ANSWERING THE CALL
LOGAR PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN. It’s 0200; the night is calm and the sky is clear. If it weren’t for the occasional wild camel walking by the encampment, one might believe this was an overnight field exercise. But it is not.
Breaking the early morning serenity, a radio crackles and comes to life. Shaking off the chill of the night, Army Sgt. Roger Clark answers the call.
Within seconds the Brownstown, Mich., native rouses his Soldiers—the mortarmen of Headquarter and Headquarters Troop, with Able Troop, 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment (3–71 Cav), 3rd Brigade Combat
Team, 10th Mountain Division—by bellowing, “Fire mission!”
The Ft. Drum, N.Y.,-based Soldiers work quickly, readying the volley of 120mm mortar rounds that will fly in less than two minutes. U.S. Army Pfc. Jonathan Dickson and PV2 Ryan Beach prepare the rounds as Spc. Robert Mangini confirms and executes the proper sighting.
“FIRE WHEN READY!”
After confirming the coordinates with Mangini one last time, Clark yells, “Fire when ready!”
Mangini looks over to Dickson, checking to see if the mortar round is ready.
“Hang it,” Mangini yells, as Dickson positions himself to drop the round down the tube.
Shouting at the top of his lungs, Mangini commands, “FIRE!”
Dickson promptly looses the round and ducks down to ensure he is clear of the projectile’s path. After a slight delay, the round rockets out, followed by an ear-numbing muzzle blast. About 30 seconds later, the round lands with lethal precision and a cathartic explosion.
RIGHT ON TARGET
Smiling, Mangini says, “Right on target.”
The fire mission was completed in a matter of seconds.
“From the time we get the initial call for fire, we have about two minutes to complete the mission,” said Clark. But in that short amount of time, “We are very precise, very lethal,” the squad leader said.
Beach, who is a Calvary scout attached to the mortars, elaborates on the effectiveness of the 120mm mortar system.
LIGHTNING-FAST AND POWERFULLY PRECISE
It is very lethal,” the Atlantic, Iowa, native said. “If one were to blow up on the 50-yard line of a football field, everyone on that field would have a very bad day.”
Such power and effectiveness enables the mortar system to act as a deterrent to enemies.
“Insurgents don’t like mortars because of how quickly rounds are put out,” said Mangini. “We shoot faster than anyone on the battlefield,” the Cinnaminson, N.J., native added.
The lightning-fast striking capabilities and powerful precision of the mortar system provide a safety net for forward maneuvering units.
PRIDE IN A FUN JOB
“When air support isn’t available, we step in and support the Soldiers on the front lines,” Dickson said. “Helping forward maneuvering units makes me feel good,” the Buckeye Lake, Ohio, native continued. “Not only do we have the ability to take lives, we save them too.”
With the capabilities to neutralize threats and save lives, the mortarmen take pride in a job they consider fun.
“I feel like I am doing good for Afghanistan here,” said Beach “and I am having fun doing it.”
Beach likes the initial rush of the fire missions, but Dickson prefers riding the base plate for the first few fires.
PROFESSIONALS WITH LETHAL ACCURACY
“Riding the base plate is my favorite part of firing,” said Dickson. “It’s like being on a trampoline with a larger person jumping from a higher point onto it,” he continued. “But it’s very important because [riding the base plate] makes it settle evenly. If the system is lop-sided, the rounds could be off target.”
These mortarmen are professionals and very good at what they do, and what they do is strike with lethal accuracy.
“Our job as mortarmen is to obscure, suppress, neutralize and destroy the enemy for forward operating units,” Dickson said. Which is precisely what the mortarmen of Troop A, 3rd Sqd., 71st Cav. Reg., 10th Mtn. Div., aim to continue doing.