News: In the early morning rain: Field Artillery thunders through JOAX
Story by Sgt. Derek Kuhn
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Paratroopers of the 3rd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, braved heavy rain, stout winds and crackling lightning as they showcased their skills in a Joint Operations Access Exercise June 26-28 at Sicily Drop Zone, Fort Bragg, N.C.
According to Lt. Col. David Pierce, the commander of the 3-319th, 1st BCT, 82nd ABN Div., the JOAX gave his artillerymen an opportunity to test their mettle in a hectic, stressful environment.
“We came here to see where we stand,” Pierce said. “We wanted to drop our heavy platforms (M-119 howitzer cannons) here and fall in on them.”
Falling in on the cannons is exactly what the paratroopers did.
“After the Air Force dropped our guns,” said Spc. Steven Webb, a paratrooper with Battery A, 3-319th, 1st BCT, 82nd ABN Div. “We jumped after them.”
Immediately after landing and getting accountability of personnel and equipment, the artillerymen got to work setting up their cannons, Webb said.
“It was pitch black,” Webb, a native of Kansas City, Miss., said. “There was no moon light because of all the clouds.”
To counter the darkness, the artillerymen used a few pieces of equipment most soldiers always carry in the field.
“We used chemlights (Chemical Lights) and our [low light] flashlights to set up and get our sights,” said 1st Lt. Mark Gordon, the executive officer for Battery A, 3-319th, 1st BCT, 82nd ABN Div.
Eventually, the clouds turned out to be a thunderstorm which had strong wind gusts and dumped rain on the artillerymen while illuminating the night sky with scores of lightning strikes.
“Everything was good,” Webb said. “Then the storm came. First we were sandblasted by all the dust and wind; then came the rain. It seemed like it would never end.”
The storm added some unexpected training value to the JOAX.
“We are capable of doing our job in any environment,” Pierce, a native of Temple Hills, Md., said. “We had to take extra measures when the storm rolled through to ensure we accomplished our mission.”
“The ammo can’t get wet,” Webb added. “If it does, it could miss fire and if we miss fire then we aren’t hitting our target. So we covered it (the ammo) with panchos, tarps … really whatever we could find.”
Additionally, the high winds made communication more difficult.
“The wind really hurt radio communication,” Gordon, a native of Sagami Hara, Japan, said. “It slowed everything down, but it is better to go slow and get it right.”
Altogether for Gordon, getting it right was what the artillerymen did.
“We reacted well; everyone did their job and we got to put rounds down range,” Gordon said. “What’s more fun than that?”