Field Artillery Soldiers Man ‘Gun Line’ in Afghanistan
By Army Staff Sgt. Adora Medina
Special to American Forces Press Service
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, Aug. 8, 2008 From a distance the barrels of the howitzers can be seen above the barriers surrounding Forward Operating Base Kala Gush. The weapons are ready to fire at a second’s notice, providing fire support to the immediate area.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Ronald Valdez, 1st Battalion, 6th Field Artillery, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, gun line NCO in charge, gets mission information from the Joint Operations Center on the radio, at Forward Operating Base Kala Gush, Afghanistan, July 30, 2008. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Adora Medina, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The “Centaurs” of Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 6th Field Artillery, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, are responsible for manning the “gun line” 24 hours a day. Two artillery teams work around the clock, maintaining their weapons while waiting for fire missions.
“I work on the gun line, and the mission is pretty much to support any troops outside of the wire with our cannon fire,” Pfc. Eric Coates said. “We’re thoroughly trained, and we can do any mission that they send down to us. [Our cannon fire will] be accurate, that’s for sure.”
The long hours spent on the gun line can seem tiresome, but the Centaurs stay alert and ready to take immediate action. Pfc. Jackie Noah recalled the first fire mission the Centaurs completed during their deployment to Afghanistan.
“We were providing security for our fellow soldiers and keeping the enemies’ heads down, making sure [coalition forces] made it out alive,” Noah said. “It feels good to know that you’re helping the people that are forward of our position and doing everything we can to help our fellow soldiers.”
Many challenges come with the mission; for some on the gun line, it’s adjusting to the long hours. Others say the restricted environment takes some getting used to, but mainly, the soldiers just miss their families.
To cope with these challenges, the artillery soldiers find creative ways to pass the time. Some are musicians; some are artists; and some are writers. Regardless of the hobby, they all manage to come together to throw around a football, hit golf balls into a mosquito net, or swing at a punching bag made of sandbags, rocks and tape.
“Well, for anybody that’s coming to Afghanistan, make sure you bring a hobby with you because the mountains start closing in on you after a while,” Pfc. Thomas Brooks said jokingly. “It gets pretty small so you have to keep yourself occupied. Just keep an open mind, and just trust everybody that’s around you.”
For the remainder of the deployment, the soldiers believe things will only improve as time goes on. Staff Sgt. Anthony Salyer, one of the howitzer section chiefs, said he is grateful to work with such a dedicated team.
“They’re excellent with team work,” Salyer said. “They’re always looking for ways to help out each other, the team and the mission. They’re just a good group of guys, very willing to work, always wanting to learn new things. It’s only going to get better with this group of guys. It’s going to be a cake walk. Friendships are going to build stronger, and we’re going to work better as a team and get the mission done.”
(Army Staff Sgt. Adora Medina is assigned to 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division.)