Spitting Cobra

15 January 2010

Cobra Battery at FOB Frontenac
Arghandab, Afghanistan

Artillery is called “The King of Battle.”  When it comes to the delivery of force, probably nothing outside of nuclear weapons can outmatch the sustained delivery of extreme brutality.  Cannons also can deliver small atomic weapons.


Aircraft and missles have range and other profound advantages, yet on a tactical battlefield these guns are like a force of nature.

They can fire in any weather that man dares to stand in.

American artillery can destroy a parked car with the first shot from twenty miles away.  No sniper has ever lived who can shoot so well.

The red glow is caused by an approaching humvee whose lights were dimmed by red filters, yet the sensitive camera collected light over time.

Calculations for shots are extremely complex and include dozens of factors, such as windspeed, barometric pressure, humidity, altitude of the gun and the target, temperature, and the Earth’s rotation, and the specific lot number of the ammunition.  Every gun is different and so the calculations for one gun would lose accuracy in another.  The guns are brutal and rugged, but also high-tech, precision machines that took centuries of science, engineering and experience to reach the current state.

The guns have reached such a high level of evolution that despite the extreme complexity, within minutes of receiving a “fire mission,” a good crew will reliably deliver accurate shots with help from the computer.

Sometimes missions are pre-planned, while at other times crews must wait close to the guns for hours, even days, without a break.  There was some base in Iraq—I went there with CSM Jeff Mellinger but have forgotten where it was—and the base was taking rocket or mortar fire on a frequent basis from a certain area.  And so the cannoneers slept just next to the guns, and finally the enemy fired and was killed because the guns were pointed at the exact predicted firing point.  The cannoneers just loaded and counter-fired and finished them.  Probably few people on base realized that the “cannon cockers” had conducted an ambush-by-howitzer.  (Maybe the crew who was there will recall this and set the facts straight.)

Cobra battery, 1-17th Infantry, fires illumination.

Sometimes the crews fire “H & I” or “terrain denial” missions.  Harassment and Interdiction missions are fired at terrain known to be used only by the enemy at certain times, and so anytime the enemy feels like rolling the dice, they can move into that terrain.  Such missions also provide influence for “shaping” the battlefield.  If the commander is trying to flush the enemy into a blunder—maybe an ambush—or maybe to cut them off from an escape route, he can have the guns pound into a gorge, say, that is used as an enemy route.  Or maybe he just tries to persuade the enemy to take a route where we have sniper teams waiting.  The battery can be used in many ways that do not include direct attacks on enemy formations.


# Matthew 2010-01-15 04:31
Way to go arty! Thanks for being there and doing what you do. We appreciate your service to our country and especially to the 1-17 guys. Best wishes!
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# http://thespiritofman.blogspot.com/ 2010-01-15 04:57
Great work, Michael Yon. Neat!
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# Sara Johnson 2010-01-15 04:59
Thank God for these men and women. Thank you Mr. Yon for covering their stories.
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# Brian 2010-01-15 05:00
Can't help but wonder who named the FOB? Frontenac was the ballsy military/civil leader of French Canada who took on the Iroquois and English in Upstate NY and the Ohio Valley long before the Declaration of Independence was a thought in anyone's mind. His mission: Stop the harrassment by the 6 Nations and their Anglo suppliers...may be an appropriate name after all...he did 2 tours...his second one he was past 60 years of age.
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# Doug Wright 2010-01-15 05:05
Good to hear about arty being used over there in Afghanistan. As an older Red Leg, Arty Weather back in the COLD war/peace days, can't imagine how weather data is collected these days. Plus that FDC effort must be interesting too. Especially good to see and read about those 2ID guys and pray for all of them too.

The roar of the guns is exciting and great to hear except the 8-inch guns shake the ground and make plots shaky.
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# Jason Mann 2010-01-15 05:13
These are some awesome shots Michael. I don't see many artillery crews in the news, so this was refreshing.

thanks and keep up the great work,
prior Fister (13 Foxtrot)
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# Not defeated 2010-01-15 05:19
Well, well. 2010 and the Americans finally get in the fight.

The Canadians have been doing this and doing it better for the last 6 years with their M777 & excalibur rounds.

But you think they have been tactically defeated so don't bother reporting on them.

