HABBANIYAH, Iraq -- Coalition Forces fighting in the Habbaniyah region have a fearsome weapon in their arsenal that enables them to strike distant insurgents with deadly accuracy.
This ace-up-the-sleeve is the M109A6 Paladin, a self-propelled 155mm Howitzer manned by the soldiers of Bravo Battery, 1-41 Field Artillery Battalion. It can launch its 96-pound projectiles up to a distance of 24,000 meters, enough to support nearly every unit in the outlying Al Anbar Province.
The Fort Stewart, Ga., based unit is on call 24/7 to shoot any kind of mission ranging from illumination at night to troops in contact and counter-fire missions. From their gun line here they are able to support the 1st Brigade Combat Team, Regimental Combat Team 6, and the 3rd Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division.
“We shoot mostly illumination missions and after that counter-fire missions,” said Army 1st Lt. Quintin R. Durden, a 24-year-old platoon leader from Fayetteville, N.C. “We have only shot two troops-in-contact missions.”
One such mission occurred in early February when Marines from 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, were pinned down by small-arms and rocket fire from insurgent forces. They called for air support, but still needed instant fire on the house where insurgents were hiding: a situation that fit the Paladin battery perfectly.
“The observer on the ground contacted us,” said Durden. “The description we got was that there were insurgents in a building and they had eyes on. We fired 12 rounds total for that mission and partially destroyed the building. After we shot they dropped a 500 pound bomb on the building and blew it up.”
The building was destroyed, along with the insurgents shooting at the Marines.
“They provided timely fire support in support of our troops on the ground when they got into a situation that small arms fire alone couldn’t answer,” said 3/6’s artillery liaison officer, 1st Lt. Lawrence G. Ribble, 25, from Salem, Ore.
The meat and potatoes of the battery’s missions are for illumination. They fire a round capable of putting out 1,000,000-candlepower illumination, enough to brighten even the darkest of nights.
“We shot an illumination mission for a unit in our brigade and prevented an insurgent team from placing an improvised explosive device,” said Durden. “It makes you feel good when you get that feedback, saying that you stopped a cell, or a group from placing an IED that potentially could have harmed or killed another soldier or Marine.”
Durden had his own thoughts on what it means to be able to provide such critical support to the Marines on the ground.
“It makes you feel really good,” he added. “When you know that there are … insurgents in the building and you helped to kill them or injure them, that’s one less insurgent to worry about that can harm a Marine or soldier.”