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82d Airborne Artillery in the battle of As Samawah.

On 29 March 2003, B Battery, 2d Battalion 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment (B/2-319 AFAR) fired the 82d Airborne Division's first rounds in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). During the next five days, 2-319 AFAR fired more than 1,000 rounds in support of the 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment's (AIR's) liberation of the southern Iraqi city of As Samawah.

2-319 AFAR's actions during combat operations undoubtedly exhibited that the Field Artillery is committed to supporting the close fight as well as provide the only 24-hour, all-weather fire support asset on the battlefield. Our experience demonstrated that close air support (CAS) and attack aviation--with their excellent lethality and precision--were not always readily available and were vulnerable to enemy air defense systems and susceptible to inclement weather/lack of lunar illumination.

Organization and Missions. 2-319 AFAR deployed to Kuwait with the mission of seizing the Saddam International Airport under the conditions of capitulated Saddam Hussein regime The battalion deployed with a task organization modified for its role in the brigade's airfield seizure mission.

Instead of the normal direct support (DS) artillery battalion task organization three firing batteries each with six 105-mm howitzers and a Q-36 radar) the battalion deployed with two four howitzer batteries and its Q-36 radar.

The logic for this deviation was two-fold. First, the limited availability of aircraft to support a brigade-sized airfield seizure forced the 82d Airborne Division staff to assume risk by limiting the number of 82d howitzer platforms deployed into theater. The division reasoned that this risk was mitigated by the availability of CAS and the division's OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters in the 1st Battalion, 82d Aviation (1-82 Avn). Second, under the conditions of a capitulated Iraqi Army and a collapsed Saddam Hussein regime, the brigade would be able to assault under semi-permissive conditions.

After a week of intense ground fighting by Coalition Forces, the Coalition Forces Land Component Commander (CFLCC) assessed that the Saddam Hussein regime would not quickly capitulate--thus not meeting the conditions for an airborne assault into the heart of Baghdad. Due to the rapid advance of the 3d Infantry Division (Mechanized) (3d ID) and I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF), the supply lines between the Kuwaiti border and Coalition Forces became vulnerable to attacks by remnants of Republican Guard and Saddam Fedayeen forces. Therefore on 24 March 2003, the 325th AIR received a new mission: Secure a portion of V Corps' ground lines of communication (LOCs) along Highway 8 in As Samawah. (See the map on Page 3.)


After a 250-kilometer ground assault convoy (GAC) from Kuwait City U Tallil Airfield, the brigade staff began planning its assault on the remaining Special Republican Guard, Saddam Fedayeen and Syrian mercenary force occupying the southern city of As Samawah. By 30 March, the entire brigade combat team (BCT), with the addition of the 1st Battalion, 41st Mechanized Infantry (1-41 IN) from 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division, had cordoned off the southern portions of the city. The 325th AIR was poised for an assault along Highway 8 across the Euphrates River, a feat attempted three times by the 3d ID before it decided to bypass this portion of Highway 8.

The 2-319 AFAR commander and 325th AIR fire support officer (FSO) faced daunting tactical problems. First they had to decide how best to provide responsive fires for three airborne infantry battalions and one mechanized infantry battalion from the two four-howitzer batteries and their Q-36 radar Second, they had to determine how to execute counterfire with two firing units without neglecting the infantry in the close fight. Third, the challenge was to protect this force against an asymmetrical threat adept at blending into the civilian population and using ambulances and taxis as troop carriers. Lastly they had to manipulate the limited communications platforms to establish sensor-to-shooter connectivity between the infantry battalions and the firing batteries to facilitate responsive fires.

With support from the 307th Engineers, 2-319 AFAR established two battery firebases three kilometers southwest of As Samawah. Due to the enemy's inability to employ counterbattery fire and unwillingness to conduct offensive operations outside As Samawah, it was unnecessary to continually reposition the batteries for survivability.

To protect one of the brigade's high-value assets, the radar was emplaced in B Battery's firebase; this firebase was reinforced with an infantry platoon.

Immediately upon occupying inside the firebase, the Q-36 section began acquiring enemy mortar fire, thus allowing B/2-319 AFAR to fire the 82d Airborne Division Artillery's first rounds in OIF.

Communications and Quick-Fire Nets. To shorten the sensor-to-shooter link, the fire support coordinator (FSCOORD) established quick-fire nets between his two firing batteries and two of the infantry battalions. The remaining maneuver battalion and the OH-58Ds used the brigade fire support coordination net to attack targets.

To bring this communications structure o fruition with limited communications platforms in the battalion and battery fire direction centers (FDCs), the FSCOORD decided to execute all fire missions and fire support coordination by voice. This freed the battalion and battery FDCs digital nets to support the quick-fire nets. The battery FDCs exclusive use of dual handheld terminal units (HTUs) for fire mission processing instead of the advanced FA tactical data system (AFATDS) further reinforced this plan.

Liberation of As Samawah. On 31 March, 2-325 AIR was the brigade's main effort in an assault to destroy enemy forces on the southern bank of three bridges that crossed the Euphrates River long Highway 8 and then conduct a relief in-place with 1-41 IN. The purpose was to set the conditions for a future assault across the Euphrates and prevent the Republican Guards and Saddam Fedayeen from threatening the seam between the 3d ID and I MEF boundary along Highway 8.

