By Capt. Ed Shank, 1-108 FA PAOApril 13, 2009
CAMP TAJI, Iraq - From a remote station just north of Baghdad, Battery B, 1st Battalion, 109th Field Artillery marked its place in history March 29 with an earth-shaking, thunderous boom - firing their home battalion's first artillery rounds in combat since World War II. There was no tickertape parade or champagne to mark the occasion. There was only the sound of cheers from a handful of artillerymen as they cleared their M777A Howitzer to fire again.
Battery B 1-109th, a 55th Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 28th Infantry Division unit attached to the 1st Battalion, 108th Field Artillery, fired four illumination rounds that night from a recently completed fire base at Joint Security Station Istiqlal in support of troopers from 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment.
Although many of the battery's soldiers have deployed to the Middle East since September 11, 2001, the new assignment marked the first time any of them had been given the opportunity to deploy as artillerymen.
"All the soldiers are very motivated to be here, pulling the lanyard and doing an artillery mission," said 1st Lt. Jason S. Grentus, Team Arrowhead platoon leader. "It doesn't matter if you're active duty or a National Guard artillery Soldier, if you come here as an artillery guy, odds are you aren't going to be doing an artillery mission. We are very fortunate to be here doing an artillery mission, to be a part of this and to be the pioneers, if you will, for my battalion back home and the 108th [1st Battalion, 108th Field Artillery, 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team]."
From the time the unit was told of its new mission, to the time that its guns were fired from the JSS, was less than a month - nearly light speed movement for a mission of this magnitude. In that time, a plan was put in place to build a fire base on an installation where there was none, to calibrate the cannons that would be used, and to move an entire platoon's worth of men and equipment to the site.
"The coordination was definitely the biggest hurdle to overcome," said Grentus. "Logistically, getting all of us from Taji to Istiqlaal - along with all of our equipment - was the hardest piece."
Team Arrowhead had to pack up all equipment while simultaneously training with Battery B, 1-108th to calibrate their weapons and train on the Excalibur 155mm Precision Guided Extended Range Artillery Projectile.
"We can provide high explosives (HE), we can provide illumination at night, we also have Excalibur, which we can use for precise munitions," said Grentus. "We also have some smoke munitions too. So we come with an array of artillery pieces and artillery rounds that we can provide for the Cav."
According to Command Sgt. Maj. Mervin M. Ripley, command sergeant major for the 1st Squadron,7th Cavalry Regiment's mission at Istiqlal is to partner with the Iraqi Police and assist them using any enablers they have at their disposal. The illumination rounds fired March 29 were fired in direct support of coalition troops on the ground in their area of operations. Ripley said the ordinance provided by Arrowhead is a force multiplier that only field artillery can provide.
"They use illumination rounds to show the enemy that we know where you're at," said Ripley. "It tells them we know you might be planting explosives. It denies them the ability to move in the dark."
Although the accommodations at the JSS would be considered austere by anyone's standards, Staff Sgt. John Edwards, chief of section for Team Arrowhead, said the conditions are nothing unexpected.
"Out here the accommodations are a bit more limited, but it's what we expected coming over to Iraq," said Edwards. "I've been to Afghanistan and Afghanistan is way worse. The guys are getting used to it - they're adjusting. Morale is high. We're doing a good mission. Nobody's really complaining."
Lt. Grentus agrees that his guys are motivated and says it has a lot to do with the way they've been treated by their active duty hosts.
"The way we've been received by the Cav has been outstanding," said Grentus. "They've really taken us under their wing and called us one of their own. They've given us any kind of support, any kind of guidance, any kind of supplies that they can offer us. They've been outstanding to work for."
"I've worked with field artillery on several occasions - active duty, National Guard and reserve. B Battery, 1st of the 109th is very professional. My guys have pretty much adopted them. They carry themselves with pride. They have what we refer to as 'cavalry panache.' They definitely take their business seriously and they show it."