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Artillery Battery Shows Force in Afghanistan

By Staff Sgt. Bradley Rhen, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORWARD OPERATING BASE SALERNO, Afghanistan, Feb. 1, 2005 – To get the big guns, all you have to do is dial 198-PAIN.

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Army Spc. Ontario Smith, a cannon crewmember for Battery F, 7th Field Artillery Regiment, pulls the lanyard on an M198 155 mm howitzer and sends a round downrange during a show-of-force exercise Jan. 29 at Forward Operating Base Salerno, Afghanistan. Photo by Staff Sgt. Bradley Rhen, USA

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

On Jan. 29, the battery demonstrated its ability to reach out and touch someone during a show-of-force exercise. For several hours, the battery's "big guns" let loose with a barrage of bone-jarring blasts that sent rounds screaming downrange and impacting on the side of a mountain several miles away.

Army Spc. Ontario Smith, a cannon crewmember with Fox Battery, actually pulls the lanyard and fires the rounds. Despite the tooth-rattling blasts, he said he loves his job.

"We get to just sit back and blow (stuff) up," Smith said, adding that he loves the feeling of being able to help fellow soldiers and Marines who get into trouble while out on patrols.

The Washington, D.C., native said the battery played a major role in reducing the number of rocket attacks on the base over the past few months, but he thinks they should shoot every once and a while "just to let them know we're still here."

As for the "198-PAIN" motto, Sgt. Ricardo Tucker, a gun chief with Fox Battery, said it's like a call sign comrades downrange can use to call on the big guns.

"We're just like the police," the Chicago native said. "You get into trouble, and we'll help you out."

The exercise had several purposes beyond the show of force, according to Capt. Brendan Raymond, Fox Battery commander. Unit members used the exercise to synchronize all fire-support assets in the area, as a show of force to demonstrate the battery's capabilities, and to maintain their critical warfighting skills to deliver artillery fire.

For the soldiers on the gun line, Raymond said, it was a chance to practice the crew drills and each person's individual job to ensure rounds are fired safely.

Since the rounds were impacting on a mountain outside the base, Raymond said, the coalition took many steps to let local residents know exactly what was going on so they didn't get hurt. "The big thing that we have to do is de- conflict this with the local populace and make sure everything is safe and there's not collateral damage," he said.

The day before the exercise, the battery delivered humanitarian aid to locals near the impact zone to let them know the coalition is here to help and not just to shake the foundations of their homes.

However, the main point of the exercise remained the show of force. Raymond believes there are anti-governmental factions in the Khost area. This show of force helps the coalition deny those factions sanctuary or safe-haven. "It shows them that if they do want to attack an Afghan or coalition force, the big guns are there to provide that fire support and disrupt and destroy them," Raymond said.

Smith echoed those thoughts, saying would-be terrorists are starting to realize the error of their ways. "Oh, they're getting the picture," he said. "I don't think they want to come out and play around."

Tucker also said the battery definitely showed force during the exercise. "The sound travels a lot, and if they see the explosion, they can tell these big guns are nothing to be playing with," he said.

(Army Staff Sgt. Bradley Rhen is assigned to Combined Task Force Thunder.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageA cloud of smoke several miles away marks the impact of a round from an M198 155 mm howitzer from Battery F, 7th Field Artillery Regiment, during a show-of-force exercise Jan. 29 at Forward Operating Base Salerno, Afghanistan. Photo by Staff Sgt. Bradley Rhen, USA  
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