News: ‘On Time’ Battalion supplies Iraqi army with advanced field artillery capability
Story by Sgt. David Strayer
KIRKUSH MILITARY TRAINING BASE, Iraq – “On Time” Battalion soldiers with 2nd Battalion, 11th Field Artillery Regiment began training Iraqi army field artillery soldiers of Light Battery, 20th Brigade, 5th Iraqi Army Division on the M198 Howitzer at Kirkush Military Training Base, Iraq, April 27.
Prior to receiving the 155 mm weapons systems, U.S. and Iraqi forces primarily focused on infantry and mortar support tactics during Tadreeb al Shamil in an effort to modernize Iraq’s military forces.
The Howitzers provide a long range indirect fire capability that the IA previously lacked, which vastly changes the face of current training, said Capt. Lance Magill, field artillery training team chief for 2nd Bn., 11th FA Regt.
“The addition of a weapons system and the needed training is huge for these guys,” he said. “It will give them the capability to fire indirect fire with a large caliber weapon out to about 18 kilometers.”
Having that extra reach on the battlefield gives artillery units more flexibility and standoff, said Maj. Jackie Kaina, operations officer for 2nd Bn., 11th FA Regt.
Similar to a boxer’s jab punch, standoff is the ability to engage an enemy at a safe distance while still inflicting damage.
Combining that standoff ability with a training course taught by combat-experienced U.S. instructors provides Iraqi soldiers with an excellent foundation, Kaina said.
Instructors broke down the new M198 training course down into sections; the first of which involved classroom instruction focused on theory, and then a hands-on portion which gave IA soldiers a chance to gain practical experience while familiarizing themselves with the weapon.
“They are three weeks into the training cycle and everything they have done up to this point has been computations, theory, and classroom work,” said 1st Lt. Adam Thompson, a senior M198 weapon system instructor, Battery A, 2nd Bn., 11th FA Regt. “We got the guns in on Sunday. After two straight weeks of theory and class work, they were chomping at the bit to actually work with these weapons systems.”
During the current eight-week course, the first training cycle dedicated to field artillery, U.S. and Iraqi leaders hand selected a small group of Iraqi soldiers who will be the mainstay of 5th IA Div.’s field artillery corps and act as future instructors.
“Basically it makes them a more complete army,” said Magill. “It gives them more flexibility with indirect fire assets than the 120 mm mortars they have, should they encounter an external threat. That is the primary focus here—getting these guys prepared to take on the conventional mission set of a modern army; protecting its country’s borders and its people.”
U.S. instructors filed their students into separate gun teams and assigned each student a position in the crew, including section chief, gunner, assistant gunner and ammunition team chief. The students then began practicing pre-operations systems checks and dry runs on weapon exercises.
“Currently we are training the IA troops to fill the roles in the gun crews that our non-commissioned officers currently fill,” said Magill.
Bolstering and empowering the Iraqi NCO Corps has been a major goal of U.S. forces during Tadreeb al Shamil, Kaina said.
Building that initiative around a practical concept such as artillery training and empowering the soldiers to become experts on how to manage the weapon, fire it, and retrain others really helps build that confidence within those NCOs, he said.
“By making them the experts on something like a weapon system, you give them ownership of that knowledge,” said Kaina. “They can say ‘I am responsible for the knowledge of this system that was passed down to me from the soldiers of the U.S. Army.’”
“You are giving them something tangible; something to be proud of,” he added. “They will know that M198 system better than anyone else, and that is how our NCOs operate—they know their systems and their people better than anyone else.”
While the immediate goal of the training is to field the Howitzers and train the IA soldiers on how to use them, Kaina said the ultimate purpose of the course is to build leaders who can take the training back to their own units for future success.
“We want this training to go a long way in helping to establish an Iraqi army NCO Corps that can take this knowledge and be the keepers of it for what will hopefully be many future field artillery regiments,” said Kaina.
Instructors plan to continue the field artillery training on the M198 for the next month, culminating the class with a provincial capstone exercise that will include live fire drills using the new Howitzers.
“The training is good, the U.S. training team is professional and they know their job well,” said Lt. Faisal, a field artillery platoon leader going through the training at KMTB. “The more we work with the U.S. forces, the more proficient and professional we become, we are looking forward to the live fire exercise and we will be ready.”
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