We conducted a lot of really badass missions on my last tour – things that most people don’t even know we have the capability of doing. One my personal favorites was the seismically activated cameras, which proved invaluable.
There were a few areas in our AO [area of operations] where the insurgents would emplace IEDs repeatedly, so the command set up cameras wired to sensors that activated when somebody started digging. When they did, the imagery was relayed back to base in real time. It was almost comical.
We’d see an image of a guy with a shovel in his hand, breaking ground. Then in the next shot he’d be digging. Then he’d be throwing the dirt. Usually the next photo would be of him looking around, like he’d heard something. Then he’d go back to digging for a couple of frames. Next shot: a huge cloud of dust and smoke. We’d dropped artillery on him.
Our artillery battery was always on standby for those missions. As soon as an insurgent started digging in an IED, the command would relay us the coordinates, and we’d fire a volley of HE [high explosive] rounds on top of him. Best of all, it worked. No more IEDs there. And they had to find new people to replace the ones we blew up.
The whole tour was pretty amazing, actually. When we got there, the arty unit we replaced told us they hardly ever fired any missions. It was pretty quiet. We could expect to just hang out, sleep a lot, and work a little. It sounded good, but it wasn’t true. The very first day we were on that gun line, we fired more than 200 HE rounds for call for fire missions. That isn’t “terrain denial,” but real targets. In fact, we fired so many rounds that we had to put bags of ice on our computers to keep them from overheating. We stayed busy.
As soon as we got on the gun line early one morning, we sustained a direct rocket attack on the guns. Thankfully, the rockets all hit the barriers directly in front of us, but it was obvious that we were the targets. Moments later, we fired a counter battery back at them, which we figured would put a stop to it. But amazingly, it didn’t; they fired again, so we unleashed hell on them and then everything went quiet. I’m pretty sure we got them that time. And that was just the beginning.
Later that day, an infantry company in the city was trying to approach a suspected weapons cache, but every time they moved in, they’d get repulsed by heavy insurgent fire. So, they called us for help. They gave us the coordinates, backed up, and waited for us to do our thing. We did a full fire for effect.
For about six minutes, one high explosive round hit that place every three seconds. There was no way anything there could survive the barrage. Five minutes after we fired our last volley, the infantry moved in, and everything was silent. And sure enough, they found the cache, which actually turned out to be an entire warehouse full of ordnance and weaponry.
The whole tour was like that: productive. When we first got there, we’d get incoming rocket or mortar attacks ten to fifteen times a day. We took care of that immediately. As soon as we’d get hit, we’d fire back with superior firepower. I’m sure they were thinking, “What? That’s not supposed to happen. The last guys didn’t do that.” Well, we did, and it worked well.
Before long, we’d killed most of the teams firing on us, and we went a full five days without a single attack. If I had to guess, they had to recruit entirely new teams – and find them new guns to use. Then they started changing their tactics.
They knew that artillery can’t fire on close range targets, so they’d either lob one round and run, or they’d move closer to the base where they thought we couldn’t hit them. Well, WE couldn’t hit them, but our own mortars could – and did. Those insurgents were taken out quickly, too. Long story short, we took care of the problem, and the whole area has been pretty quiet since.
That was two years ago, though, and Iraq is much different now. We still keep a “hot gun” ready all the time, but there really aren’t any more targets. Between us and the other indirect fire units, the insurgents don’t have a prayer. They’ve either been killed or they’ve given up. Either way, they don’t pose a threat anymore.
We may not have left the base as much as infantry guys did, but when they needed us, we were there, and we took care of them. The funniest part is that in the states, not a week went by when one of our guys didn’t get in a fight with one of the infantry guys. But none of that happened here. We put aside all the squabbling and we got the job done – and we got it done well. We saved the fighting for when we got back home. Out here, we’re on the same team.
Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw, All Rights Reserved