By Sean Kimmons, Army News ServiceOctober 22, 2018
CAMP DAHLKE, Afghanistan -- For Sgt. James Bess, there's nothing like the sound of thunder erupting from a howitzer when it sends a 155 mm artillery round to an enemy position.
"The sheer power you feel when that round leaves that tube is something else," said Bess, a team chief with 4th Infantry Division's 2nd Battalion, 12th Field Artillery Regiment.
When called upon, Bess said firing their guns to help fellow Soldiers is almost like sending a wave to them from afar.
It's as if, even from miles away, the artillerymen let them know that they have their back.
"You know that the round is going somewhere to do something for someone else who needs it," said Bess, 23, of Apopka, Florida. "It could possibly be their saving grace."
Since April, his unit has fired hundreds of artillery rounds from M777 Howitzers in support of U.S. and Afghan forces.
Mostly they fire for terrain denial purposes, hitting spots historically used as launching pads by insurgents who shoot rockets at the camp. There are also calls for fire, and if insurgents are able to shoot off an incoming rocket, the gunners fire back at them within a few minutes.
"When the enemy shoots rockets at us, they are shooting and running," said Staff Sgt. Anthony Yannarella, a section chief with the battalion's Bravo Battery. "For us to be able to shoot back and get that counter-fire, we need to move quickly to get to that gun."
Soldiers from the battery live in fortified shipping containers next to the guns, so they can be ready to fire at any time.
Due to his unit's speedy and accurate fires, Yannarella, 28, of Delran, New Jersey, believes they have deterred the enemy.
When they first arrived, rocket attacks occurred almost every other day at the camp, which is south of Kabul. Incoming rounds then slowed down and, in September, Soldiers said they were only receiving about one every two weeks.
"They know that if they're going to shoot, they're going to end up being shot back," Bess said. "We're sending them what were supposed to -- steel rain."
In his first deployment, Bess said he has enjoyed doing what he has been training to do for four years.
Past counter-insurgency missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said, often pulled artillerymen from their routine missions to do Infantry-like tasks.
"Artillerymen would come over here and kick in doors," he said. "That's not what we trained for, that's not what we came in the Army for."
Bess joined the Army right after high school. He always loved manual labor and decided to head into Artillery after he saw online videos of Soldiers firing the howitzers.
"I like being able to get out there in the grit and do stuff that takes more than just brains, but also a little bit of muscle," he said. "There's not another job in this Army that I'd rather be doing."
But Bess and others in his unit understand the need to build up the Afghan's artillery force.
Afghan soldiers from a nearby base will sometimes come to their gun pits and observe them in action. Perhaps the most important thing the Afghans see is the discipline of the American crews.
"Everybody has a specific role, everybody is well-trained on their role and knows exactly what to do," said 1st Lt. Evan Russell, a platoon leader. "But we're also trained in other people's roles, so if someone has to step aside, someone can hop in and know exactly what to do."
While the Afghans use a different gun system -- the D-30 Howitzer, which fires 122 mm rounds -- the concepts are similar, especially the discipline part.
"When they come here, they see how efficient we work as a well-oiled machine," said Russell, 26, of Davis, Illinois.
One of the Army's newest units, the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade, has also chipped in to help the Afghans stand up their version of rolling thunder.
A mortarman by trade, Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Bernier, who is now a senior operations advisor, visits Afghan bases during fly-to-advise missions to train them on their artillery and mortar systems.
"I feel that they appreciate my influence mostly because I fly to their [forward operating base] and I use their equipment and show them how to employ it, shoulder-to-shoulder with them," Bernier said. "They feel that you are more invested in their success when you're on their FOB [Forward Operating Base] using their equipment."
Until the Afghans are ready to go solo, Bess and other U.S. artillerymen will keep helping them with a pull of a lanyard.
"I'm here in an environment where it really counts, where people are actually requesting fires," he said. "Peoples' lives depend on our accuracy and our dedication to the fires we send downrange."