View Full Version : Artillerymen return to core duties in Afghanistan

09-28-2009, 12:29 PM
By Trista Talton - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Sep 28, 2009 5:45:33 EDT

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Marine artillery units have been forced to become jacks-of-all-trades in a war that has stretched military manpower to the limit.

They’ve taken on “in lieu of” missions, which can include anything but their regular fire-support roles. Absent traditional personnel to carry out such jobs, artillery Marines have done civil-affairs work, pulled military police duty, guarded bases and conducted border security. They’ve done infantry patrols and motor transport work.

But that was in Iraq. In Afghanistan, the call for cannons is giving these units the opportunity to resume their primary roles.

“The artillery community as a whole has been doing other things for quite a while,” said Lt. Col. Todd Finley, commander of 3rd Battalion, 10th Marines, from Camp Lejeune, N.C. “Now we’re actually taking cannons in theater and are prepared to provide fire support.”

In November, 3/10 will head to Afghanistan where it will replace 3rd Battalion, 11th Marines, out of Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. Marines with 3/11 are the Corps’ first artillery battalion to train for and deploy as a full artillery unit — tasked with a traditional artillery mission — since the Iraq war started in March 2003.

And they’ve been busy, not only providing fire support, but patrolling and interacting with the locals in their area of operations. Finley said he expects 3/10 will have a similar experience.

Like 3/11, 3/10 will use newer M777A2 lightweight 155mm howitzers during its tour. His battalion received the triple sevens when it returned in October from its most recent deployment to Iraq, where they conducted MP missions, he said. They’ve been training with them ever since, most recently during a month long Enhanced Mojave Viper workup at Twentynine Palms.

“The Marines in many ways like that gun more,” than its predecessor, the M198 howitzer, which at 16,000 pounds weighs nearly 6,000 pounds more than the triple seven, he said. “The maneuverability with the new howitzer, it’s easier to get around. It also has a digital fire-control system on it that allows the gun crew to more accurately emplace the weapon and do it a little bit quicker.”

The triple seven can fire Raytheon’s XM982 Excalibur Global Positioning System-guided projectile, which gives the howitzer a range of up to nearly 25 miles. It’s accurate to within 30 feet of its target. The digital fire-control system also makes it more accurate with standard projectiles.
Hitting the mark

Fire support has drawn ample scrutiny in Afghanistan, where Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, head of U.S. and NATO forces there, has restricted the use of big-time firepower in situations where civilians could be killed. In July, he told commanders to limit the use of close-air support, air-to-ground munitions and indirect fire against residential compounds.

But new questions about these rules surfaced after three Marines and a Navy corpsman, along with several Afghan soldiers, were killed in a Sept. 8 ambush in the Sarkani district of Kunar province. Allegedly, their requests for artillery support were denied, repeatedly.

The incident is under investigation, and the Pentagon has disputed reports from a journalist embedded with the training team.

McChrystal’s new rules have not affected the way Finley’s Marines train, he said. Artillery Marines strive to hit the target on the first shot and to use the most appropriate munitions for the job, he said.

“You don’t want to employ something that you don’t have to,” he said. “The constraints out there, a lot of folks look at that as restraining our ability to do certain things, but that’s not necessarily so. The challenge is that the enemy is amongst the people. There are times when the supporting arms that we provide may not be appropriate for the situation.”

That call, just like the types of missions they will conduct in Afghanistan, is made by the ground commander, he said.

“I think one of the keys to our success in deployment is remaining flexible to support the ground commander as necessary,” he said.