By Pfc. Cynthia Teears Van CleveSeptember 30, 2010
FORWARD OPERATING BASE KUNDUZ, Afghanistan - For centuries, field artillery units have supported the infantry in countless battles and fields of fire by raining down explosive steel on advancing enemies. On today's battlefield, however, the field artillery Soldier's role is much different, but no less important.
On Forward Operating Base Kunduz in northern Afghanistan, a small group of "Red Legs" from Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 3rd Battalion, 6th Field Artillery Regiment, operate the Q-36 Firefinder Radar system that watches over the base for incoming enemy mortars, rockets and missiles.
The unit works directly with 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment's tactical operations center and its fires support team to determine if the mortar teams or other sections will fire back.
"We man it 24 hours a day and maintain it to keep it up and running," said Staff Sgt. Courtney O'Connor, radar section chief, HHB, 3-6 FA. "It's a radar unit that tracks incoming - and if we track something, we send it up through the TOC digitally."
The fires support team then processes the information and decide if it needs to be sent to whoever will return fire.
This team of radar operators and repairmen deployed with 1-87 Infantry last spring and has had little contact with their battalion while they have been deployed.
"I know the operation portion and I manage everything, making sure everything happens," O'Connor said. "There are five of us total - two operators and two mechanics and me."
Being just a five-man team, everyone knows a little bit about all the jobs that keep the radar system up and running.
"I'm an operator when I'm not repairing," said Spc. Michael McSurdy, a radar repairman with the group. "We send up acquisitions to the TOC, and they send out the fire missions. It's not really exciting, but it is if they fire - if they send out a counter mission."
The work schedule recently has changed to allow an eight-hour shift instead of the previous 12-hour shift, McSurdy explained. The unit also downsized their work area so they could start packing some of the extra equipment they don't use every day.
"No matter where we go, our spare parts go with us just in case anything goes down," McSurdy said.
The system is maintained daily and ready whenever it is needed.
"I come up here and make sure the radar is fine and the generators are up," said Sgt. Bryson Villamor, senior radar operator, HHB, 3-6 FA.
According to the system operators, "excitement" does not happen often, but when it does, everyone is prepared and the communications between units works well.