TAPA, Estonia – In mid-July the most distinct sounds emanating from Estonia’s Tapa Training Area stemmed from birds and insects. By the end of the month, the thunder of artillery brought every sound to shame.
The 173rd Airborne Brigade introduced a new asset to Operation Atlantic Resolve when it brought a battery of 105 mm howitzers to the Baltic states earlier this month. The decision marked a milestone in U.S. Army history when the first American artillery pieces rolled onto Estonian soil for training.
“We’re showing a side of the [U.S.] Army that the Estonians have not seen, said Capt. Eliot S. Proctor, commander of Battery A, 4th Battalion, 319th Field Artillery Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade. “We’re proud of this responsibility and take it seriously.”
Approximately 600 paratroopers from the brigade are in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve to demonstrate commitment to NATO obligations and sustain interoperability with allied forces.
Battery A’s debut added versatility to training missions conducted by Troop B, 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, by providing direct and indirect fire support for paratroopers performing various training exercises.
“With direct fire, the gun crews can physically see the target,” said Proctor, a native of Danville, California. “With indirect fire, the crews fire at coordinates relayed by forward observers who see the target. Either way, we can set up our guns and be ready to fire in 20 minutes.”
The speed and precision Proctor’s paratroopers demonstrated as they sent hundreds of 105 mm shells downrange while deploying from one fire base to another impressed their Estonian allies.
“Although our tactics and equipment are similar, we’re learning a lot by observing these training exercises,” said Lt. Col. Kaarel Maesalu, commander of the Estonian army’s 1st Artillery Battalion. “I’m particularly impressed with how quickly [the American] artillery can coordinate with the infantry, and how [the] engineers can build fortified gun emplacements in one night.”
With Maesalu’s battalion busy training its reserve components, the unit’s 122 mm and 155 mm howitzers could not join Battery A on the firing line. Despite this schedule conflict, Estonia’s military did more than grant their allies access to its training grounds.
“We ensured the area was free of unauthorized personnel by posting guards and checkpoints around the perimeter,” said Maesalu, a Tallinn, Estonia, native. “We also provided fuel for many of the [U.S. Army] vehicles transporting troops and guns.”
“We brought a light and maneuverable package,” said Proctor. “With our four guns split between Estonia and Poland, we turned to our host nation for support.”
After four days of continuous firing and maneuvering, Battery A returned to Tapa’s training base to rest and refit. Proctor and his platoon are scheduled to return to the field this weekend to train on preparing their artillery pieces for helicopter transport and to conduct parachute jumps.
The American paratroopers hope to work again with the Estonians soon, said Proctor.
“Until then, we continue training with pride knowing that the Estonian troops in Tapa look to us as the standard of the American Soldier,” said Proctor.
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This work, Fire! American artillery enters Estonia with a bang, by SGT John Carkeet IV, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.