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    Infan-tillery: From cannons to combat patrols



    Courtesy Story

    3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division

    KANDAHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan - “You always call your platoon sergeants ‘Smoke’ or ‘Gunny’, why is that?” asked Pfc. Alan Zinkgraff to the battery commander and first sergeant who had just entered his post in the southwest guard tower of Combat Outpost Azimjan Kariz in Kandahar province.

    “It’s an artillery thing, goes back a long way,” replied 1st Sgt. Michael Sullivan, of Youngstown, Ohio, as he inspected the tower and policed up some loose ammo.

    “You’re not used to hearing those terms too often over there in infantry-land are you, Zink?” replied the battery commander, Capt. Benjamin Roark, of Owasso, Okla., as he puffed on his dying cigar. “I’m an artillery Soldier myself, a Forward Observer, but have never spent any time on the gun line and have never heard some of the terms you all use,” said Pfc. Zinkgraff.

    “Well, you’re in an artillery battery now, and [you] better learn the lingo, even though we traded our howitzers for sniper rifles, we are still ‘Redlegs’ at heart,” beamed Sullivan as the commander nodded, took his last draw and crushed the cigar.

    Pfc. Zinkgraff, of Eugene, Ore., is assigned to the 30-man 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 34th Armor Regiment, based at Fort Riley, Kan. He and the other infantrymen of his platoon are attached in support of Alpha Battery, 4th Battalion, 25th Infantry Regiment, who man Combat Outpost Azimjan Kariz in the Zharay District of Kandahar province.

    A common practice in a counterinsurgency conflict, units are attached and detached to one another across the battlefield to bring specific assets to the fight. Alpha Battery, a light howitzer artillery battery, was tasked with securing the populace of the Azimjan Kariz area and defeating the insurgent forces that used to dominate the region. Comprised of three artillery platoons, Alpha Battery “traded” an artillery platoon for an infantry platoon to better support the high intensity fight around COP Azimjan Kariz. With them, the 3rd Platoon “Dragons” brought a wealth of knowledge, equipment and weapons not typically assigned to an artillery battery. This fusion of forces led to Steel Battery’s success as soldiers of different technical backgrounds combined their knowledge and skills to produce lethal results.

    “We trained for months straight on gunnery and artillery skills and were the best battery around but our guns are nowhere to be seen. Now, we can fight with the best of them,” states Spc. Alonzo McFashion, of Riverside, Calif., a machine gunner from 2nd Platoon, Alpha Battery.

    His comments reflect a truth that has become evident to many outside the “Redleg” community – artillerymen are setting down their lanyards, and picking up their rifles to bring the fight to the enemy, face to face. Although not able to focus on infantry and small-unit tactic skills as much as they wanted before deploying, Alpha Battery soldiers honed those skills during countless hours of combat patrols and firefights in the fields and canals outside of their COP – a sort of ‘on the job training.’ The attention to detail and technical knowledge required of an artilleryman to “rain steel on the enemy” also benefits them as they learn to navigate the IED belts and engagement areas around their COP, while holding their own with their infantry counterparts to boot.

    Within the last 90 days, Alpha Battery platoons have identified and reduced more than 70 IEDs within a two kilometer radius of their COP. More than 40 of those were found by McFashion’s platoon. This number would be impressive alone for a battalion-size element, but for a battery, it speaks to their skill, discipline and courage.

    Additionally, Alpha Battery elements are engaged by the enemy on a daily basis either by direct weapons fire or by enemy rockets or mortars. In an area where getting just 500 meters outside of the COP meant a prolonged fire fight just a month ago, Alpha Battery elements have driven enemy forces back many times this distance, and continue to keep them on their heels.

    Many artillerymen have traded their howitzers for weapons not typically associated with ‘gun bunnies,’ a term of endearment for howitzer crews. Their infantry counterparts provided training on several new sniper rifles which Steel soldiers have used to support the Battery’s fight with definitive lethal results. In addition to their battlefield success while engaged in a daily lethal struggle with enemy insurgents, the soldiers of Steel Battery turned the worst piece of tactical infrastructure within the brigade’s area, into the best, most heavily-defended combat outpost in the area, COP Azimjan Kariz.

    As different elements and civilians move through the COP to service a generator or to fix a computer, they are always surprised to find out that the Men of Steel are not infantrymen but “Redlegs.” It is a testament to their skill and efforts in doing everything they can to accomplish the mission. Although their howitzers may turn up eventually and finally be put into action at the COP, the soldiers of Steel will always be battle-tested and proven “Infan-tillerymen."



    Date Taken: 06.30.2011
    Date Posted: 07.29.2011 10:11
    Story ID: 74522

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