A word of advice . . stay out of Timmy's on the boardwalk at KAF. There are a few Canucks who want to "ask" you about your ludicrous claim that they have been defeated by the Taliban.
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# Matt 2010-01-15 05:21
Fascinating how many factors go into calculations for aiming these guns! Thanks for the account.
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# Sandra 2010-01-15 05:21
The photos and the commentary are both fantastic! Thanks for taking us to where are brave soldiers are fighting and showing us their jobs and more importantly, their faces.

I'm keeping you and them in my prayers.

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# Laura McClellan 2010-01-15 05:24
.....and looking at what is happening in Haiti right now, your email popped up. With all of the tragedy happening in the world this very minute, I find it amazing that we have such brave, courageous, and giving men and women in our armed services. These men and women are all over the world helping others and serving our country. It is truly an amazing job that I truly respect. I am so proud to be an American and would not want to be any where but the US! A big thank you to our military! May God bless you for all that you do for others!

Thank you Michael Yon for showing us what goes on when I am in the safety of my own home. I will keep you and these men and women in my prayers.

God bless!
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# William Baird 2010-01-15 05:52
Thank you, Michael, for now we know a little more about the guns and their evolution into today's fighting.
Ernie Pyle wrote in 1944 that the Germans feared our artillery "... almost more than anything we had."
Perhaps our enemies in Afghanistan feel similarly.
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# Victoria 2010-01-15 05:53
Great shots Michael and thanks again for bringing them to us. Next soldier you see, would you tell them I appreciate them, just so they remember? What an admirable job they are doing.
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# Joans Bob 2010-01-15 06:03
Magnificent photography, as usual, Michael--but you should know that the Artillery folks pride themselves on being the Queen of Battle, not the king.
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# spratico 2010-01-15 06:07
That's interesting stuff. Great pictures too!
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# Jim Growney 2010-01-15 06:16
What an awesome post. I join other old redleggers in a big Hooah! I was on a M102 105mm Light towed with Delta Battery 1/509 ABN in Italy in the 80's. Shoot, Move, Communicate is what we did. Great to see FA get a nod.. . . And Kudo's to the other countries there in the mix! THanks Michael. Keep the posts coming downrange...
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# Jim Growney 2010-01-15 06:44
Joan's Bob, I beleive you are incorrect. Artillery is and has been "King of Battle" for a LONG time. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/agency/army/fa.htm is a good reference on the different monikers used by various branches.
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# Tammy Hodges 2010-01-15 11:12
Just, simply awesome, Michael.
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# ZZMike 2010-01-15 13:30
Those are incredibly good photographs. I do believe one could get a good ground location, from the stars in the background.
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# Steve Porter 2010-01-15 13:33
What an amazing job our soldiers do. Thank you for your service! I am amazed at your dedication. Once again Michael you have put together some fantastic photos. Thank you for your dedication to your work and your professionalism .
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# Alan Johnson 2010-01-15 13:37
Great pictures and a look at todays gun bunnies ( thats what we called them, no offense! ) Supported them back in the early 80's when they first started getting the hitech M109's, glad to see that the made the new towed ones so effective. Hats off to all the guys on the guns and in the fight
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+1 # RE: Spitting Cobrastergeye 2010-01-15 13:52
Great coverage Michael.

And the extraordinary soldiers who perform these wonders with these weapons are those whom certain politicians said weren't "smart enough" to stay out of the military. God bless them all, and you as well.
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+1 # RE: Spitting CobraAlex 2010-01-15 14:15
Thanks Michael for covering the Artillery gunners. Being an ex-Navy gunner it's great to see how the Army guys play.
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# MissBirdlegs in AL 2010-01-15 14:27
Terrific pics & commentary, as usual! I realize you have great subjects (our fine warriors) to work with, but you're the only one who really tells a story. It's much appreciated.
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# Stephen Bowen 2010-01-15 15:05
Great Shots,I was an FO for 155,s in Germany in the 80's,wish we had all this neat stuff!