Due to the lack of illumination, the OH-58D Kiowas of 1-82 Avn could not fly until two hours after beginning morning nautical time (BMNT) and, therefore, were unable to provide reconnaissance of the objective area or aerial fire support during the attack. To limit collateral damage, preparatory fires were not planned on company objectives on either the northern or southern sides of the bridges. 2-325 AIR depended on the 105-mm howitzers of A/2-319 AFAR and its own 81-mm mortars to execute planned targets and targets of opportunity.

Just before dawn, A Company made contact. As 3d Platoon approached the southern side of the eastern bridge, it engaged a platoon of Saddam Fedayeen defending from dug-in positions along the northern bank.

Specialist Daniel Falcon, the 3d Platoon forward observer (FO), immediately initiated a planned target on the northern bank. Within one minute, both the battalion mortars and A Battery howitzers reported, "Shot." With one correction, the battalion mortars and A Battery rapidly delivered devastating fire onto the enemy within 200 meters of friendly troops.

Throughout the engagement, the mortars and A Battery fired in excess of 250 high-explosive (HE) rounds onto the northern banks of both bridges.

Thirty minutes into the engagement, the enlisted terminal air controller (ETAC) for A Company had an F-16 aircraft armed with MK82s on station. After receiving reports from the company FSOs on the accuracy and devastating effects of the 81-mm mortars and 105-ram howitzers and the FOs' inability to observe fires more than a few hundred meters north of the bridges, the 2-325 AIR commander decided not to use these aircraft. His rationale was to limit unnecessary collateral damage from the aircraft's 500-pound bombs.

In the waning minutes of the two-and-one-half-hour engagement while 2-325 AIR began its relief-in-place with 1-41 IN, the OH-58Ds arrived on station. Due to the lack of reliable FM communications between the brigade and 1-82 Avn, a problem that plagued the BCT throughout the five-day battle for As Samawah, FOs or ETACs could not communicate with the Kiowa Warriors to guide them onto targets.

The responsiveness and lethality of the FA and mortars enabled the paratroopers of 2-325 AIR to seize the initiative and maintain fire superiority throughout the two-and-one-half-hour firefight, which enemy prisoners of war (EPWs) captured days later reported inflicted 36 enemy killed in action (KIA) and more than 20 enemy wounded in action (WIA).

On 2 April 2003, the conditions were set to attack north of the Euphrates along Highway 8 and complete the liberation of As Samawah. 1-41 IN was to lead the assault by conducting a penetration across two bridges along Highway 8, destroy enemy forces in northern As Samawah and then screen the brigade's northern flank. 2-325 AIR was to follow 1-41 IN across the High-way 8 bridges and clear the area of enemy forces just north of the Euphrates.

2-325 AIR was to fight in the most unenviable of environments: urban warfare.

The only fire support assets available were the howitzers of the 2-319 AFAR. The OH-58Ds, limited to only flying during daylight hours, could not arrive on station until three hours after 1-41 IN initiated the attack. Because the 3d ID was decisively engaged in the vicinity of the Karbala Gap, all other aircraft were dedicated to its mission.

The brigade FSCOORD and the brigade FSO analyzed the best course-of-action to support 1-41 IN's crossing of the two bridges on the Euphrates River along Highway 8. It was imperative that 2-319 AFAR simultaneously suppress the northern and southern bridgeheads of both bridges. This plan was further complicated by the unavailability of the OH-58Ds to provide observation for the artillery fires.

A 20-minute artillery prep was executed on eight targets using HE with point-detonating fuzes (HE/PD) and HE with variable-time fuzes (HENT). Due to the limited number of firing units, this amounted to a separate aiming point for each howitzer.

The prep concluded with 10 minutes of hexachloroethane zinc (HC) smoke mixed with HE to provide obscuration and suppression to facilitate the bridge crossing. This fire plan suppressed the enemy and obscured the two-story buildings surrounding both bridgeheads just long enough for 1-41 IN to cross the 250 meters of open bridge. Once across the river, both 1-41 IN and 2-325 AIR executed targets of opportunity on quick-fire nets established with each howitzer battery.

The artillery prep was executed flawlessly, and both 1-41 IN and 2-325 AIR reached the far side of the Euphrates River with little opposition. However, Once across the Highway 8 bridges, 1-41 IN received sporadic rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) fire, destroying its battalion fire support team vehicle (FIST-V), At day's end, the 325 AIR had completed the liberation of As Samawah and prepared for future operations.

2-319 AFAR repeatedly executed danger-close fires in support of infantry maneuver at As Samawah. These airborne Redlegs provided the only 24-hour, all-weather fire support available to the 325th AIR the hallmark of the FA.

Captain Benjamin R. Luper is the Fire Support Officer (FSO) for the 2d Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment (2-325 AIR) in the 82d Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom. In other assignments, he served as the G3 Plans Officer in the 2d Infantry Division, Korea. Also in the 82d Airborne Division, he was the Battalion Assistant S3 and Battalion Fire Direction Officer (FDO) in 2d Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment (2-319 AFAR); Executive Officer and FDO in A/2-319 AFAR; and Company FSO for C/3-325 AIR. He is a graduate of the Field Artillery Captain's Career Course, Fort Sill, Oklahoma; the 82d Airborne Division Jumpmaster School; and Ranger School, Fort Benning, Georgia.
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Author:Luper, Benjamin R.
Publication:FA Journal
Date:Sep 1, 2003
Previous Article:Staff Sergeant (SSG) Aaron Carter.
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