For the better part of a decade, artillerymen have been among the most used and effective asset at the Army’s disposal. Whether it was clearing routes of roadside bombs in Iraq or manning outposts in Afghanistan, artillerymen helped pave the way for many successful counterinsurgency campaigns.
But with combat operations in Iraq over, and the U.S. military footprint in Afghanistan expected to draw down in 2014, artillerymen with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team are getting back to their “gun bunny” roots.
“As deployments ramped up (after 9/11), we transitioned away from our traditional artillery mission,” Army Capt. Lucas Lecour, commander of the brigade’s Battery B., 2nd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, said. “We were doing presence patrols, convoy security and other maneuver unit missions, and now we’re trying to get back into our basic artillery skill set.”
Lecour and his paratroopers are doing just that at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La. The entire brigade is training for a more traditional fight, as it prepares to assume the division’s ready brigade responsibilities.
The division, which recently returned from a yearlong deployment to southern Afghanistan, is responsible for maintaining an airborne combat brigade as part of the nation’s Global Response Force. While the Army begins to gradually align brigade combat teams and divisions regionally with combatant commands, the 82nd Airborne Division will remain flexible to serve in any theater of operation. The 2nd Brigade – centered around the 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment – assumes this role from the division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team in the coming months.
The year-long mission calls for the brigade and its paratroopers to maintain a high state of readiness in order to deploy worldwide by air-landing or parachute assault within 18 hours of notification. This includes the brigade’s artillerymen.
“My guys are very excited,” Lecour said. “This is what they signed up for: digging in, firing the guns, and actually sending rounds down range. Any time you get to fire the guns and jump out of airplanes, it’s a good day.”
After a nighttime airborne operation Oct. 9, 2012, where several of the brigade’s 105 mm howitzers were parachuted in, Lecour and his men went to work locating their equipment and establishing their defensive positions.
They worked through the night and within a few hours were ready for a fire mission. Before the first week was through, the battery moved locations twice to better support the brigade’s mission.
As a light artillery battery, Lecour’s team, just like any paratrooper unit, is highly mobile. At a moment’s notice, the entire battery can pack up and move locations. This is among their most basic competencies, he said.
“Digging base defense operations, conducting counter fire drills – we’re shaking the cob webs off, getting back to our principle basics to ensure we meet our brigade commander’s intent,” Lecour said.
The brigade is at JRTC through Oct. 26. So far, between the main exercise and situational training lanes, the battery has fired more than 800 rounds.
“It’s big learning experience for these guys,” Lecour said. “This is the stuff they saw in the recruiting video, not sitting at an outpost somewhere pulling guard.”
Despite being a bit rusty, Lecour is confident his paratroopers can handle such a mission, if called on, he added.
“There are challenges,” he said. “But having been out here the past week or so with the guys, and watching them put rounds down range, I know they know what right looks like. I’d take these guys down range in a heart beat.”
Army Sgt. Kenneth Harrington, a 17-year veteran of the artillery corps, recalled the good ‘ole days when artillerymen were artillerymen.
“When I first joined the Army, being an artillerymen was all about artillery,” Harrington said. “We didn’t do patrols or maneuver drills. But obviously that changed after (Operation Iraqi Freedom).”
Now back in his element, Harrington is sharing his pre-9/11 experience with the battery.
“There’s the sleep plans, building berms, setting concertina wire – all the things that really defines us,” he explained. “There’s also the common core things, such as correct sight picture on the guns and being ready to fire 360 degrees – in any direction.”
“A lot of the younger soldiers got really good at maneuver missions and patrols,” he added. “But now they’re seeing there is a lot more to artillery than occupying ground and doing fire missions. We’re a little rusty, but it’s really motivating for us to get back to doctrinal artillery.”
Courtesy story from 49th Public Affairs Detachment (Airborne)