of their night vision goggles, they move their guns and begin setting up the systems, ensuring they are prepared to execute their upcoming fire missions.

The Soldiers work through the night, and by first light they’re ready to fire.

WHERE THE MAGIC HAPPENS

Staff Sgt. James Johnson, the fire direction chief for Battery C, sits in the back of his fire direction center truck looking intently at his radio, waiting for a call for fire.

“This is where the magic happens,” Johnson says as he concentrates on his console.

Observers, which can consist of assets from the ISF, unmanned aerial vehicles and other aircraft, acquire targets they need hit. Once the battalion headquarters located miles away in the tactical operations receives the data, they push it to Johnson and his team at the FDC.

“We process data,” says Johnson. “They [the artillerymen on the gun line] proceed to shoot.”

A few hundred feet away from the FDC, gun crews are moving around their guns in full kit, checking and rechecking minute details, making small adjustments, waiting to spring into action once the FDC sends a message.

Just then the radio crackles and Johnson grabs his hand mic, listening to the data. He then begins his battle drill, one he’s done many times before. Johnson sends a message to the gun line, “Gun 2, fire mission.”

Down at Gun 2, the crew, led by Staff Sgt. Johnathan Walker, springs up as the radio beeps; in seconds they are at the firing position going through their crew drill.

“Come on,” Walker yells to the crew as they prepare rounds and take their positions. “Let’s make money!”

The crew members look through the sites and adjust the gun as Walker yells the fire data. Attention to detail is critical during this mission; he must remember the data for each round his crew is going to fire.

“Fire!” yells the crew chief, and a Soldier gives the firing lanyard a slight tug. The gun responds to this small motion, shaking the earth around the position as a high explosive shell is launched.

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The next gun fires soon after and the race is on between the two gun sections, a little company competition to see who can fire rounds the fastest and most proficiently. Even working in temperatures that exceed 100 degrees, the teams are driven.

“Let’s get through this!” Walker yells as he calls off the quadrant — up and down — and deflection — left and right — for the next round. Driven by their chief, the Soldiers move faster as the mission continues.

The dash endures for a while as the guns launch round after round. Dust hangs in the air after each round is fired and sweat stings the Soldiers’ eyes. The ammo carriers are running rounds weighing over 90 pounds from the holding point to the gun, heaving the shells into the firing tube. Walker’s voice grows hoarse as he yells adjustments and commands.

Finally, the last round is reached.

“Last round,” the ammo bearer says as he walks up to Walker. With a nod, Walker gets ready for his last command of the mission.

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via The gun raid: US artillerymen support Iraqi advance on ISIL | Article | The United States Army.

And that was that. After taking fire missions from a variety of sources, the redlegs secured their guns and called the Chinooks. Where did they go?  Was it to another hasty and temporary firing position? Was it back to the FOB to rest and refit?

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There are some members of ISIL who would like to know the answers to those question. And other, former, members, who are beyond knowing.

Is artillery useful in an unconventional war? Sometimes. Sometimes it’s not just useful, but indispensable.

15 thoughts on “Artillery in Iraq, August 2016

  1. SPEMack

    Never enough guns and if there were enough,gun there were never enough Chinooks to move them where they were needed, or so it seemed.

  2. loren

    Always wondered why artillerymen don’t use noise cut out shooting muffs for ear protection. They must have better things to do with their hands than sticking them in their ears. I would also seem to be easier than yelling at deafened men.

    1. robroysimmons

      Strange about that circa 1984 when my battery made the switch over to M-198s our battery gunny showed me a helmet with electronic ear pro attached and said they were in the pipeline. That was the MC I suspect at the time the Army would have had them for some time

    2. runalltheway

      Definitely. I’ve had tinnitus since age 14 and it always makes me shudder seeing a photo like that. Guys don’t deserve to lose their hearing if it can be avoided. Is there a practical reason why they Don wear NC headsets?

    3. LFMayor

      To prevent the pressure wave from pushing the inserted baffle type plugs into their ears too deep? These are all guesses based on Force is as Force does….
      Mickey mouses probably don’t sit well with the older pasgat.

