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Artillery battery supports units, trains Afghans in Helmand

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Screams of, “Mission, we’ve got a mission!” rifle through the Fire Direction Center. Marines in the tent stop what they are doing and begin compiling data at a furious rate. Outside, Marines in full body armor race toward M777A2 howitzers and rip protective netting away from the guns.

A unit in the area has spotted an insurgent emplacing an improvised explosive device in the ground and has called upon the Marines of 1st Platoon, Charlie Battery, 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, for artillery support.

The FDC calls down to the gun line with coordinates, and the Marines frantically shift the direction of the howitzer.

“Get me a shovel!” yells Denver native Sgt. Todd J. Galbaugh, Gun 3’s section chief.

He finds one and joins another Marine who has already started tearing through the earth to support the gun’s new position. They stop to take deep breaths of fresh air, waiting for the command to fire.

This scenario is common for the Marines of Charlie Battery, though not every mission ends with the Marines firing rounds, as units’ requirements sometimes change rapidly and they ultimately decide not to use artillery support.

“We get called out to the guns at least every couple of days, sometimes multiple times a day,” said Galbaugh. “We only shoot maybe 10 percent of the time, but we’ve got to be ready to support whoever needs it. We’re fast, we’re accurate and we’re always there to support.”

Always ready, the battery’s mission is to provide timely and accurate artillery fires for units supported by 1/12 and train Afghan National Army soldiers to help them become more proficient in artillery, according to Mills River, N.C., native 1st Lt. Jacob D. Hudson, Charlie Battery’s executive officer.
The battery has many unique capabilities it utilizes to support local units.

“We can light up the sky if needed, we can provide friendly forces with a way to back off without being seen, and we can take out the enemy pretty effectively,” said Galbaugh.

Most of the missions have been for illumination support to prevent insurgents from planting IEDs at night.

“The main purpose of the illumination round out here is to deny the enemy the freedom of movement.” Galbaugh said. “There are nights where we will shoot a lot of (illumination) rounds, just light up the sky all night, letting the enemy know that we’re looking for them – they’re not going to be running around if there is a big (illumination) round in the sky.”

The platoon is set up in to two primary sections: the gun line, which is made up of the Marines who physically shoot the howitzers, and the Fire Direction Center, which receives the calls for fire and gives instructions for the Marines on the gun line after it has calculated the distance to and location of the target.

“We take (the information) the infantry will give us, and we change that into data the gun line can use and easily apply to their guns,” said Pensacola, Fla., native Cpl. Joshua Shores, a field artillery fire control man in the FDC. “That data is going to put the round on target.”

The Charlie Battery Marines have also been training the Afghan soldiers partnered with 1/12 to become more proficient in artillery. The ANA has made much progress and is slated to do a test fire later this month.

“They’re pretty new to artillery. They had some training up in Kabul before they came down here; however, it’s a new experience for a lot of them,” said Hudson. “We really try to focus on the non-commissioned officers, specifically the howitzer section chiefs. Their gun line has progressed quite a bit. They’re at the point where they can set up and be ready to shoot.”

The Marines have been very successful supporting missions and training the ANA during their deployment and now look forward to finishing on a strong note.

“Everyone has pulled their own weight,” said Hudson. “The Marines have done an outstanding job of maintaining local security while providing fire support and conducting partnering operations with the ANA here at Fiddlers Green.”

Article by Cpl. Tommy Bellegarde, 2nd Marine Division