Big Guns

28 April 2010

The intention was to write a detailed dispatch on the 3-17th Field Artillerly.  Unfortunately, General Stanley McChrystals’ crew broke an agreement I had with the Army to stay until 5/2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team leaves Afghanistan, and so the research on this dispatch was not completed.  However, there are some nice nighttime photos and so this dispatch is more about Canons than cannons.

The cannons are ultra-accurate.   The commanders are careful with their fire because the guns are also very powerful.  When a “fire mission” comes in, the soldiers use the computer to calculate the shot.  When you watch the soldiers in action, you can see that they must have practiced this a thousand times.  Or more.  They just can’t afford to be wrong, and the people who depend on the cannons sometimes cannot wait – so the soldiers must fast and accurate.

Our people use various sorts of ammunition.  The most accurate is called “Excaliber,” and it’s a GPS guided smart bomb that is fired from these cannons.  The Excaliber is fantastically precise – more accurate than any sniper – and can make first round hits on the targets 5, 10, 20 miles away.  Recently, we (the U.S.) had a software glitch with the Excaliber rounds which would have made them inaccurate within certain calendar dates.  There are still some glitches but there is no doubt that we could use a lot more of Excaliber.  The incredible first-shot accuracy allows our people to more specifically target and reduce civilian casualties.

(I sat on the software information for a couple months until the problem was fixed.)

Daytime photography is somewhat predictable, but nighttime photography is like a box of chocolates.

With the shutter open for up to 30 seconds per photo, moving soldiers appear as apparitions.

Tonight they were firing illumination.  On very dark nights, they sometimes fire IR (infrared) illumination that helps our nightvision gear.

These images came from two cameras.  Both are Canon Mark II 5d, and with the best lenses that Canon sells, the Mark II 5d model using Canon professional lenses is the best “normal” (meaning not nightvision or thermal) gear for night shooting that I’ve ever held.

Photo from modified camera.

The sensors on digital cameras are sensitive beyond the visible range, and so the manufacturers install a filter over the sensor that passes only visible light.  I paid a company to remove that filter so the camera will pass IR and some UV.  Some of the photos in this series are with the normal camera, and the other are made with the modified sensor.


# william bloom 2010-04-28 02:53
Don't worry Michael, I am sure the mainstream media will step into the voide... not!
You do a great job Michael.
# Jerry Hoffman 2010-04-28 03:02
Michael, how do we write to General Stanley McChrystal to tell him to put you back into the game?
# J 2010-04-28 03:09
I can't remember how I found your website, but as soon as I did, I sent it to lots of people, and look at every new dispatch as soon as it is sent in. Some of the pictures are fun, and many really make me stop and think what's important. Some make me really emotional, such as the dispatch with the boys. I sent a donation in not too long ago, and hope that many others do so as well. Keep safe.
# Joe Norman 2010-04-28 03:09
Just incredible photography! BEAUTIFUL!! Keep up the stellar work my friend! God bless and be safe.
# Steve Waterman 2010-04-28 03:38
Hi Mike,

Just wondering what you are using for a camera body and how much effort it takes to keep it clean and functional? Keep up the good work and stay safe, old buddy.

Steve Waterman
# Jim Growney 2010-04-28 03:58
Hooah! Ya gotta love Field Artillery !
# Nathan Leach 2010-04-28 04:17
Thank you Michael for your efforts, your reporting truth, uplifting and depressing at times but truth none the less. Which is way more than you can say about the majority of main stream media. Thanks
# mike wilson 2010-04-28 04:24
gee Mike if you do get dropped, come home and cover the border wars-- it is heating up on our southern side-- one brave state is trying to do what the Feds are not doing-- and is catching hell for it-- make sure you bring your body armour--
# Clinger 2010-04-28 04:29
Have you tried multiple flash IR flash in single frame pictures?? Photos are great...
# ADH 2010-04-28 06:15
If anyone has a way to contact General Stanley McChrystal please post it. For now i would say contact your local Senator or Congressman about it.
# chuck 2010-04-28 07:46
Michael, in the aljazeera vid on youtube, we saw our troops blowing up valuable (to the enemy) supplies. How is it that a General (graduate of West Point) could leave so much for the enemy to use on our troops in the future. The pullout did not appear to be hurried. I assume that the stuff was bought and paid for by American Taxpayers and now we are funding weapons to be used on our own. I am awaiting a reply from the White House as I question the wisdom shown by the General and wonder if he is using the same tactics in other commands.
# Ted Thomas 2010-04-28 08:11
As you well know, Mr. Yon, every war has a running narrative; the force which controls that narrative can turn a war (Vietnam). Is it possible that our POTUS has instructed his employee to clamp down on the "effective, deadly warfare applied professionally with great restraint" narrative so as to lay the groundwork for the upcoming "we can't possibly win this war let's pay for healthcare instead" campaign?

