Paladins - Have guns, can travel
January 21, 2005
CAMP TAJI, Iraq (Army News Service, Jan. 21, 2005) - At 32 tons with the ability to fire up to four rounds per minute, the M109A6 Paladin 155mm self propelled Howitzer is the most technologically advanced cannon system in the US Army's vast field artillery arsenal.
Reinforcing the 1st Battalion, 206th Field Artillery Regiment, Soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division's Battery B, 2nd Battalion 82nd Field Artillery, maintain and operate the Paladins as a piece of the 39th Brigade Combat Team's artillery firing battery.
"This baby can be on the move, get a call to fire and be ready to respond in a matter of minutes," explained Hampton, Va., native Sgt. Donald Quash, an artilleryman with 2-82nd FA. "We can carry up to 32 conventional rounds, two copper head (laser guided) rounds and 44 propellants, in addition to the four crew members inside every vehicle."
While mobility is a key aspect of the Paladin, the battery has operated from a static gun-line as the 1st / 206th used the Paladin's ability to fire over long distances. Last June, the battery reinforced the 1st of the 206th as more and more of the attacks on Camp Taji came from areas outside the range of the the unit's M102 Towed Howitzers.
"With the ability to fire up to 30 kilometers, the Paladins allow us to respond to attacks outside the range of our guns," said Maj. Damon Cluck, operations officer for the 1st/206th.
Cluck said Paladins have become a vital piece in the counterfire missions against enemy mortars and rockets that are core to field artillery in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"So far," he said, "the Paladins have been called to fire for 74 missions with a total of 504 rounds being shot."
Cluck explained said some of the shots fired were for registration, "zeroing the rifle" to make certain that the 155-millimeter weapon is on target when it delivers its brand of fury.
The eardrum shattering report of the Paladin rings out as the battery runs through one such registration fire mission. Spc. Ellery Villalobos, the ammunition team chief, stands a distance away from the vehicle, a red propellant bag slung over his shoulder. He waits. The look of excitement and shear joy mix on his face with the dirt and grime that flies back with each round expelled. BOOOOOM fires the gun and Villalobos is sprinting towards it with a new round to load up.
"HOOOOOAH!," he shouts as he sprints back throwing another propellant charge over his shoulder in anticipation. "This is what being artillery is all about! COME ON GUYS! LET'S GO! GET THAT ROUND DOWN RANGE!"
All told, the team will fire 10 rounds, two for adjustment, eight for effect. The impacts are monitored and relayed back to the fire direction center by an observation team stationed at the range. As the mission comes to a close, 2nd Lt. Bryan Shipman, fire direction officer, Battery B, 1st-206th walks out to congratulate the Soldiers for an impressive shoot.
"Only two rounds for adjustment and all eight of the rounds for effect where within ten meters of each other," the lieutenant tells them. "That's just awesome guys, great shooting."
Working on Camp Taji has allowed the Soldiers of the battery to maintain their proficiency with their primary weapon system. Many an artilleryman has assumed the role of the infantry; patrolling the streets of Baghdad, spending more time inside a Humvee and conducting raids than putting the skills of their chosen Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) to use.
"The battery does a really good job of rotating its Soldiers up here," observed Cluck. "So guys are still out there on the streets patrolling and doing that mission, but then get a chance to come up here and maintain their core competency."
The Paladins has also proven beneficial to artillery Soldiers of the 1st /206th. The paladins and M102 Howitzers share the same fire direction center -- the computer nerve center of the gun-line.
"Many of Soldiers had no previous experience operating the computer systems used by the Paladins," Cluck said. "As we work together to accomplish the mission, they've had to learn how to use them and can now add that to their knowledge base."
Having completed their registration fire, the team of Soldiers is conducts an informal After Action Review; what could have been better, what went bad and what they can improve. Sgt. Richard Castro, of Fresno, Calif., notes the shoot was supposed to include 20 rounds, but for reasons unspecified called short at ten.
"That's OK," Castro exclaimed as he rinses the accumulated dirt from his face. "[That] just means we'll have to do it again sometime soon and there isn't any job better in the Army then this one right here!"
(Editor's note: Cpl. Benjamin Cossel writes for the
122nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)