FORT HOOD, Texas-Soldiers of the 5th Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division honed their field artillery skills; providing precise and lethal fire support during an M109A6 "Paladin" counter fire exercise, here, April 14-18.

Nicknamed a "Hot Gun", the position consists of two to three Paladins with crews positioned and ready to provide counter fire support immediately upon receiving orders from the fire direction center. These systems are capable of delivering high explosive rounds up to 30 kilometers away.

"There are a lot of different steps we have to do before we can get rounds down range," said Capt. Kevin Wolf, a Pekin, Ill. native and commander of B Battery. "First, we have to clear the ground of [friendly] forces. Second, de-conflict all airspace from where the guns are positioned and where the actual target is. Three, there has to be a collateral damage assessment done to ensure no...civilians are in harm's way."

The self-propelled howitzer fires 155mm smoke, illumination or high explosive rounds and is operated by a crew of four Soldiers: a driver, gunner, "number one man" and a crew chief. In a counter fire mission, speed and accuracy are essential to eliminate enemy indirect fire systems that are targeting friendly positions, so crews must continuously conduct rehearsals and gunnery training to refine their abilities.

Staff Sgt. Joe Garcia, a Paladin crew chief from Fresno, Calif., arrived to the unit in February and that same month lead his crew to the battalion's "Top Gun" position during certification gunnery exercise. During this current counter fire exercise, his crew worked not just to maintain their optimal performance, but to also improve. Once we get the order to fire, it takes anywhere from 22 to 26 seconds for us to get rounds down range, said Garcia of his crew. Each person has his role to the success of the mission.

"We get the mission from the FDC (fire direction center) which does the calculations for deflection and elevation of the gun tube. 'Number one man' makes the adjustments, loads the round, we verify the round, the fuse, he loads and he pulls the lanyard to fire. He does most of the work," added Garcia.

"I love the versatility of being a Field Artilleryman," said Spc. Robert Schmitz, from Ukuah, Calif., Garcia's 'number one man'. "We get to experience a lot of different fields, like...conducting infantry training, room clearing, checkpoints, patrols; we get hands-on training with every [military job] you work with."

"I've got some great Soldiers, they are multi-functional, able to conduct any mission at the same time," said Capt. Wolfe. "They will be tasked out to do a lot of things while in Iraq. We could have a platoon on 'Hot Gun' conducting fire missions down range in support of the counter fire to indirect fire threat or provide illumination fires and effects for our maneuver brethren."

"As Field Artillerymen, we do counter fire and indirect fire support. The key thing is that we may be doing all these other missions and at any time come back to conducting a field artillery mission," said Wolf. "We are going to provide fire support for our maneuver brethren on the battle field. Anytime they call, we've got steel on target."