I will be all for such an effort as soon as doctors and nurses can kill jihadists as effectively as the Marines can. Until then, I have issues...

I am now praying for you regularly; you have become quite irritating to some powerful people who are very focused on ... the narrative.
# SSG Nickell, Daniel 2010-04-28 09:44
thank you for the time that you spent with my company (c co 1-17 in) the pic's and blogs you did on us ment alot to us and to our families. I hope that you can work it out that you stay working with the army. Take care and stay safe.
# TLF 2010-04-28 10:20
Some of the best I've seen in years, and it comes from Afghanistan.
# just an Army mom 2010-04-28 12:11
....cannon is that? I feel pretty silly asking, but I'd really like to know.

You stay safe, Michael, and thank you for both the beautiful photos and the insightful commentary.
# Jeff Stanley 2010-04-28 14:47
...this is my gun. This one's for fighting, this one's for fun." If you're infantry, that is... :D "McChrystal is trying to censor the war. It won’t work." Is there supporting evidence for the first sentence, in additon to cutting short your embed? What I HOPE that second sentence means is, "I see how I can work around him to report the war anyway."
# Mikko 2010-04-28 14:56
The artillery piece in the pictures is a M777 Lightweight 155-millimeter Howitzer. (Technically it's not a gun, because it doesn't fire at a flat trajectory. Nor should it be called a howitzer because it has a barrel length of 39 calibers, far longer than the traditional definition of 15 to 25 calibers. It's basically a hybrid of many concepts and has passed the traditional nomenclature. But soldiers do love their traditions, at least when they doesn't interfere with the mission. )
# Dorothy Roush 2010-04-28 18:51
Great photos and info except Im disturbed by the Generals chump out. Im sure everyone here will stand with you supporting your efforts besides freedom of speech and of the press are our rights as Americans. Youve given your efforts to us, to take them away would be a con of the constitution!Im sure everyone here will support you and stand by you as you have for us taking us to the front, showing us whats going on magnificently in photos thats so healing for families of soldiers,vetera ns and hard core supporters of the men and women who are giving all up for FREEDOM.Well Freedom needs to be kept alive and your the man that does that! Your ALL greatly appreciated, anything we can do call on us well write, contest, support til the fox clears the hen house out.Dont let anyone interfer with your anyone could easily.... your on a mission from a way higher power!Stopping you isnt gong to be easy.Thanks so much for all the great information, photos letting us see what our service men and women are truely facing besides a culture of people that arent all haters!
# Richard the other 2010-04-28 21:31

I still am a fan,

Be safe.
# Salma 2010-04-29 02:22
Thank you for the great work.though it was not finished,u still did a great job.

you are in our prayers...
# nellie 2010-04-29 08:18
Nice to see the M777 in action - I have delivered (by CH47) this weapon for your neighbours, but never saw it fired - great phots.
# John Collins 2010-04-29 13:55
I bet the familes of these men are as proud of you as they are with their sons. Thanks for what you do, Michael.
# Lee Keller King 2010-04-29 17:20
These photos seem very surrealistic to me -- somthing might have come from Salvador Dali, in an alternate world. Little dioramas that the modelmaker created in his basement or backyard. Keep it up, Michael
# Render 2010-04-30 01:46
Stay with Tim, so I know you're both in good hands.

