KHOWST PROVINCE, Afghanistan - The sun shines bright in the cloud-free sky; the nonexistent wind makes it ideal weather for shooting artillery.
With the arrival of eager artillerymen, a stage is set to demonstrate what has been accomplished during months of extensive training.
Soldiers with the Afghan National Army's 203rd Corps, 1st Infantry Brigade, 4th Kandak, D-30 Heavy Coy, performed an indirect-fire training mission using Russian made D-30 Howitzers in Khowst Province Jan. 9, with little mentorship needed from the Soldiers of the 3rd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team "Rakkasans,” 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).
The live-fire exercise was conducted in order for the Afghan artillerymen to become certified, as well as to demonstrate their potential as a qualified gun line to their leadership.
The artillerymen have spent months being trained and qualified by a team led by U.S. Army Master Sgt. Liviu Ivan, the D-30 subject matter expert assigned to the 3-320th FA, 3rd BCT.
"In the past five months we have gone to a whole different level," said Ivan. "They know their ammo better, they can shoot faster and they are more accurate than ever before."
The kandak has been using the D-30 for more than two years before Ivan started training them. While the artillerymen were considered competent, but had plenty of room for growth.
"They knew how to shoot before, but they were not accurate," said Ivan. "They didn't understand the ‘why's’ behind the steps they were taking."
A voice announces the impact area is clear; the first eight Afghan soldiers quickly assemble around their howitzer. Their pride and excitement clearly on display.
The men ready the ammunition and prepare the gun.
Once complete, the leader yells the coordinates. Shortly, the gun is up and ready to fire.
As the first round is fired, a direct hit on its selected target can be seen and heard in the distance.
Cheers of accomplishment roar throughout the group.
As if controlled by a switch, they stop and ready themselves for the next task.
The team followed up by hitting their targets with every iteration. In fact, all three teams successfully hit all four of their designated targets during the exercise.
"They know how to shoot," Ivan said. "I am so proud of these guys; they did everything they were supposed to."
Among the first eight-man team, a young Afghan soldier eagerly shows his excitement.
"I feel so very good and so happy about how we shot today." said Naqib Kamil, a 20-year-old ammo handler. "I am confident in my team and I know we are doing good."
The 4th Kandak has conducted 10 live-fire exercises since Ivan's mentorship began in August 2012.
"We have gotten much better then we used to be," said Kamil.
"I have absolute full confidence in the guys I've trained," said Ivan. "This was a live-fire validation for their certification and they did everything they were supposed to in my opinion."
There is very little difference between the Afghan and U.S. armies’ artillery doctrines.
"The only real difference is the times given to complete the tasks," Ivan explained. "It's only different because our armies use different guns."
At the completion of the first team’s shooting, they step aside and celebrate their success. Kamil, who is the youngest of the artillerymen, stands tall among the other soldiers in his unit.
"I want to do this for the rest of my life," said Kamil. "This is my land. I will support my country as long as I’m alive."
Kamil added, “I am proud of myself for being in the army and I will support my people and my country through the army."
After receiving congratulatory handshakes and speeches from their leadership, it is clear: The 4th Kandak is now one step closer to being ready to work unassisted in providing support to their country.
Ivan has completed more than 300 hours of training with the Kandak. Now, with four qualified sections and more than 40 qualified artillerymen, he feels the same.
"I know that even after we leave, these guys will know how to shoot, operate and fight,” said Ivan. “They will be fully capable in providing security for their country."