Michael's Dispatches

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.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Redleg109 · 12 years ago
    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 · 12 years ago
    It's a shame that such beautiful photos came from something as ugly as war
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    KZT · 12 years ago
    so...how come you're still getting killed by a low-tech enemy? Fail.
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    KellyC · 12 years ago
    ...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 · 12 years ago
    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 · 12 years ago
    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 · 12 years ago
    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 · 12 years ago
    KZT, you kill some of us because you cowardly hide behind women and children planting your explosives
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    Kevin · 12 years ago
    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 · 12 years ago
    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 · 12 years ago
    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 · 12 years ago
    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 · 12 years ago
    " 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 · 12 years ago
    "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...maybe 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 · 12 years ago
    Your right, old timer the -17th FA is in support of the 1-17th Inf. they are actually 5/2 ID Stryker Brigade Combat Team C Battery of the -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 · 12 years ago
    King of Battle
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    AWAG · 12 years ago
    they are the -17 FA in Support of 1-17 IN BN
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    OBXBOUND · 12 years ago
    Fingers crossed you wander into my backyard. That will be the last place you EVER wander. Freakin coward!
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    CaliGirl · 12 years ago
    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 · 11 years ago
    First off.. this is -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 -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 · 11 years ago
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    Ed Snelling · 11 years ago
    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 -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 · 11 years ago
    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 -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 · 11 years ago
    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 jose.luis.ibarra@us.army.mil
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    William · 11 years ago
    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 · 11 years ago
    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 · 11 years ago
    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 · 11 years ago
    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 · 11 years ago
    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 · 11 years ago
    "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 · 11 years ago
    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 · 11 years ago
    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--shootings, 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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    Norman F. Conant, Jr · 11 years ago
    And the Navy can do this from a pitching deck!
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    LeeRoy Palmer · 11 years ago
    Excellent pics. Seeing these pics me fired up. I need a Fire mission!
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    Christopher Smith · 11 years ago

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    Gregory Moon · 10 years ago
    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 · 10 years ago
    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 19 9 (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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