Army Artillerymen Support Marines, Others in Operation Al Fajr
By John Valceanu
American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Nov. 16, 2004 While the battle against terrorists and insurgents moved from house to house through the streets of Fallujah, Iraq, a group of U.S. soldiers on the outskirts of the city rained precise destruction down on the enemy in support of the coalition's front-line fighters.
Artillerymen of the 1st Cavalry Division's Battery A, 3rd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, fired roughly 1,600 rounds against enemy targets during a two-week period. Supporting Operation Al Fajr, the field-artillery soldiers provided indirect fire support with their M-109 Palladin 155 mm self-propelled howitzers to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, fellow soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division, Iraqi forces and other coalition troops.
"We've had very good results. Our fires have been very effective, and I'm glad we've been able to make a contribution to this important fight," said Army Capt. Michael Burgoyne, Battery A commander.
The unit's success during the mission is due to the professionalism and dedication of his soldiers, Burgoyne said. "They are excited to be here, doing the jobs they enlisted to do," he said. "They have been completely dedicated to firing effectively and safely."
Safety is of paramount importance during artillery operations, when there is literally no margin for error. This is never more true than in a situation such as the one in Fallujah, where the soldiers were firing in direct support of friendly forces within a small, confined area, Burgoyne said.
An artillery shell landing just slightly off target could have disastrous consequences, causing many casualties among friendly troops. Fortunately, Burgoyne said, the battery's excellent performance kept the rounds on target, preventing tragedies.
Three major sections must work in concert in order to function effectively. Forward observers on the ground near the target call in the exact location of where the strike is to take place. The fire-direction center receives the information, processes it and transmits it to the gun crews who operate the actual guns.
"We have guys on the ground who mark the targets with lasers. Our forward observers are very good, and our guns have been accurate," Burgoyne said. "We haven't had to adjust our fire too much."
Since Operation Al Fajr has been led and conducted primarily by the Marine Corps, many of the forward observers who called in strikes during the fierce fighting have been Marines. According to Burgoyne, this joint aspect worked well, and there were no communication problems between the Marine forward observers and the Army artillerymen.
"We've turned out to be a good team, working here with the Marines," Burgoyne said. "They are very professional, and we were able to accomplish the mission together."
A good example of the full collaboration between the artillery soldiers and their Marine Corps comrades, according to Burgoyne, involved a group of Marines pinned down in a trench by heavy enemy fire.
"They called in our fire on the enemy positions, and we accomplished the mission," Burgoyne said. "The enemy was very close to the Marines, but they were eliminated, and the Marines were able to get out of that trench and drive on with their mission."
For the artillerymen, supporting Operation Al Fajr has meant concentrating and working very hard for extended periods. "We've been working long hours -- 12- to 16-hour shifts. That's been pretty tough," said Army Pfc. Roy Beach, a Battery A fire-direction specialist.
Beach said he is glad, however, for the opportunity to do the job for which he was trained. For the first few months of their deployment, Beach said, he and his fellow artillerymen found themselves performing a variety of non-artillery missions.
"When we first got here, we went on patrols and conducted raids. We did a lot of infantry stuff," Beach said. "It's good to have a chance to do our jobs as artillerymen."
Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command, visited the battery Nov. 14 and observed them conduct a fire mission during Operation Al Fajr. Abizaid said he was impressed with their performance.
"Captain Burgoyne and his young soldiers are a perfect example of the great troops we have fighting and winning this war," Abizaid said.