Toujours Pret!
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# *C* 2010-01-15 15:19
Mr. Yon as always excellent job and a Oorah!! to you Sir, Also nice mention of the deep "Eyes on Target" teams... ; )
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# Tim 2010-01-15 16:16
Awesome pictures! The C-RAM is very simular to the Close In Weapons System (CIWS) that is used against anti-ship missiles on Navy Ships. When the CIWS fires the whole entire deck rumbles. Its really cool to watch from the flight deck.
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# Max Perry 2010-01-15 16:27
Thanks Michael for your terrific camera and feel you have for the Soldiers doing their job so skillfully we have great gratitude for their professionalism and respect for their dedication and skill. We also appreciate what you do to bring their "story" to us iin pictures and descriptions which leave us spellbound. Thank you and God protect the soldiers and their chronicler.
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# neil 2010-01-15 17:22
Arty lends dignity to what would otherwise be a vulgar brawl! 0811 usmc 69-71
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# Peter 2010-01-15 17:26
+1 for QUEEN.
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# Hoorah 2010-01-15 19:39
Hope you wore earplugs, and hope they got lots of the enemy.
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# Jan D USA 2010-01-16 01:57
Your photography and story-telling is like no other. These photos have a quality of 'star wars' proportions. If I were the enemy I'd be packing my bags. Thank you so much for continuing to bring the spotlight to our extraordinary soldiers. Another depiction of how incredible they all are! Forever indebted for what they (and you) do.
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# Go Army 2010-01-16 03:50
Queen of Battle refers to the Infantry. We are a four generation Army family and the last two have been Infantrymen. Our son is currently in eastern Afghanistan and works with an FA unit. He was in Ramadi, Iraq in 2005-2006, when it was a really bad time to be in Ramadi. These soldiers are an amazing group of men and women. I couldn't be prouder to be an Army Brat, Army Wife, and Army Mom. Our daughter even has RMYBRT on her license plate.
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# Bill Boyce 2010-01-16 04:31
Your photos are awesome, and your comments are excellent. Love the arty!
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# MGF 2010-01-16 06:56
Fascinating photos as ever, Mr Yon.
You might care to know that the M777 is actually a British invention by Vickers and is an excellent piece of kit. I was in Procurement in the 80s and saw the first prototypes firing in Cumbria. Sadly, UK didn't buy it but it is used to great effect by CAN, US and AUS forces. As somebody has already said, Artillery adds........... .to what would otherwise be a vulgar brawl. I know - I was an FOO in the Cold War; one of my sons is commanding an FST on Herrick 11 and the other one (RM) deploys in 18 months time.
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# Bob Tolford 2010-01-16 07:27
As a former FDCer (in B-Btry, 22nd FA in Panama Canal Zone and elsewhere) in the 70's, it is nice to read about a modern artillery unit. Great photos too Michael. When I could get away from the FDC I would take my old Canon F1 SLR and take photos. They look nothing like yours though. I looked up your camera online and am quite impressed with it's capabilities. You've got a good eye for photography; I love your shots. One of these days I must get out to Ft. Sill and check out the Artillery Museum there. Fascinating what modern artillery can do, particularly the Excaliber round.
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# Chicago Patriot 2010-01-16 07:44
Michael Yon, YOU ARE OUR ERNIE PYLE! Your skills and knowledge are vast, and we admire and thank you for the work that you do. May God bless our fighting men and women, and may God bless you and keep you all safe.
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# Craig C 2010-01-16 10:58
5-2 SBCT assumed battlespace from the Canadians in RC-South. Hence the French-Canadian source for FOB name :-) Great write-up Michael! Got my spine tingling just seeing the beautiful pics of these heros doing their best for our country.

"Can't help but wonder who named the FOB? Frontenac was the ballsy military/civil leader of French Canada who took on the Iroquois and English in Upstate NY and the Ohio Valley long before the Declaration of Independence was a thought in anyone's mind. His mission: Stop the harrassment by the 6 Nations and their Anglo suppliers...may be an appropriate name after all...he did 2 tours...his second one he was past 60 years of age. "
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# Orion 2010-01-16 11:11
Thanks, cannon-cockers, for everything you do - especially keeping your rounds out of the way of my birds! :-D

(B 1/214th AVN fresh back from Iraq)

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# James Ronan 2010-01-16 15:20
Is Cobra Battery from a field artillery regiment (C Battery, x battalion, y Field Artillery?) and in support of 1-17 Inf or is it part of 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry?

