An order came over the radio and soldiers fell silent in anticipation. As they scrambled into position, the radio telephone operator shouted out coordinates. Six soldiers worked together to position the gun and load it with an XM982 precision guided 155 mm artillery round, better known as ‘Excalibur.’
They waited for the command “Prepare to fire … fire.”
The percussion from the blasts resonated in the chests of on-lookers and the sound was heard despite their hearing protection.
Soldiers from 1st Platoon, Battery A, 3rd Battalion, 321st Field Artillery Regiment, 18th Fires Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, fired four Excalibur rounds from Forward Operating Base Salerno, Afghanistan, March 8.
The mission was to destroy an explosive-laden house coalition forces identified the night before, said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Gilbert Parker, a field artillery officer of Btry. A, 3rd Bn., 321st FA, and a resident of Fayetteville, N.C.
The house was suspected of being filled with material to make improvised explosive devices and also of being booby trapped, making it too dangerous for soldiers to attempt to enter or disarm by hand, said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Adam DeMartin, 3rd Bn., 321st FA, of Fayetteville, N.C.
Before the round could be fired, coordination between several units including the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Div., Task Force Duke, and Btry. A, 3rd Bn., 321st FA, was required, Parker said.
The high-tech Excalibur round was ideal for the mission because it is one of the most precise Global Positioning System-guided artillery rounds the Army has.
The Excalibur always knows where it is, said U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Jason Martins, of the 3rd Bn., 321st FA, and a resident of Fort Bragg, N.C.
To prepare for a mission of this type, the Soldiers run crew drills to reduce the possibility of human error, said Parker.
“We do dry runs daily on possible missions. Crew drills are the most important part,” Parker said. “We need to be able to run like an engine.”
Their drills involve receiving data from their fire direction center. That data is then relayed to the crew firing the weapon. Once they receive the data, they aim the weapon to the coordinates they receive and simulate loading the round without putting it in the tube, said Martins.
“We do a lot of preparations for missions like these,” said Martins. “When we actually get to shoot these rounds, morale goes through the roof.”
The soldiers did their checks and balances and got the rounds downrange in a safe way, said U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. William Cave, of the 1st Bn., 6th FA Regt., 3rd BCT, 1st Inf. Div., TF Duke, and a resident of Allendale, S.C.
“You never know when the call to fire Excalibur will come again, but now you have the confidence that comes from having fired it,” said Cave.
The soldiers on the ground depend on the crew teams proficiency and excellence at their jobs, said U.S. Army Maj. Scott Sinclair, executive officer of 1st Bn., 6th FA, 3rd BCT, 1st Inf. Div., and a native of Dalton, Mass.
“These guys saved lives today,” said Sinclair. “Now soldiers can go and clear that house. Part of what Excalibur is here for is its pinpoint precision.”
Article by Spc. Tobey White, Combined Joint Task Force 101