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Marine cannons go silent after 6 years in Al Anbar province
By Multi National Force - West PAO
May 2, 2009 - 7:33:36 PM
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Blackanthem Military News
CAMP AL TAQADDUM, Iraq - As the security situation in the Al Anbar province continues to improve, the final Marine Corps artillery unit to operate its cannons in Iraq, Battery G, 2nd Battalion, 10th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 6, is preparing to go home, signifying a significant change in the nature of the conflict in Anbar.

Three Marine artillerymen currently deployed with RCT-6 were present during the initial push into Iraq in 2003, and these same men returned with a new mission - to see the conclusion of artillery's chronicle in Anbar province.

On March 20, 2003, Coalition forces entered Iraq, beginning an offensive that focused firepower at specific targets in order to take control of significant strategic positions. Before this attack commenced, Marines sat for hours waiting at the Iraqi border, a border covered with M198 howitzers, which was then the pinnacle of Marine Corps artillery fire power.

Within range of the long-range weapons, U.S. forces struck hard and fast to gain the advantage and overrun enemy positions.

"It was a machine gun of artillery fire," said Staff Sgt. Eric Sandoval, Battery G Section Chief, 2nd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, RCT-6. "We were slinging six rounds a minute. There were three volleys in the air before the first volley even hit the deck."

Demoralizing the lite forces on the border, Marines pushed forward into enemy territory. A week into the fight, Marine artillerymen with the West Coast-based 5th Battalion, 11th Marines, were 15 kilometers south of Baghdad, said Sandoval.

While Sandoval and the rest of the 5th Battalion continued further south, Capt. Benjamin Harrison, currently the Battery G commanding officer, went north with 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, bypassing Marines engaged in Nasiriyah. One of those Marines was Capt. Michael J. Carrasquilla, the current RCT-6 fire support coordinator.

During the invasion, Capt. Carrasquilla, a forward observer with 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines at the time, commented that artillery had no problem living up to its magnificent history.

"We did what artillerymen always do during a time of war - justify our existence to the Marine Corps," said Carrasquilla.

As the fight in Iraq progressed, a new weapon was introduced to Marine Corps artillery. Replacing the M198 howitzer, the M777 howitzer became the artilleryman's primary weapon. Capable of more accurate fire, the M777 was a lighter, more efficient version of the M198 howitzer.

As time passed, artillery found less room for action. Enemy combatants used crowded suburbs and every-day clothing to blend in with the local populace, limiting an artilleryman's ability to fire without causing significant collateral damage. This is always a concern when considering a fire mission, according to Harrison. "We place more restrictions on ourselves in order to not cause more damage and maintain support of the civilian population," he said.

But soon artillery faced a new restriction. It wasn't the enemy's use of urban areas that prevented fire missions; it was the changing nature of the conflict in Iraq. As the war continued, the level of violence reached new lows and the need for artillery fire drastically diminished. With Coalition forces support, the Iraqis built an ever more independent and capable army and police force. In response, Coalition forces began a responsible drawdown of troops. Additionally, combat outposts previously occupied by Marines were handed over to Iraqi Security Forces.

Though the kinetic aspect of artillery's involvement in Operation Iraqi Freedom has significantly decreased, artillery commanders are still assisting in civil affairs and have played a valuable role in helping Iraqis reconstruct their society.

Since their arrival at Camp Al Taqaddum, Battery G has fired numerous illumination rounds in support of nighttime operations. But now, with levels of violence reaching new lows, the Marine Corps is ready to send its artillery home.

"As a whole, in 2003, we came here to liberate a country," said Carrasquilla. "In 2009, we are here to help the people of Iraq develop a self-sustaining country ... we are helping the people of Iraq develop a new way of life."

Even while preparing to withdraw the last of Marine Corps artillery from Iraq, artillerymen are preparing for new missions wherever they are ordered to go.

"We will be just as efficient as we were against the common enemies of the Iraqi people," said Harrison. "Our tactics will adapt as Marines do."

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