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'King of Battle' rules over enemy in Fallujah

20 Aug 2004 | Sgt. Jose E. Guillen

A deep, rolling boom echoed across the desert, quickly followed by another. This was no mortar or rocket attack, though. It was the calling card of the King of Battle: the 16,000-pound combat workhorse called artillery.

The artillerymen of the 1st Marine Division continued to shoot and communicate here recently, shielding their brothers-in-arms on the front lines near Fallujah.

"We're here to support all of our infantry units, but we support anyone who needs artillery out there," said Sgt. Felix A. Rocha, an operations chief for Battery A, 1st Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment. "Most of our missions have been from Marines near Fallujah."

Army infantry units also called for Marine artillery in March.

"They still had people out there. They needed fire support and we shot it," said Sgt. Andrew S. Hecker, a 28-year-old section chief from Miami, Fla.

Marines in Battery A are routinely committed to bringing down "the rain of pain" as their motto states, and they often get that chance when "fire mission!" is shouted. The result is like clockwork, according to the Marines.

"We make sure each fire mission is taken with speed and intensity because those grunts need arty - they need our help," said Lance Cpl. Joseph K. Arthur, an artilleryman from New York City.

A battle damage assessment of the effects the artillery rounds had on the target is collected after each fire mission. The BDA is relayed to commanders by forward observers or the unit closest to the target.

"We don't normally get BDAs, but we received one that we destroyed an enemy mortar platoon and Iraqis with RPGs," said Rocha, a 26-year-old from Hart, Texas. "We're pretty accurate."

Although the battery is not engaging the enemy as frequently as they did last year, their presence has been felt throughout the province and proven critical.

"Artillery has always been extremely vital because of their quick response to counter battery fire," explained Lt. Col. Sparky Renforth, operations officer for Regimental Combat Team 1, from Wheeling, W.V.

"Their fire support for offensive units maneuvering onto the enemy is also vital," Renforth said. "They've been timely, responsive and accurate. We can use artillery when we want to."

A lot of coordination goes into executing artillery missions.

"It takes time to have aircraft on station, as with artillery - it's just a faster means of returning fire to the enemy," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Thomas D. Kircher, senior watch officer for the regiment's combat operations center.

"The battery is connected to every battalion. That allows them to directly communicate with each other," added Kircher, 34, of Swanville, Minn.

One way the regiment keeps the enemy on their heels is tracking the enemy's system of fighting, according to Kircher.

"There's a consistency of enemy," Kircher said. "We have points of origin - or places we're now firing back on."

Precision weapons like hellfire missiles fired from fixed wing aircraft and armed predator drones are often used to destroy confirmed threats when use of artillery is not ideal, according to Renforth.

"We don't want to shoot artillery into the city - that's stupid," explained Renforth. "It's so much harder to clear rubble than to clear buildings that are already standing."