News: 'Ranger' Mortarmen illuminate strategic oil pipeline
Story by Spc. Shantelle Campbell
SHARQAT, Iraq - Soldiers with the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division out of Fort Riley, Kan., partnered with the 1st Battalion, 14th Iraqi Army Brigade, April 1, to participate in Operation White Lightning to combat oil smuggling along a 40 kilometer stretch of pipeline.
Throughout the night, mortarmen lit up the sky with 52 illumination rounds over the pipeline, exposing terrain to Iraqi soldiers on the ground, so they could prevent smugglers from gaining access to the pipeline.
According to Capt. Paul Godson, commander of Company D, 2-16 Inf., the pipeline is a significant piece of infrastructure in the area.
"The purpose of this mission was to assist the Iraqi army in deterring and disrupting criminal activity along the Strategic Oil Pipeline," he said. "One of the greatest challenges the Iraqi army faces is securing this vast area at night."
The operation brought together each of the "Rangers" company mortar sections. Each section trained and rehearsed to ensure the effectiveness of the illumination rounds.
"It is a very coordinated and synchronized set of events that has to happen before a round leaves a tube," said Staff Sgt. Justin Harper, a mortar team chief with Company C, 2-16 Inf. As rounds illuminated, adjustments were made on the 60mm mortars to ensure accuracy, before the crew was able to provide five full minutes of illumination for the Iraqi army.
"It takes a lot of training in order to sustain an illumination mission without a break in effects; it is always impressive to see," said Iraqi Army Maj. Sa'ad as he observed the mortar fire with officers from the 14th Iraqi Army Brigade Mortar Battery. "This was a great opportunity for us to compare the mortar firing techniques of our two armies."
The operation also served as a training event for the "Rangers" and the 14th IA. To prepare, leaders in both units examined maps, terrain and developed a plan.
"We taught [the 14th IA Brigade operations section] how to utilize enablers, such as fire support, to supplement their security operations. [Now] they are more aware of what tools are available and different ways to integrate them into their missions," said Godson.
Pfc. Alex Johnson and Pvt. 1st Class Gage McKeag, both mortarmen with Company B, 2-16 Inf., were both eager to fire with their mortar sections.
"We fired in basic training, but today was the first time we fired a real fire mission in combat," Johnson said.