There is a 17th Field Artillery but so many reorganizations.

Thank you for your service, anyhow and great shots (and great shooting).

James Ronan
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# Slartibartfast 2010-01-16 17:18
Great photos!

I don't know much about artillery, but that looks like an M777. Keep up the great work.
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# Frank Schober 2010-01-16 19:13
I am so proud of these soldiers. We have the best Army we have ever had, a better and more capable one than I served in. What's the saying? We can sleep safe in our beds because men like these are willing to put their lives on the line.
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# LTC Dennis Smith- CDR, 3-17 FA 2010-01-16 21:24
Thanks for the great coverage of 3-17 FA. The next time you are out at Ramrod, please stop by and visit the Gators.
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# thibaud 2010-01-17 12:42
Thank you. God bless you.
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# Jim O 2010-01-17 15:05
Those unexploded rounds bedeviled us in 'Nam as they were often turned into IEDs. There were way too many of them. After the war many of them were traced to a factory controlled by the Mafia where defective fuzes were passed regardless.

Even at that we were happy to be able to call on the cannon cockers when the situation got ugly.

Michael thanks for the great work.
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# Alan 2010-01-17 17:05
As for me. I swear on my mothers grave. When our brave warriors come home. Any one thats calls our troops a baby killer, murderer or any thing disrespectful. They will pay a heavy price at the hands of this Vietnam Veteran.

God Bless and keep ALL our troops safe and sound.
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# laura 2010-01-18 04:00
i loved the pics and your commentary - so informational - thank you!

What i cannot get over, are the stars. Do they really look like that??? i thought growing up in rural PA that we could see alot of stars but sheesh...i had no idea!
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# HoundOfDoom 2010-01-18 08:05
Great photos and informative writing. I am so glad to read your work, and to learn about the work our people do in AF. LEarning about the sophstication of the weapons and the long training required to use them effectively increases the respect for our people.

Best wishes to both you and our troops.
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# Ralph Treat 2010-01-18 08:56
Absolutely great and "ON TARGET"
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# Aaron Bounds 2010-01-18 10:00
Michael, this is the kind of stuff you are so well known for. These pictures are fantastic. Some of your opinion now and then is good stuff too. Your analysis is really great. But, I gotta let you know, some of the more recent posts you have made are more like reading a tabliod front page. I know that from your perspective they're important, and I'm not suggesting they are not, but this type of good old-fashioned photo-journalis m is where it's at. You do GREAT work.
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# CT 2010-01-18 21:36
That was fascinating. Excellent job on this piece, sir.
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# Redleg109 2010-01-19 04:56
As a former gunner on an M109, its great to see a feature on the new generation of cannoneers. And to confirm what others have said, artillery is the King of Battle. After singing it in cadence while marching around Ft. Sill, OK I will never forget that!

May St. Barbara watch over all the arty boys and keep them safe! Thanks, Michael.
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# me 2010-01-19 05:20
It's a shame that such beautiful photos came from something as ugly as war
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# KZT 2010-01-19 06:15
so...how come you're still getting killed by a low-tech enemy? Fail.
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# KellyC 2010-01-19 08:49
...of the war and the guys on the ground. Thanks for insight into an often overlooked facet of the troops and equipment fighting the good fight.

As an aside, I think you might need to post a clarification of your comments about the Canadians and their 'defeat' as I think they disagree with your assessment as they are interpreting it.
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# DMP 2010-01-19 12:15
It is refreshing to read a report that has accurrate technical information. A very rare thing in today's world of reporting.

Keep up the excellant work!
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# Nick 2010-01-20 00:20
I used to eat in thier chow hall when I was at HHB 75th BDE.. I have a deep respect for ARTY.. those guns are big and hard to move in a rush. Good work guys!
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# Knguyen308 2010-01-20 06:12
The mission they referred to when the gun broke loose and hit a truck was in a frozen place called Yakima, WA in mid-January. That taught the other batteries in the battalion to dig their M198s in deeper when doing a direct fire mission in winter on rocky terrain. Glad to see these great redlegs doing their job.
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# paul 2010-01-20 09:50
KZT, you kill some of us because you cowardly hide behind women and children planting your explosives
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# Kevin 2010-01-20 12:51
Thank You to all you men and women who serve. This article really was eye opening and made me feel proud to be very proud to be an AMERICAN!
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# Bob 2010-01-21 02:38
Mr. Yon, your photographs are absolutely amazing! I am very impressed by your talent as a photographer. Moreover, although a picture is indeed worth a thousand words, the words you provided in your captions have done an outstanding job of explaining the intricate "system of systems" that is fire support to a non-technical, non-military audience.

