LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- Artillerymen from 3rd Cavalry Regiment suited up before their daily routine of sending rounds down range from tactical base Gamberi Friday, Sept. 16.
On this particular day, something was different. Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning, the U.S. Army's top leader, was visiting the base to get a firsthand look at the mission in Afghanistan.
Just before the firing of artillery rounds and the standard announcement of "American out-going" over the base's speakers, Secretary Fanning arrived.
Capt. Donald Pate, the battery commander, explained that his Soldiers had been conducting fire missions for months leading up to their deployment. For him, this fire mission was no different than any other, even with the Secretary in attendance.
"Successfully completing fire missions in Afghanistan validates all the training we did at home station," said Pate. "My Soldiers have been focused on attention to detail in every mission they complete. They are well trained and ready to perform on a daily basis."
The battery's mission is to keep themselves and Soldiers from the Train, Advise and Assist Command-East team safe from enemy attacks by providing immediate suppression fires and counterfire.
The battery leadership walked the Secretary through each step in the M777 howitzer crew drill. The Secretary then served as assistant gunner, helping to register the howitzer for more accurate fires.
Capt. Rance Blake said he enjoyed having the Secretary alongside his team.
"It was great for the Soldiers to get to see the Secretary, shake his hand and listen to what he had to say," said Blake. "The section performed great. We man two guns in two different locations, and the Soldiers are always working hard to accomplish the mission."
In addition to observing artillery fire, Fanning engaged with Soldiers participating in medical training and on a mortar fire mission. Earlier in the day, he had held a town hall at Bagram Airfield.
"I want the Soldiers to know there is nothing more that I enjoy than coming to the field and spending time together," Secretary Fanning said. "We greatly appreciate the sacrifices they are making along with their families back home," he explained.
Pate understands what the Secretary was referring to. He commands a 42-Soldier battery and his mission of protecting the force never stops. The battery under his command supports fire missions from two locations, which keeps his Soldiers constantly on the move.
When they are not firing the guns, they man guard towers and provide guardian angel support to Soldiers advising the Afghan police.
"Fighter management is definitely the hardest part of my mission," said Pate. "It's also one of the most important parts. I would rather work harder to give my Soldiers the time off to talk to their families than not give them that time off to relax. Each Soldier receives a full 24 hours off during each week."
The 3rd Cavalry Regiment is currently spread across Afghanistan, supporting various missions for both Operation Freedom Sentinel and the Resolute Support Mission.