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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Big guns play big part in eastern Afghanistan

6 July 07
By Spc. Jon H. Arguello
22nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment


JALALABAD AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - Few things are as frightening on the battlefield as incoming artillery. But these essential assets are more than loud bangs heard sporadically on the forward operating bases [FOB's] in eastern Afghanistan. The "king of battle," as artillery is called, has become increasingly important.

Everything from the incredibly unforgiving terrain to the ability of insurgents to dissipate into the civilian population has made clear the significance of indirect fire support.

"In this fight, fire support is very important," said 1st Lt. Duane Mantle, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry (Airborne) assistant fires support officer, from Warren, N.J. "As soon as we make contact, the first thing the Soldiers look for is to bring in fires on the enemy."

Although the manner in which wars are fought today are different from past wars in many respects, the adaptability of the 155mm Howitzers of Battery B, 4th Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, on Forward Operating Base Blessing and other indirect assets providing support to paratroopers based along the Pech River Valley, has been proven extensively useful in just a short time after arriving in theater about a month ago.

"It's not like the previous wars when they lined up and we would mow them down," said Mantle. "Fires have a lot of different effects. When we fire the 155s from here, the enemy doesn't hear the round coming in. It immediately puts the enemy on the defensive and has a tremendous demoralizing effect."

The rounds can also be used to fix enemy combatants. "That's a huge part of this conflict, separating them from the population, but we can do it when they are on a ridge firing on us," said Mantle. As artillery is called in, it disrupts the enemy's movement or causes them to seek cover, providing U.S. and/or Afghan forces a variety of options.

The Soldiers, who man the guns at FOB Blessing, understand the impact they have placing timely and accurate fires on the enemy. It is a job they take seriously for good reason. "Last deployment we had a fire mission to support some troops in contact," said Sgt. Stephen Murphy of Bravo Battery's 2nd Platoon, a native of Berwick, Penn. who had just finished a fire mission with his section. "One of the Soldiers who was there came to us afterwards and said we had saved his life. He even showed us pictures of his family. I was like 'Roger. I'll be faster next time.'"

Just hours later, the 155mm Howitzers at FOB Blessing pounded the mountains of the Pech River Valley in support of multiple fire fights. Within a few hours, the battery had fired 111 rounds simultaneously supporting three separate sites.

Photo - Paratroopers Battery B, 4th Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, fire their 155mm Howitzer from Forward Operating Base Blessing in eastern Afghanistan. Photo by Spc. Jon H. Arguello.

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