Fire for effect: U.S. Coalition personnel train Iraqi soldiers on artillery techniques

18 Jan 2016 | Sgt. Ricardo Hurtado Marine Corps Forces Central Command

Iraqi forces request artillery fire support from the front lines during the counterattack missions in Ramadi. Heavy small-arms fire suppresses the enemy on the ground, but a few minutes later there’s thunder in the sky – artillery thunder! 

Artillery soldiers assigned to the 8th Division of the Iraqi Army operate out of Al Taqaddum, Iraq providing artillery fire support to ground troops in Ramadi and its surrounding areas.

Although they already have some proven experience, the troops of the 8th Division seek new ways to become more effective with their artillery firing missions. 

Task Force Al Taqaddum (TFTQ), a U.S.-led coalition force focused on the advise and assist mission to enable the Iraqi security forces during their fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, is based out of Camp Manion at Al Taqaddum. The task force maintains a team of fires advisors to provide support and training to Iraqi artillery troops. 

The team of fires advisors is made up of U.S. Marines from II Marine Expeditionary Force as well as U.S. soldiers with 1st Battalion, 7th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, all assigned to TFTQ.

The ongoing training is designed to provide Iraqi soldiers with different aspects and tools to operate an artillery battery and be successful on the battlefield. 

“We focus primarily on two different parts of artillery training: one would be gun line procedures; how to do gun line crew drills, how to manipulate the howitzer… and things like that,” said U.S. Marine Capt. David Rosenbrock, a fires officer and advisor with TFTQ. “The other part of the training is computational procedures, which is how we determine a firing solution to make the round go to where we want it to go.”

Basic artillery book material teaches an artilleryman how to put rounds downrange in standard firing conditions, and according to Rosenbrock, Iraqi soldiers are very capable of doing that. However, standard and perfect firing conditions are not often the case when fighting a war. 

“One of the biggest things we are teaching them is how to correct for non-standard conditions,” added Rosenbrock. 

Rosenbrock also said that there are a lot of different factors to account for when firing artillery and it is important to keep them in mind. Things like weather, wind and air pressure, among other elements, affect the way a round travels to hit its target. 

“We don’t live in a perfect world, so there are a lot of things that have an impact on that round when it leaves the tube,” said Rosenbrock. “We are trying to teach them how to account for those specific [elements that will affect their firing].”

But the efforts to be effective when firing artillery don’t only focus on proper firing techniques and procedures, maintenance and up-keeping of the weaponry as well as understanding the operational environment can make a difference. 

“We talk about how to conduct basic maintenance, like gun line maintenance, how to do field maintenance… and we try to help them develop maintenance procedures based off what they have available,” said Rosenbrock. 

The Iraqis currently use the M198, which is the gun the Marine Corps employed prior to the M777A2. The U.S. Army also employed the M198, so many of the TFTQ artillery personnel are already familiar with the system, enabling them to provide effective training. 

Aside from the difference in the weapon systems, many techniques and basic artillery operational procedures remain the same, said Rosenbrock. The hard work on both sides has paid off. 

“They have significantly become more effective, there is still a long way to go but they’re able to use their system and adequately engage targets,” said Rosenbrock. “Not just improvement on how well they’re shooting, but on how they are storing their ammo, the cleanliness and organization of the battery position and all those things that go into making a firing unit effective. They’ve shown significant improvement.”