Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Gators Fire 2nd BCT’s First Rounds Since Iraq

By 1st Lt. Zach Alessi-Friedlander
Contributing Writer

The howitzers had been quiet since the first of November of 2007, but that changed on April 23.
For fifteen long months, the Battery A “Gators,” 2nd Battalion, 15th Field Artillery Regiment, provided fire support for the 2nd Brigade Combat Team in its expansive area of operations comprising the farms, fields and cities south of Baghdad. During that time, the Gators shot almost 3,000 rounds in support of BCT operations.
Last week, the guns roared back to life as the Gators traveled to the field for three days to complete section-level certification. Fort Drum’s notoriously fickle weather cooperated, allowing the Gators to qualify all eight of their howitzer sections and both of their fire-direction sections.
Section certification is a major training gate for a firing battery because successful completion of what the field artillery world calls “Table VIII” is mandatory for the unit to continue with its more advanced training and live-fire exercises.
The post-deployment phase of reconstituting the formation and resetting equipment forced the Gators to grapple with many of the same challenges imposed upon other units in 2nd BCT.
The battery’s Soldiers spent long hours in the classroom and doing dry-fire crew drills, refining the tasks required of them for Table VIII, but this live-fire exercise presented the battery with the opportunity to translate these skills from drill to practice.
“Table VIII gave the [fire-direction sections] the chance to take what they’ve learned in the classroom and put it into practice,” said 1st Lt. Tom Campbell, the fire direction officer in first platoon. “It’s one thing to learn in the classroom, but it’s a totally different experience to give actual firing data to gun sections that are chucking rounds down range.”
This field exercise also allowed the battalion’s various support elements to contribute to an artillery live fire. Specifically, Headquarters and Headquarters Battery provided medics; their survey section, which provided the firing unit with accurate direction and distance information for the firing site; and their meteorological section, which provided the fire-direction centers with the weather information that they must take into account when determining firing data for the howitzers.
Battery G, the battalion’s support and service battery, provided a large maintenance crew to attend to any vehicle, weapons, or mechanical problems the Gators might have experienced during their time in the field.
Because of the current operating environment, artillerymen are often forced to perform in a number of different roles while deployed. During the deployment, the Gators not only provided fire support for the entire BCT, but they also conducted numerous combat patrols in the Sayyid-Abdullah Corridor and within Mahmudiyah.
But artillerymen must always remain sharp and ready on their core skill set.
“The live-fire exercise afforded the battery the opportunity to allow our new Soldiers to experience rigorous field artillery training for the first time,” said Sgt. 1st Class Phillip DeVos. “It also allowed our more seasoned Soldiers, who spent large parts of the deployment doing maneuver tasks, to re-embrace their basic artillery skill sets.”
The experience of training for and successfully executing Table VIII has inspired confidence amongst Btry. A’s leaders and Soldiers.
"Today is my birthday, and as I turn 31, the battery has given me the greatest gift they could think of,” said Capt. Lee North, the battery commander. “They have safely and accurately fired over 250 rounds of 105mm artillery projectiles as part of Table VIII certification. I am honored and humbled to be in the presence of these fine Soldiers."

Gators take heavy weapons for an aerial spin

By 2nd Lt. Mike Schulman
2nd Bn., 15th FAR Fire Direction Officer

For some members of Battery A, 2nd Battalion, 15th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd BCT, the air assault and sling load training they participated in on May 27 was second nature. Battery A ran an air assault school for the Iraqi Army during their last deployment in 2007. Those NCOs that were with the ‘Gators’ in Iraq passed on their knowledge and skill on Tuesday to the new Soldiers that have since joined the unit.
The goal of the day’s training was to prepare the Soldiers of Btry. A, under the command of Capt. Lee North, for air assault missions that they will carry out in the future. One of the things artillerymen pride themselves on is their ability to accurately fire their weapons in any weather, terrain, or environment. With this training and the aid of the Blackhawk helicopters, Btry. A’s Soldiers can bring the fight to the enemy, no matter where the battlefield may be.
The day started as classes were given by Sgt. Matthew Konapatski and Staff Sgt. Barry Belles on how to rig a M119 Howitzer for a sling-load mission. In addition, a class on how to prepare a cargo net bag was given by staff sergeants James Claymore and Charles Bruckner. The Soldiers watched attentively as their NCOs went over every detail on how to prepare equipment for the helicopters. They also showed their Soldiers how to properly inspect their Howitzers and bags for mistakes and improper rigging.
“This training is good stuff; it’s realistic and gets everyone involved,” Konapatski said. By everyone, he meant everyone in the battery. North was the first Soldier in the battery to do a live hook up on Tuesday. In addition, both fire direction officers, 2nd Lt. Mike Schulman and 2nd Lt. Tom Upton, did hands-on training with their Soldiers.
“It was a good experience to be able to work with other units in the 10th Mountain Division,” said Pfc. Gregg Swanson, a gunner. “It’s good to see how an operation comes together with two completely different types of units - artillery and aviation, working towards completing the same mission.”
“You learn to respect the helicopters,” one of the officers said. “I got blown over when they were coming in to land.”
Once the Soldiers learned how to rig their equipment, the real training began. The helicopters came in and began to hover only 15 feet off the ground. From there, the Soldiers would stand on top of either their cannon or cargo net bag and hook their equipment up to the bird. The helicopters were only inches above the Soldier’s helmets as they worked together. Once hooked, all the Soldiers involved would quickly run to the left of the helicopter and wait for it to take off.
Battery A, who will be doing air assault missions this summer while training cadets at West Point, gained a tremendous amount of knowledge from the training. As part of the Global Reaction Force mission that the 2nd BCT has taken on, the Gators can take their cannons anywhere, and bring their firepower wherever it is needed.

Iron Sappers have blast at range

2nd Lt. Philip Lee
Contributing writer

In a war that requires Soldiers to fight, conduct civil-affairs missions, and form alliances with local citizens, often in the same day, sometimes its fun just to blow things up.
The Company A “Iron Sappers” of the 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 2nd BCT, successfully executed their explosive breaching mission May 27 through 29.
All of the Soldiers are now proficient in breaching a door with explosives using a variety of techniques. Using plastic explosives, more than 50 wooden and steel doors were safely blasted off their hinges.
Combat Engineers specialize in breaching obstacles in order to assist maneuver elements such as infantry, armor, and cavalry. Breaching doors with explosives is one of three methods. The two others are ballistic - the use of shotguns - or mechanical, using a Halligan tool to pry or break the door.
The need for breaching is especially important in today’s war because of the urban environment in which Soldiers operate. Combat engineers are often attached to maneuver units for this distinctive skill.
2nd Lt. Kenneth Stover, a platoon leader with the company who served as the range’s officer in charge, said that the Iron Sappers used the flex-linear, silhouette, donut, water-impulse, and C-charge techniques to breach the doors. The difference among these methods of breaching is the level of collateral damage. Factors such as the environment, possibility of non-combatants, and resources will dictate the method of breaching.
“The range was a great experience for new and seasoned Sappers alike,” said Spec. Scott Kelly, a combat engineer.
This is the last range for the Iron Sappers before departing to West Point as part of Task Force 4-31 for the United States Military Academy support mission, where they will train USMA Cadets in the conduct of live demolition training.