Joseph and the soldiers from Battery C, 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, "Task Force Strike," practiced sling load operations many times before, but this is the real deal.
Task Force Strike advises and assists Iraqi security forces with planning and intelligence, training and equipping, and, on this night, indirect fires. For Artillerymen from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), this was a gun raid--moving M777 howitzers to a forward location to support Iraqi security forces' advance on Qayyarah, a city south of Mosul.
Raids are fast and deliberate operations, said Sgt. 1st Class Juan Burkett, the platoon sergeant with 1st platoon, Battery C. The artillerymen can move to a location quickly to set up and fire without the enemy's knowledge. Since arriving in Iraq in late May 2016, Battery C has executed hundreds of missions and fired thousands of rounds in support of ISF operations.
Joseph moves into the night to establish the hot landing zone. When the next helicopters arrive at the raid site everything must be set up perfectly. None of this is new to Joseph, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom a decade ago. Having attended the United States Army Pathfinder School, he provides navigational aid to incoming aircraft, and select, mark, improve, and control landing sites.
"Check that berm over there," he says calmly, pointing the soldiers in the right direction. Before the mission began he studied the imagery of the location and determined where he would need to be that night. "Pop those chem lights and start shaking them."
Joseph walks the location marked off for the incoming helicopters, making sure it is visible in all directions. Well-rehearsed, his team quickly completes their tasks. "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-47's turn off into the night.
The 101st is known for air assault operations and, 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 for their upcoming fire missions. By first light they're ready to fire.
"This is where the magic happens," says Staff Sgt. James Johnson, the Fire Direction Chief for Battery C, in the back of his truck waiting for a call for fire. Observers acquire targets. 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.
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 ...
When the radio crackles, Johnson listens to the data, 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, go into action as the radio beeps. In seconds they are at the firing position. "Come on," Walker yells to the crew as they prepare, "Let's make money!"
The crew look through the sites and adjust the gun as Walker yells the fire data. Attention to detail is critical during this mission, and 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 shakes the earth as a high explosive shell is launched. 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 in temperatures exceeding 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. After the last boom, the team begins to celebrate.
"That was awesome guys," says 1st Lt. Matthew Frank, their platoon leader, as he walks up and gives the soldiers high-fives. At one point during the mission, he grabbed more rounds for them so they could keep going. "Everyone is impressed with what you did. You guys are making Mosul great again, one 155 round at a time."
Walker smiles. Taking off his helmet, he looks around the gun position. "This is the life," he says with a grin. "This whole operation is what artillery is about: shoot, move, and communicate."
One of many missions fired on this raid, after a few nights the gun raid is complete, and the soldiers rig their equipment to be sling-loaded back. They're tired and dirty, but morale is still high. Back at their main camp, a hot shower and rest are top priorities.
Joseph, one of the first down is also one of the last to leave. The dirt still clings to his uniform and his face as he relaxes. "This is what we train for," Joseph says. "This is what we do."--1st Lt. Daniel Johnson
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|Date:||Mar 1, 2017|
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