# Meg 2010-04-30 03:54
These photos are h aesthetically, and because of the deadly serious situations they depict. Kudos to you, Michael, and to the Soldiers whose reality you've given us a glimpse of.

"What's the sound of Artillery? BOOM BOOM!!"
# Gismo Fly 2010-04-30 23:49
Dear Mike,

Your photos are amazing. They would pass for art at the Tate Gallery in London.

Superb effort on your part.

# epador 2010-05-01 04:17
If you are annoying the brass as a reporter, you are usually doing something right, as a reporter. Sometimes, however, there are operational concerns that are bigger than you. Let's hope the reneg was a little of both. If you are able to stay on the high road in your situation, you'd be better than me. I'd be cussing like a sailor.
# I.M. Somebody 2010-05-01 21:08
I sat silently in a world of darkness,
my eyes straining and almost void of sight,
But the distant sound of friendly thunder
would calm my mind and light the night.

"My heart goes out to all of our warriors and I pray for their safe return".. C.F.
# Phil Hubbard 2010-05-01 21:20
Great to see the gun line They've got computers and GPS now that has got to be better than protractors and tables books and compasses that we managed with.
Mike , Hope your embed hassles resolve themselves but your anger at Gen McCrystal looks a bit unprofessional.
Clamping down on media coverage is an option open to any command Gen McCrystal is making a hell of a gamble on Khandahar being a success
The first casualty of war is the truth, and your living it daily, I can see why your pissed off. Nice Photo's as always
# Pete G. 2010-05-02 12:08
You can always tell when you are doing a great job. Someone from on high will try to shut you up! Keep on keeping on. You are a breath of fresh air in a toxic atmosphere of the MSM. Your photos are a form of art that I have yet to see anyone else come close to duplicating. They never cease to amaze me. I pray that you will stay safe and that you will also get back into the thick of things again. I agree with you that this war can not and need not be censored in any way that doesn't endanger our troops (something you would not need to be told to do anyway). Stay safe and God bless!
# AmericanJarhead 2010-05-05 01:24
Thanks for being there any putting yourself in harms way to cover the story the way the press SHOULD be covering the story. Stay safe.

Cris (AmericanJarhead)
# JonV 2010-05-05 05:48
McCrystal works for us. If you want to get Michael back on embed, the best way would be to call your congressional reps. They are in the best position to make things change.
# Ed Snelling 2010-05-09 13:22
Michael which battery were you working with in these photo's ? My son is a Platoon Leader with 1/A 3-17th at FOB Price. They fired an Excaliber round recently.
# Hangtown Bob 2010-05-10 09:58
"Rifles are called either “rifle,” “weapon,” “M4” (or whatever model it is), but not “gun.”

As they used to teach in Boot Camp, Sarge says "This is your rifle" and he holds up the rifle. Then he says "This is your gun" and he grabs his crotch. "This is for fighting (pointing to rifle) and this is for FUN (pointing to crotch). This probably is not PC for today's military.
# Paul C 2010-05-11 05:27
having seen tv prog that showed the testing of the EXCALIBER in the U.S, I am interested to find out how many of these SMART artillary rounds have been issued to front line units??
Keep up the great work.. stay safe
# Geoff Ross 2010-05-21 02:05
A "Weapon" is carried by the individual Soldier. A "Gun" is crew served. This was explained to me back in the day of no camo uniforms, starch and spit shined boots at Ft Benning by a Ranger Captain while I was busy pushing the ground away after referring to my M16 as a Gun.
# Republicus Maximus 2010-06-04 03:38
You're getting too close to the truth Michael. You probably should have stuck to reporting about USO shows or something. But if you had, you wouldn't be Michael Yon, would you?
Keep up the good fight, I have followed you since you got in Iraq and thanks for the autographed book - STAY SAFE BUDDY!
# photographyDave Watson 2012-01-17 19:46
I hope you will consider writing a book dedicated to your photography equipment and techniques. I have all your books and have read many of your posts, and have been impressed with the snippets you disclose, but remain very curious about the details.

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