I am heartened to see that the story of the Artillery has been told in such a thorough, succinct, and beautiful set of images and words. My hat is off to you! I am looking forward to seeing more of your excellent work.
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# Cassie 2010-01-21 07:21
Thank you so much for this amazing article. My husband is currently deployed with this unit at FOB Ramrod, and it is wonderful to see exactly what he is doing. I thought I knew alot about this but I learned so much more from this article. I am glad to see there is someone who will go and stand by our soldiers and relay all the important information you have along with some splendid pictures. Keep up the good work sir and thank you once again!
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# Kenny Komodo 2010-01-22 11:17
If this isn't Pulitzer Prize winning material I don't know what is. Thank you Michael, and thanks to those men to stand guard for us. What great pictures. The sky in Afghanistan is simply amazing.
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# Patriot Matt 2010-01-23 15:56
" so...how come you're still getting killed by a low-tech enemy? Fail."

Three words: Rules of Engagement.

Your arrogance is sickening. Fingers crossed that you wander into the line of mortar fire.
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# Junker 2010-01-24 06:11
"Can't help but wonder who named the FOB? Frontenac was the ballsy military/civil leader of French Canada who took on the Iroquois and English in Upstate NY and the Ohio Valley long before the Declaration of Independence was a thought in anyone's mind. His mission: Stop the harrassment by the 6 Nations and their Anglo suppliers...may be an appropriate name after all...he did 2 tours...his second one he was past 60 years of age."

Brian that's an interesting observation. The FOB was originally Canadian turf until handed over to the US Army last year.
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# William 2010-01-24 13:05
Your right, old timer the 3-17th FA is in support of the 1-17th Inf. they are actually 5/2 ID Stryker Brigade Combat Team C Battery of the 3-17th FA BN . How do I know so much you ask. Well I'm proud to say my son is in most of those pics as he also is proud to be serving in the US Army
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# sofa 2010-01-24 13:05
King of Battle
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# AWAG 2010-01-24 23:10
they are the 3-17 FA in Support of 1-17 IN BN
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# OBXBOUND 2010-01-28 07:13
Fingers crossed you wander into my backyard. That will be the last place you EVER wander. Freakin coward!
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# CaliGirl 2010-01-28 07:30
KTZ....Really? You couldn't come up with something more intelligent to say, you ignorant SOB. How many of yours have we killed? Keep talking, you may be next!!
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# crystal 2010-01-31 13:52
First off.. this is 3-17... not 1-17. 1-17 is infantry and DOES NOT shoot these guns. Second.. frontenac was a canadaian base that we took over.. The canadians left as we were coming in.

