Artillery batteries with the 1st Battalion, 76th Field Artillery, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team on Wednesday began conducting their first live-fire exercise in more than two years.
The Patriots’ A Battery began firing their M119A2 (105mm) Howitzers just before noon after conducting classroom and “dry-fire” training.
“This is the first time this unit has fired live rounds in over two years,” said Staff Sgt. Tommy Stewart, section leader of gun No. 7. “We have a lot of young soldiers who’ve never fired a live round. Normally, a gun crew consists of seven men. Right now, we only have five. I’ve got an E-3 doing an E-5’s job. He’s very good at what he does, but he’s never been in a live-fire exercise.”
Stewart said that every member of the gunner crew has to know his job and the other soldier’s job. If something happens to him, Stewart said, the next guy can step up a position.
While the gunner checked his picture in the sight, Stewart read a message from the fire direction center on a hand-held electronic device called a gun display unit. He then passed the fire mission coordinates to his gunner who made deflection and quadrant changes on the gun.
As the ammo bearer prepared the high-explosive round, Stewart explained that unless the FDC specifies “at my command,” it’s up to him when to fire.
The live round was delivered to the gun and loaded. After another check of the sight picture by the section leader, he gave the word: “Fire!”
The ground shook even before the thunderous boom was heard. Hot steel headed downrange, providing evidence why field artillery is called “the king of battle.”
“Today is a stepping stone to getting the battery where it needs to be in order to conduct the battalion’s firing tables,” said Sgt. 1st Class Juan Lozano, senior artilleryman for the battalion. “We have a forward observer downrange, who is calling in the fire mission to the FDC.
The FDC plots the coordinates of the target (both with computers and manually) then they send the fire mission to the guns. We’ve been conducting Table V ‘dry-fire’ training for the guns and FDC. Today, we’re working on Table VI, a live-fire exercise.”
Luzono, who’s been in the Army for 12 years and with the 3rd Infantry Division since 2007, said he also has served with the 4th Infantry Division and 1st Armor Division, and he has been attached to the 25th Infantry Division and 10th Mountain Division while serving in Iraq. He returned from his last deployment in July 2011, where he said his unit was not deployed as artillerymen but for “needs of the Army.”
“You really don’t work out the bugs until you go ‘wet,’” said Master Sgt. Duvon Grady, digital master gunner, who explained the importance of moving from “dry-fire” training to shooting live rounds. “I’ve spent most of my career in FDC, which typically consists of nine men. It’s a very tedious, very technical job. You have to train constantly, particularly for software changes.”
Grady said being an artilleryman requires extensive math skills, and working in FDC requires both math and computer skills.
“Artillery — 13B (cannon crewman) and 13D (automated data systems specialist) — is the most technical (military occupational specialty) in the Army,” Grady said.
A Battery 1st Sgt. Thomas Kinsey said the guns began the exercise firing one round at a time, allowing the forward observers to adjust fire onto the target. When each gun was on target, a fire mission came down calling for multiple rounds. The ground rocked like a small earthquake around each of the eight camouflaged gun positions as round after round was fired.
With each firing, the cannon’s pedestal dug deeper into the ground to a point where it was no longer sitting on the ground but flush with the surface of the ground. As the ammo bearer handed off each round, the section leader snatched an excess explosives bag and handed it off to another soldier, who deposited it outside the gun in a metal container.
Kinsey said the amount of explosives needed for each mission depends on the distance to the target, so excess explosives bags are collected throughout the exercise then burned at the end of the day.
The M119A2 Howitzer first was fielded by the 3rd ID in April 2009. It’s a lightweight (just under 2 tons) cannon usually transported by Humvee, but it also can be parachute-dropped or air-landed. The gun provides destructive, suppressive and protective direct and indirect field artillery in support of light-infantry units.