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American Forces Press Service

Artillery Soldiers Adapt to Infantry Role in Iraq

By Sgt. Joy Kroemer, USA
American Forces Press Service

CAMP TAJI, Iraq, Jan. 9, 2006 Fighting the war in Iraq has transformed artillerymen into light infantrymen, a job filled with cordon-and-search operations, motorized convoys and dismounted patrols.

Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, have accepted and excelled in their nontraditional role. The field artillery soldiers have dominated a large area throughout the city and rich farmland of Taji, performing in the role of the light infantryman and securing peace for the people of the region.

"We've captured 109 insurgents; 41 have gone to Abu Ghraib," said Lt. Col. Rafael Torres, the battalion's commander. "We've discovered 15 caches (of weapons), three of which were the biggest ever found in this area. We've taken in excess of 1,400 to 1,500 artillery rounds here recently and destroyed them."

Since their arrival in the Taji area in October, the "Top Guns" soldiers have undergone more than just artillery-turned-infantry adjustments.

Coming from Fort Campbell, Ky., and normally attached to 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, "Top Guns" landed in Iraq and were attached to the 3rd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, out of Wiesbaden, Germany.

The soldiers wasted no time in tackling the light infantry role and taking charge of a larger area of operations than most battalions find themselves having to engage, said Torres.

"Our units are spread out, so we have the challenge of constantly maneuvering our forces on the battlefield to ensure that we have the right combat power at the decisive point of an engagement," Torres explained. "I think the operational cell and the batteries have done a really good job in being flexible and doing that."

The missions have been overwhelmingly successful, said Torres, despite the loss of six soldiers since the beginning of operations.

"We've taken some hard hits here," Torres confessed, but added proudly, "Those (six) soldiers, every one of them, they were here doing their mission and they knew what their mission was."

Working diligently through those tough losses, the unit's soldiers have stepped up as a team to take the war in their area to a different level - and it has paid off, said Torres.

"I think the fact that we are a team is key," said Capt. Robert Jenkins, whose Battery A has suffered all six "Top Gun" losses. "Just maintaining that sense of team and keeping that as the nucleus of everything we do, we'll be all right."

By actively taking the fight to enemy forces in the Taji region, 1st Battalion has broken up roadside-bomb-making cells and destroyed the nucleus of different insurgent gangs, putting most of their members behind bars.

"With us proactively going after these caches, insurgents can't defend them, so they just have to watch us dig them out," explained Torres. "(In the first) 48 days, we've captured over 40 percent of what the brigade has done (since its arrival in January 2005), and that's in 48 days."

With soldiers in six different specialties making up 1st Battalion's headquarters battery, training with the right soldiers has made all the difference in effectively taking on the light infantry role.

"The 5th Special Forces group trained with us for four months solid at Fort Campbell," Torres explained, "(and) we fired more ammunition between the July timeframe until September when we deployed than the average artillery soldier has fired in his lifetime."

Some soldiers weren't sure at first about what lay ahead. "When we first found out we were going to be doing light infantry, we didn't know what to expect," said Sgt. Eden Puente, Headquarters Battery.

Training by experts in infantry tactics made a difference in the soldiers' confidence levels. "I think everybody's pretty happy about what we've been doing here so far," said Puente.

No matter what the upcoming mission holds for Torres and his "Top Guns," he said, one thing is certain - they are ready for the future, but never forgetting their accomplished past and the soldiers who represented them in Taji.

"I am extremely proud of the (soldiers)," said Torres. "They have gone above and beyond any of the expectations I would have had of them at this phase of the battle. In my mind, they upheld the name of the 101st, period. So I'm proud of them."

Torres also credits support from back home for helping the soldiers' success.

"I would like to thank everyone in rear detachment and our family readiness group for all their hard work and support of us while we are trying to accomplish our mission," he said.

(Army Sgt. Joy Kroemer is assigned to 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division.)

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