By Sgt. Joseph GuentherApril 13, 2013
FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- The average working American goes to his or her job every day, watches the world's events unfold on the news, and goes to sleep soundly at night, often disconnected from the dozens of conflicts unfolding across the globe. They do this because of the service and often-great personal sacrifice of the men and women of the United States Army.
Among those Soldiers are those who stand ready to deploy at a moment's notice: the "Falcon Brigade". These airborne warriors are frequently called upon to demonstrate their ability to deploy to any type of situation ranging from violent conflict to disaster relief.
This level of readiness is achieved by various exercises that provide military leadership with the ability to gauge the quality of training of Soldiers. On April 9, 2013, the Paratroopers of 2nd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment demonstrated their skill with an airborne operation followed immediately by a live-fire exercise.
"These guys are phenomenal," said 1st Sgt. Joey Ruiz of Battery B. "Everybody knew their task at hand, and they executed it perfectly."
These airborne artillery Soldiers, known as the "Black Falcons," earned their pay as they parachuted from the sky out of a C-17 Globemaster onto Normandy Drop Zone. Within minutes, they were setting up their 105mm howitzer to hurl high-explosive rounds directly at the enemy.
There are three elements of artillery fire: the cannon and its crews, the fire direction center, and the fire support teams. Every individual involved must be able to flawlessly do his job so that rounds hit their targets without risking injury to friendly forces or noncombatants on the battlefield.
Staff Sgt. Arturo Guerrero, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the FDC, said that the Black Falcons are the very best artillery unit he has ever been in. He has served as an artilleryman for more than eight years, and described the speed and skill of Paratroopers as superior to all others.
"Here you hit the ground running and within a few minutes, get rounds down range," Guerrero said.
He said "the attention to detail and knowledge of the Soldiers here surpass a lot of the units out there."
Before a single round can be fired, a fire support team must first observe the target area. Known as the "eyes of the artillery," this special group of Paratroopers spots the enemy and determines their location on a map. Once ready, they call the fire direction center to request artillery fire on the target. They can also request special types of fire missions such as smoke, to screen the maneuvers of friendly forces.
Over the years the technology has changed, but the fundamentals have stayed the same. While many heavy brigades have Strykers and tanks and the ability to call for fire with modern computer systems, Paratroopers are often restricted by what they can carry on their backs out of an airplane.
On Normandy Drop Zone, only a few feet from the howitzer, the fire direction center could be seen calculating fire data using only hand-written data and laminated maps. They were still the fastest and most accurate fires Guerrero said he had ever seen.
"Here we stay with the old stuff," he said. "When you jump, you have to apply your basic knowledge."
"It's really important that you carry that knowledge from a private to an NCO so you can accomplish the mission," Guerrero concluded.
By honoring the decades-old tradition of NCO-led training, the Black Falcons validated the skill of its airborne artillerymen. In only one workday, they rigged equipment, parachuted to a drop zone, set up and fired live artillery, and packed up to go home. They accomplished more in a single day than many can expect to do in an entire week.
Regardless of what crisis happens in the world, the 82nd Airborne Division is ready to face it, and they haven proven it once again.