Hang! Fire! Currahes teach the ANA basic 82mm mortar skills
By Staff Sgt. Todd Christopherson (101st Airborne)October 23, 2013
PAKTYA PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- Under a harsh Afghanistan sun, in what would be a picturesque mountain scene, a group of Afghanistan National Army Soldiers listen intensly as Sgt. 1st. Class Bo Lathrop, a mortarman with the Mortar Platoon, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st. Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st. Airborne Division (Air Assault), goes over the steps they will need to effectively use their 82mm mortar system, both safely and accurately.
This task is easier said then done, as not only do they have to work with a mix of equipment from Russia, China and the Ukraine for starters, there is a language barrier to work through before they can fully understand what is being taught to them.
"The first couple of days are rough because of the language barrier," said Lathrop, "Once they get a handle on the map reading, it is pretty much down hill from there."
Private 1st. Class Justin Parr, a mortarman with the Mortar Plt., HHC, 1st. Bn., 506th Inf. Reg., 4th BCT, 101st. Abn. Div. (Air Assault) on his first tour in Afghanistan said, "It has been interesting because even for all our technology, we can't teach them to use it; so we have to fall back on good old 'Kentucky windage' to put rounds on target when they direct lay their mortar tubes."
Direct laying a mortar system is a procedure where you see your target and you have to "walk" your rounds onto it by guessing the range to it and working your way to it. It is a task that is easy to accomplish with technology helping you, however, often times this is technology, which the ANA does not have.
1st. Lt. Daniel McGee, Sgt. 1st. Class Bo Lathrop and Pfc. Justin Parr have traveled throughout the operational area that is administered by the Currahees, training over 75 of their ANA counterparts on the 60mm and 82mm mortar systems.
The team-teaches the ANA mortar teams on the basics of misfire procedures, direct-lay procedures, map reading and safety checks on their 60mm and 82mm mortar systems.
"We start off with map reading which is the toughest for them to grasp," said McGee, "I mean they only have to learn a new language, then their numbering system, then to top it off, they have to learn our map system right after that."
The ANA mortar team brought a Russian-made mortar tube for the first day of training and then brought a mixture of the rounds they had on stock the next day, from a 81mm American round to a couple of rounds the team will have to do research on in order to give their counterparts the proper information.
"With our 81mm mortar systems we have a standard NATO round we use," said McGee, "Where as the ANA may have a Russian tube with Ukrainian rounds or a Chinese tube with Russian rounds, which is why the first question we generally ask is what kind of rounds they have?"
The differences between the 82mm and the 81mm mortar system are they are able to shoot our rounds while we cannot shoot theirs, the range and the sights are also different and the knobs move backwards compared to ours.
All three members of the training team agreed that the ANA's greatest strength is their ability to get hands-on training and their motivation to get better and learn all they can before we leave.