This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri May29th 2019. If you would like to see the current articles as they are published, you may subscribe to The Belle Banner by calling 573-859-3328, or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or mail to The Belle Banner, PO Box 711, Belle, MO 65013. Subscription rates are; Maries, Osage, and Gasconade County = $23.55 per year, elsewhere in Missouri = $26.77, outside Missouri = $27.00, and foreign countries = $40.00.
In the Army the infantry is called the Queen of Battle, the artillery is called the King of Battle. The infantry color is blue and the artillery color is red. The infantry engages the enemy. The artillery puts high explosives on top of the enemy when asked to by the infantry. When an infantry unit discovers a larger enemy force it may have the artillery forward observer (FO) that travels with the infantry “call for fire”. When an infantry unit is discovered by a larger enemy force the “call for fire” becomes more frantic, and if the FO uses the term “danger close”, it means ‘they are almost on top of us please be very accurate’.
M109 155mm Self Propelled Paladin firing
Life in the artillery is very different from life in the infantry. The artillery does not walk, they ride in a truck towing their big gun, or on the big gun when it is self-propelled. Artillery is hard work, big shells are heavy. The artillery is an essential element of combat arms, but its work is performed far to the rear of the battle. The artillery, good naturedly called “cannon cockers” or “gun bunnies”, is a proud corps, it and tankers are second only to the infantry.
A company sized unit in the artillery, commanded by a captain, is called a Battery. A typical Artillery Battery has a battery headquarters section with the commander, executive officer who also performs as the Firing Battery Commander (or platoon leader), first sergeant, supply sergeant, CBRN sergeant, a Sergeant First Class Chief of Firing Battery who supervises the six howitzer sections and also serves as the Firing Battery Platoon Sergeant (locally referred to as the “Chief of Smoke”), and another Sergeant First Class Gunnery Sergeant, who is concerned primarily with the handling, accountability, transportation, and distribution of ammunition. There is an Ammunition Section of 4 or 5, headed by a staff sergeant, whose job is artillery ammunition. Depending on its composition, high explosive, chemical, smoke, illumination, a 105mm artillery shell weighs around 45 pounds, and a 155mm shell 100 pounds. The Fire Direction Center is headed by a lieutenant – Fire Direction Officer, and a staff sergeant, Chief Fire Direction Computer. It has another sergeant, a specialist or two, and 3 or 4 privates. These are basically computer people who operate very sophisticated software in very sophisticated computers. They get the “call for fire” information from the FO’s and translate it to gun settings for the gun crews, direction, elevation, ammunition type, and shell charge settings. Then there are six howitzer gun sections, each headed by a staff sergeant, Howitzer Section Chief, with a sergeant Gunner, and a specialist Assistant Gunner, A sergeant Ammunition Team Chief, with 2 or 3 privates, and a specialist Driver.
M119 105mm Cannon Live Fire
All artillery training is at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, next to Lawton, about 90 miles southwest of Oklahoma City. There are five enlisted military occupational specialties (MOS) in the artillery. MOS 13B is Cannon Crewmember. Those soldiers are the gun crews on 105mm, 155m, and 175mm howitzers. They maintain the gun, they load, fire, and unload it. They clean it and handle its ammunition. The 13B AIT (Advanced Individual Training) is 5 weeks, 4 days long. Forward Observers travel with the infantry and tell the artillery when and where to shoot. One of the best jobs in the Army according to those doing it. That is MOS 13F Fire Support Specialist, whose AIT is 8 weeks 4 days long. The Fire Direction Center soldiers, who control the artillery fire, are MOS 13J Fire Control Specialist. That AIT is 7 weeks long and comments from soldiers in that job indicate that only the basic information is covered in AIT, that there is a lot of necessary learning when they get to their first assignment. The job of setting up the Fire Direction Center normally goes to newly assigned privates. Setting up the tent, generator, computers, etc, but first “setting up the OE”. That is artillery slang for erecting the OE-254 Antenna System, which is a high frequency, omni directional radio antenna. The OE, carried in a four foot long canvas bag, is a sectional 30 foot high pole, with 8 foot long antennas on the top. When properly staked down, it is supposed to be able to withstand 90 mile per hour winds.
There is another element in the artillery arsenal, the Multiple Launched Rocket System (MLRS). The MLRS is a self-propelled rocket launcher that can launch up to 12 rockets within 60 seconds. It is a very effective weapon. During the Iraq War, elements of the Iraqi Army had withstood artillery attacks and bombings from B-52s, but when the MLRS was unleashed on them they came out with their hands over their heads. Praying “no more steel rain”. Soldiers who man the MLRS are in MOS 13M, whose AIT is 6 weeks long.
The other artillery MOS trained at Fort Sill is 13R Field Artillery Firefinder Radar Operator, whose AIT is 10 weeks long and requires a secret security clearance. That job is not with the firing batteries, but is in the artillery battalion headquarters in the S2 (intelligence) section and is known as “Counter Battery Radar”. The operators of these radar systems can “see” the entire battle area of operations and can identify, with pinpoint accuracy, the location of any weapon fired from a .50 caliber, to mortars, to the largest artillery, and can instantly digitally transmit that information to any element involved in the operation from the artillery guns, to navy and air force jets, to patrols on the ground. There was an instance in Iraq when ISIS was firing mortars from civilian houses within a city. The counter radar folks found them and a patrol in the area caught the ISIS mortar crew before it could get out of the building. This technology has been around for a few years, so we assume that our potential enemies also have it, which has created an artillery tactic called “shoot and scoot”.
In training, artillery crews are constantly practicing how fast they can set up and shoot then break down and move, shoot and scoot. In the 82nd Airborne Division, the division standard for an artillery crew to be set up and fire a round is 15 minutes from the time they and their big gun leave the airplane. Many come very close.
All jobs in the Army are now open to women including artillery. Katherine Beatty’s husband Charles was an infantry sergeant in the Florida National Guard. In 2015 they had a two year old daughter and Katherine decided to enlist for signal intelligence, but by the time she finished basic training, for whatever reason, that option dissolved. While Katherine and the Army were trying to decide her future, all jobs were opened to women, and MOS 13B was immediately available, she took it. She was the only woman in her AIT class, so the AIT cadre and instructors were very careful to not show her any special attention, and it was good that they didn’t, because being the first woman cannon crewmember candidate she was tracked and photographed throughout AIT. She beat every man in the company in every task from physical to technical, making her the Distinguished Honor Graduate. She said the most difficult task was loading and unloading 15, 100 pound, 155mm shells in 15 minutes, but she did it.
PFC Katherine Beatty
I didn’t spend much time around the artillery, but I did get to know some of their officers. Max Thurman commanded the 82nd Airborne Division Artillery when I worked in the division command section, was a nice guy and an extremely capable officer. As a two star, he rejuvenated the recruiting command, and as a four star he directed the invasion of Panama. Vernon Bolt Lewis was a cigar smoking, cursing, bold division artillery commander who when selected for promotion to Brigadier General, told me that he wasn’t ready to be a general that he was just getting used to being a Colonel. He disagreed with something the Army was doing and retired as a two star. Once saw one of them walk up to a junior officer, reach up and pull his hand down, as if pulling a gun lanyard. The junior officer answered; “Boom Sir”!
Go Artillery! Also called; “Red Legs”.