Shaping a Post-Afghan Army

05/13/2011 FORT BRAGG, N.C. – An airborne field artillery battalion parachuted in and practiced setting up air-droppable howitzers on a drop zone here Dec. 3, 2010, a return to their native trade following several deployments of nonstandard missions.
The unit, 3rd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, prepositioned M119A2 105mm howitzers on the ground and dropped in gun crews, security and support personnel, and emplaced the artillery to fire.

“Probably 50% or more of the battalion has never seen a howitzer on a drop zone rigged,” said battalion commander, Lt. Col. David S. Pierce.

Credit: 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division Public Affairs, 12/3/10

“This gave us the first step to build those foundational blocks that will allow us to do this at full speed.”

“We only got to the walk phase today. The next time we do this, we’ll be at the run phase, and then every time after that, we’ll get a little bit better and faster, and hopefully by the time we reach our [mission readiness exercise], we’ll meet our time standards of 25 minutes at night, 20 minutes in the daytime,” he said.

Pierce said the exercise was controlled chaos, with artillery batteries divided into little groups of Paratroopers to perform the functions needed to set up and fire the guns.
Safety of the paratroopers and retention of equipment is job one during the airborne exercise, according to Command Sgt. Maj. Joey Love, the unit’s highest-ranking noncommissioned officer, after 25 years, still enjoys artillery.

Besides the inherent risk of parachuting, moving the two-ton cannon from its packing platform was the greatest source of danger in the exercise, called a “heavy drop” when the guns are actually parachuted to the ground, said Love.

Once paratroopers landed and assembled, instead of racing through the gun setup, an NCO directed and narrated the process to troops not directly involved.

“Because it has been two-and-a-half years since we’ve pulled guns off platforms on a drop zone, one of our greatest challenges is to rebuild that institutional knowledge of how it is done to standard,” said Love. The section chief of the gun, Sgt. Michael Prater of Battery B, said that getting crew drills down to a science was critical for every gun crew, typically seven artillerymen. 

“Honing of the crew drills – emplacing the gun itself, taking off the tire, putting down the base plate, putting the gun into service – is what we’re here to learn,” he said.

The battery hopes to execute four to five heavy drops in the next year, said Pierce.

  • The first picture shows a paratrooper with 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, jumps from a UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter during training Dec. 2, 2010, at Fort Bragg, N.C. At left are parachutes from the same helicopter already open.
  • The second picture shows a paratrooper with 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, parallel to the ground following the opening shock of his parachute after jumping from a UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter during training Dec. 2, 2010, at Fort Bragg, N.C. A parachute already on the ground is visible at upper right.
  • The third photo shows a paratrooper with 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division descends to Sicily Drop Zone after parachuting from the UH-60M Black Hawk behind him during rotary-wing airborne exercises Nov. 29, 2010, at Fort Bragg, N.C. Jumping from helicopters is an added skill for Paratroopers, who normally jump from airplanes such as C-130s and C-17s.
  • The fourth photo shows Command Sgt. Maj. LaMarquis Knowles, the highest-ranking enlisted soldier with 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, jumping from a UH-60M Black Hawk during rotary-wing airborne exercises Nov. 29, 2010, at Fort Bragg, N.C. Canopies from other Paratroopers are visible below.
  • The fifth photo shows a cannon crew with 3rd Battalion, 319th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, aiming a M119A2 105mm howitzer with the assistance of a column meter (not seen) during a “heavy drop” artillery exercise Dec. 3, 2010, at Fort Bragg, N.C. Airborne field artillery regiments drop the howitzers by parachute, then jump themselves
  • The sixth photo shows a parachute being pulled from its deployment bag for a paratrooper with 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, after he exits a UH-60M Black Hawk during rotary-wing airborne exercises Nov. 29, 2010, at Fort Bragg, N.C. The yellow static line connects the bag to the helicopter.
  • The final photo shows Paratroopers with 3rd Battalion, 319th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, removing an M119A2 105mm howitzer from its air-drop packing Dec. 3, 2010, during a training exercise at Fort Bragg, N.C. The paratroopers’ goal is to be able to fire the cannon within 20 minutes of the first jumper exiting the aircraft.

by Sgt. Mike MacLeod

"If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking."

—General George Patton Jr.

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