  3. John Smith

    A lot of ink is spent writing about direct action units of various stripe. I’m not arguing against the practice but this article spotlights a capability that is lethal on an industrial scale, mobile in the extreme (in context) and a “force multiplier” that rivals most. These gents should be called up for recognition more.

    Air assault may not be “beard” but it is effective.

  4. Tim, '80s Mech Guy

    Not a Redleg but I suspect that due to the amount of and proximity to the blast that muffs are impractical. They would need to be clamped down so tight to do any good they would be uncomfortable. Probably better to use time tested methods as you are not going to cancel that kind of physics, best you can hope for is to limit the effect.

    1. Boat Guy

      Probly so. Small arms fire and rock and roll did worse things for my ears than a battery of 175’s did.
      FWIW USMC was doing this same thing with CH-53’s and 105’s in the late 70’s. Course we didn’t have those nifty computer things; the FDC girls used paper and math.

    2. Boat Guy

      Third Generation Redleg here. Just a different service. My Grandmother was QUITE dismayed “The who, dear? Aren’t they part of the Navy?”

  5. Aesop

    1) Dear Douchebag PIO flack: They weren’t “ready to fire at first light”. If they were worth two shits, they were ready for a fire mission within 15 minutes of hitting the deck. Probably closer to 10. Everything after that was just “position improvement”.
    2) I had standard issue squishy foam earplugs. I used them religiously, and without fail, for my entire hitch. I spent 3 years as a section chief on the M777’s predecessor, the M198, and on M101A1 105mm howitzers. My hearing tested above normal, both when I entered, and when I left. In fact, the .mil found, over and over again, that >80% of hearing loss among the troops was due to headphones and rock music off duty, and not due to firing the guns.
    For the price of one set of electronic wondermuffs, you can probably buy about 1000 pairs of foam earplugs – which later don’t fail when the non-existent batteries die, nor forget to kick in, like the electronic ones can, nor fail when they get wet, muddy, sandy, or dropped on the ground, or even run over by the truck – like they will. They only fail if you don’t have them stuffed in your head, like you were told.
    3) Curiously, the Army (nor anyone else) doesn’t have an all-female gun crew, because they’d all fall flat on their asses and pass out with heat exhaustion doing that sort of zone and sweep* mission described with normal combat gear, in about 5 minutes, and be hors de combat for some hours to days afterwards. Amazingly, Big Green still doesn’t want to talk about that. Wonder why. And the Marines did the same thing for weeks in CA desert heat in peacetime to rival SWAsia conditions, in full PASGT vests, deuce gear, and helmets, when the Army was still doing it in just fatigues and web gear. Nowadays, everybody plays in body armor and full gear. Except the females they’re supposed to be letting in those jobs, because they’d wilt and crumple.

    *{The “zone and sweep” is an artillery fire mission where each gun fires a given -usually odd-number – of deflections and elevations, and one or more guns decide which order to fire them all. For instance, a zone and sweep of six deflections and five elevations means you’ll be firing at 30 different spots (think the stars on the US flag), as fast as you can load and pull the string, which would be 4-6 rounds a minute until the temp. indicator goes to red, then 2 rounds a minute until you complete the package. Probably over about 9 minutes. Potentially, an entire battery of six guns may be doing the same thing, and depending on how many mils separate the stops, you’ll drop a ton and a half of ordnance per gun, and have a minimum 250m deep x 300m wide beaten zone with a pK of 100%, and take out about 15 acres of territory and anything on it not under deep cover. It also works in all weather, day or night, and unlike the F-35, even when you’re not really feeling like it.
    And with counter battery radar a potential factor, against a parity foe, you’ll be looking to pack up and GTFO of Dodge within 2-3 minutes after that last round goes downrange, or someone else will return the favor, and end your day.
    Which, in any unit staffed with one or more Combat Barbies, means they’re all gonna die. Sleep tight, America.}

    1. John M.

      Well, sure, but how are you going to give General Dynamics a sweet contract for foam earplugs?

      -John M.

      1. Aesop

        Well, one good way to nip that sh*t in the bud is to send the contractor reps to test them in the impact area.

        “Damn, sergeant major, I guess them fancy earmuffs ain’t shrapnel-proof! We’re gonna need some new contractor reps…”

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