During World War I, the artillery branch became the highest casualty-producing, weapons system the United States Army had in its arsenal due to its long-range capabilities and the size of its ammunition. Their lethality earned them the nickname “King of Battle.”
Although the battlefield has changed, this still proves true. The weapon systems and the paratroopers who operate them must work with pinpoint accuracy because of the devastating effects they have on the battlefield.
“The key to artillery is perfection; every step, every process, from stopping the truck to unhitching the howitzer, all the way through firing rounds,” said Staff Sgt. Jerrod Grant, section chief for seventh section of Battery A, 2nd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.
Grant, a native of Portland, Ore., said that the team has to perform multiple tasks in a very short time in order to meet the time standards for all the tasks that are required to be certified for the M119A2 105 mm howitzer.
The 2nd Bn.,319th AFAR, “Black Falcons,” conducted their howitzer certification, April 16 through 20. This is the first time in nearly 16 months that the battery has fired live rounds, due to its recent deployment to Operation New Dawn, said to Capt. Jonathan D. Nordin, commander of Battery A, from Woodinville, Wash. “Most of all the eight howitzer sections are newly-formed teams, meaning this is their first certification as those sections.
“There are about 80 artillery paratroopers from Battery A testing this week, and we have six infantry paratroopers who are also being certified,” said Nordin. The battery had to pull from the infantry to fulfill manpower shortages.
“It is a new experience being able to certify with a howitzer,” said Pfc. Nate Morgan, assistant gunner, Battery A, 2nd Bn., 319th AFAR, from Sault St. Marie, Mich. “It is truly a one-of-a-kind experience being able to see how the whole process goes compared to the infantry tasks and drills I have learned from basic combat training.”
One of the drills that an infantryman has to perform is to call the artillery to fire on a target. He expressed how it is reassuring to know that the sections train so much, because of the rounds they send downrange.
Grant got to experience his first time going through the certification as the section chief. “I have been the gunner and almost every other position before, but now I have to control the whole team.” The team was assembled less than three weeks ago. “In the last two weeks, the team has been working long hours to master the crew drills.” The section chief is only given four attempts to certify;otherwise he is relieved of his duty position.
“We have to be like synchronized swimmers moving around the howitzer, every paratrooper performing his job without fault, without hesitation.” This is referring to how all of the team has to work around the howitzer in a fluid motion to be able to assemble and position the howitzer within six minutes as part of the certification. There can be no errors or mistakes, Grant explained. “If one person doesn’t know their job inside and out, we will not make the time standard.”
There are a few different parts to the whole certification, Grant said. “We have our prepare-for-air assault mission, the six minute drill, the 20 minute drill, and the blitz drill to name most of them.” Grant said, “the hardest drill we have is the six-minute drill,” because it takes every member of the team to function as one.
The six-minute drill can be broken down into three main parts. The first part is driving the trucks up to a location and unhitching the howitzer. The second step is placing the howitzer on its firing base plate, and then swinging the howitzer around to its firing position, which involves removing a tire to allow it to traverse into position. Finally the last step is setting up the sights correctly to being able to place rounds on a target, all within six minutes. Seventh section has been able to perform the drill in under four and half minutes during training in the past.
Sgt. Michael Lucio, section gunner for the section, from McAllen, Texas, says the most difficult aspect of the certification for him is getting the howitzer sighted in under the time limit. “I was selected to be the section gunner less than two weeks ago, but with the training I have received I was able to certify,” said Lucio.
“My job is to get the howitzer in the correct direction, because the slightest miscalculation could mean the round hitting off target, said Lucio. He has to be able to perform math on the fly, and aim the howitzer with perfection to complete his task.
After the section was certified by the master gunners from the 18th Fires Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, the teams proceeded to fire live rounds into the impact area located on Fort Bragg.
“This is what it all comes down too,” said Sgt. Michael Jaresh, ammo team chief for seventh section, 2-319th AFAR, from Columbus, Ga. “It is just a rush hearing it fire a round, feeling your chest pump from the force of the round, and smelling the gun powder as the round is taken out of the howitzer.” Howitzer sections have to experience the demands of this testing every six months to remain certified.
“The artillery plays a key part in combat, that is why we train so hard and so intense,” said Jaresh. “We have to be able to move by truck, or be dropped into an area and set up our howitzer in a matter of minutes, to be able to support the mission, and because of our long distance reach this is why we are the king of battle.”