to 3-17--- way to go guys... cant wait for you all to get home this summer... We miss you... And to my husband who is with you guys.. I miss you and love you tons.
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# SGT VAN BEEK 2010-01-31 17:39
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# Ed Snelling 2010-02-01 08:56
Thanks for the insight on what this unit is doing in Afghanistan. As I type my son has just arrived in country. He is being assigned to 3-17 as an FDO and is proud to be a US soldier and serve his country. Having served two tours in Viet Nam with the 5th SFGA some 40 plus years ago I now know how my parents felt when a loved one is deployed. But I know our men and women are well trained and eager to do their jobs and are much better equipped. Today the Queen of Battle yields to the King of Battle God Bless you all and keep your powder dry.
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# Sandy Y 2010-02-01 19:39
Amazing photos of our guys. Thank you for taking such amazing, gorgeous pictures. I finally see my husband truly at work (he's in a good chunk of those photos). As for 3-17, keep on rockin' and rollin'. You guys stay safe and just know we're all proud of y'all here on base. As for my husband, I'll see you soon. I love you to the moon and back.
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# PV2 IBARRA 2010-02-04 13:07
I am actually part of this btry out in afghnistan and i just wanted to thank Mr.yon for writing our story, i dont see my self as a great hero or a super human just a man who decided to stop my education for a greater calling and that was to defend my great country.... and many of us see it the same way, but if anyone has any questions about us dont be afraid to ask my email is
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# William 2010-02-05 09:20
You tell 'em.. 1-17th, is lucky to have such support. Yes indeed. You're now more than half way thru. see you soon !!
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# wallace mcnabb 2010-02-05 20:28
just wanted to say that you guys in a-stan and iraq are doing the job. i just wished the politicains of this
country would take care of you right when you come home. mr. yon you do a job that needs to be done
and you do it very well, thank you...and i thank all the troops in the war. take care and be safe and come
home in one piece....former tank commander 1 ID
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# Mick 2010-02-09 11:40
Calls to mind the comment of Gen Freyburg who led the NZ Division in Greece Crete Nth Africa and Italy [Monte Cassino] 'High command tend to overcomplicate tactics and get too tricky. The matter is relatively simple--round them up and smash them with artilllery'
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# wes in MT 2010-02-10 07:05
Love the pics. what kind of gear are you using? the photography angle is intrigueing.
thanks for reporting on the dangerous work these troops are doing.
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# janine 2010-02-21 23:47
unfortunately I do not understand English so well, but I find the pics so fantastic.

Thanks for the insight into the life of the soldiers, my husband is in afghanistan
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# Paul Cline 2010-02-24 01:45
"Arty" is quite kewl, as I recall...as long as they are provided the correct firing coordinates.

They called the Infantry "The Queen of Battle"....they called Arty "The King of Battle"


Been on the receiving end of rocket attacks in Vietnam more than a few times...not good...makes ya wanna hug your Mom, notwithstanding the fact that you just don't wanna be there!
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# Bartos 2010-03-26 09:17
Good stuff.

In some pictures they look like some ghosts who are cursed to fire their gun for all eternity.
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# Warrem Thomas 2010-03-27 16:24
I rotated into the 75th FA Bn when President Truman was integrating the military forces in 1952. The 75th had earlier gone to Korea from Ft. Sill, Oklahoma as an all black outfit with white officers. Among other duties, I was in fire direction behind Able Battery's 6 155mm howitzers. On of the lasting legacies of howitzer firing was hearing loss in many of the men who were too busy to protect their ears. Or, perhaps, did 18-22 year iolds have youth's feelings of invinciibility?

Sixty years have brought amazing changes in the use of artillery in battle but the age-old cry "fire for effect" still resonates. A slide rule, a topographical map, and a telephone line to a forward observer were the main elements for a successful strike. If those were not the "good days", they certainly were times never to be forgotten.

The free booze (whiskey cost by the bottle) accounted for major problems seldom if ever reported to the news media--shooting s, theft, personal property damage, life threats, burning of property, violation of military rules, promiscuity, etc.

Keep up the good work, men in the artillery !
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-1 # Norman F. Conant, Jr. 2010-03-28 10:07
And the Navy can do this from a pitching deck!
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# LeeRoy Palmer 2010-05-28 04:24
Excellent pics. Seeing these pics me fired up. I need a Fire mission!
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# Christopher Smith 2010-06-22 06:07

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# Gregory Moon 2011-02-25 16:38
I remember the 777's of the 1st bde 25 IN Div at Warhorse in Iraq firing illum rounds You knew when the shot over your head. They even were firing missions on Christmas Eve just before Midnight Mass.
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# Juho 2011-03-04 13:53
For some reason I've missed this post. Anyways, thanks again Michael for the great work. Keep it up. This article reminded me of my times during my time at the Finnish defense forces. I served in the field artillery brigade, we really didnt have such sophisticated equipment during peace time, so we used something the germans left behind, an 152mm howitzer from 1939 (winter war), reconstructed here in Finland. Here it is firing a salvo ( http://koti.mbnet.fi/~nze/sci-go-boom.jpg ), notice the lack of protection, the blast really got us each time. This is a peace time practice. Though it's very out dated gun, it still is very effective and dangerous and with the procedures made by Vilho Petter Nenonen ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nenonen )it will hit its target each time. If it were war time, our equipment would move to similar guns as the US uses.
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