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Firing the big guns.

TO GET backup from the big guns, 'all you have to do is dial "198-PAIN."

Well, not literally. That's the motto of Battery F, 7th Field Artillery Regiment. The unit owns the 155mm howitzers that stand ready at the edge of Forward Operating Base Salerno, Afghanistan, to rain steel on enemy targets at a moment's notice.

Recently, the battery demonstrated its ability to reach out and destroy targets during a periodic show-of-force exercise. For several hours, the battery's big guns let loose a barrage of bone-jarring blasts that sent rounds screaming downrange and impacting into the side of a mountain several miles away.

It's SPC Ontario Smith's job to pull the lanyard and fire the rounds. And despite the tooth-rattling blasts he experiences every time he performs his job, he said he loves what he does.

"We get to sit back and blow things up," Smith said, adding that he thoroughly enjoys the satisfaction that comes from knowing he can help fellow Soldiers and Marines who might need some backup if they get into trouble while out on patrol.

The battery, in fact, played a major role in reducing the number of rocket attacks on the base over the past few months, Smith said.

"We're just like the police," added gun chief SGT Ricardo Tucker. "If someone gets into trouble, they call us and we'll help out." The "198-PAIN" motto, Tucker said, is like a call sign comrades downrange can use to call on the big guns.

Besides allowing the battery's Soldiers to hone their skills and showcase the effectiveness of their weapons, the recent exercise allowed the unit to synchronize all the fire support assets in the area, as a show of force, said battery commander CPT Brendan Raymond.

Soldiers on the gun line had an opportunity to practice crew drills, as well as their individual tasks, to ensure rounds are fired accurately and safely, Raymond said.

Since the rounds hit a mountain outside the base, Raymond said coalition officials ensured local residents knew beforehand that gaining would be taking place, to prevent anyone from being too close to the target area and getting hurt.

Coalition officials are careful, too, to avoid causing any collateral damage, Raymond said.

The day before the exercise, the battery delivered humanitarian aid to villagers in the areas near the impact zone, to demonstrate to them that the coalition is in Afghanistan to help local inhabitants whenever possible--and not just to shake the foundations of their homes.

The bottom line remains, however, to demonstrate a show of force and discourage would-be troublemakers from making trouble, Raymond said.

Anti-governmental factions linger in the Khost area, he said, and the show of force precludes them from attacking coalition forces or seeking safe haven in the area.

Such training "also shows potential insurgents that it" they do want to attack Afghan or coalition forces, the big guns will be put into action to disrupt and destroy them, Raymond said.

Smith said would-be terrorists are getting the picture. "I don't think they want to come out and play around."

Tucker said the battery definitely showed force during the exercise. "The sound of the guns travels far. Those who see the explosions realize they don't want to mess around with these big guns."

SSG Bradley Rhen is assigned to the CTF Thunder Public Affairs Office in Afghanistan.
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Title Annotation:battery's soldiers
Author:Rhen, Bradley
Publication:Soldiers Magazine
Geographic Code:9AFGH
Date:May 1, 2005
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