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‘Vanguard’ Battalion mortarmen keep militants on their toes, protect Camp Taji from indirect fire

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It is the duty of the soldiers with Mortar Platoon “Punishers,” Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st “Vanguard” Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Advise and Assist Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, United States Division –Center, to keep violent extremist networks aware of the possible reprisals from their indirect fire attacks on Camp Taji, Iraq.

Earlier in the delployment, the platoon was tasked to escort the Provincial Reconstruction Team based out of Camp Taji. Now, their task is to show the enemy that the Vanguard Battalion can — and will — strike back.

Though violence towards U.S. forces has consistently dropped over the years after the surge, there are still groups of militants who continue to plan and attack. Punisher Platoon mortarmen use the resources at their disposal to disrupt those schemes, especially illumination rounds, which as their name suggests, can light up the night sky, uncovering concealed fighters and weapons caches.

“In a conventional war, our job is to provide IDF support for units in the battalion,” said Spc. Jason Lindberg, a mortarman with HHC, 1st Bn., 18th Inf. Regt., and a Minneapolis native. “We fire illumination rounds to light up the targeted area so that the soldiers out there can see if there are militants in the area, and at the same time, ward off enemy IDF attacks.”

IDF, consisting of rockets or mortar rounds which are easy to transport and use with minimal training, is frequently used by hostile groups in Iraq. Although IDF attacks are for the most part random, they have the potential to destroy equipment and kill U.S. and Iraqi forces.

As a means of deterring these enemy attacks, Punisher Platoon mortarmen have the capability to fire high-explosive rounds accurately to a site that was used just a few moments prior to launch hostile IDF. However, their main task is to use illumination rounds rather than explosive rounds, which are reserved and ready for counter-fire purposes.

Before firing any rounds, the mortarmen rehearse drills to become more proficient at what they do. Not only are they attempting to keep IDF attacks at bay, but they are also honing their skills in their military occupational specialty.

“These missions are very important for [mortarmen] because it keeps their skills sharp and proficient in their MOS,” said Sgt. Jaccob Dehner, a section sergeant with the mortar platoon and a Columbus, Ohio, native.

Illumination rounds look like any other round to the untrained eye, but in fact, the rounds ‘pop’ in the air and parachute safely to the ground while illuminating the target area. The rounds are completely burnt off before landing.

“The illumination rounds are very safe,” said Dehner. “We ensure that the rounds pop hundreds of feet above the ground to guarantee that they burn off before landing on the ground.”

From the time when the Punisher mortarmen have taken on the counter-IDF mission to today, they say there has been a significant drop in enemy IDF on Camp Taji.

“Since we have started firing, we have seen a decrease in IDF attacks,” Dehner said. “It puts that question in the militants’ heads — that if they fire at us, we have the capability to fire back.”

The men of the mortar platoon take pride in the fact that they are helping to enable the safety of the base. With tangible progress that has been noted, the mortarmen continue to man the mortar tubes day and night, ready — if need be — to return the favor.

“I have heard that the inhabitants on Camp Taji are very appreciative of what we are doing right now,” Lindberg said. “People feel safer knowing that we are out here ready to counter IDF attacks.”

Article by Spc. William A. Joeckel, 2nd AAB, 1st Inf. Div., USD-C