FORWARD OPERATING BASE SALERNO, Afghanistan – The booms began around 1:45 p.m., loud enough to cause you to jump if you’ve never heard a Howitzer fire a high-explosive round before.
That was 2nd Platoon, Alpha Battery, 3rd Battalion of the 321st Field Artillery Regiment, firing north into the mountains near the town of Zambar. By 2:15 the Howitzers let off eight rounds into the same location — barely visible in the hot afternoon sun and the lingering Afghan haze — where, over the past four days, nine “anti-Afghan” fighters have been killed.
Up in the mountains, militants have been “setting up mortar tubes and rockets” to fire into the Zambar district center on U.S. and Afghan forces, said Capt. Brad Jordan, the battery’s commander.
Jordan, in good spirits despite the burning sun and deafening noise, pointed past the massive Howitzer — known as the “Hot Gun” for the frequency it’s been used for the last couple days — at the mountains to the south. The nearer mountain line is called “Rocket Ridge,” he said, thanks to the insurgents who fire 107-mm rockets from its cover. Beyond Rocket Ridge, in another mountain line barely distinguishable from the sky, they fire 122-mms at Salerno.
Jordan grinned at his men as they took measurements following the discharge. “These guys know what it’s like to get shot at and still shoot back,” he said. “I’m extremely proud of my guys. They do a phenomenal job.”
It will be unclear for another day exactly what the Howitzer hit, Jordan explained.
The district center called in a “positive identification on some insurgents emplacing rockets to fire,” according to the battalion’s tactical operations center, known as a TOC. The TOC relayed the location of the insurgents to Jordan’s men, and within a minute, the Hot Gun pounded the mountains. A battle-damage assessment will be underway shortly, according to the TOC.
A few steps away from the Hot Gun, Staff Sgt. Joseph Carrillo, of Riverside, Calif., used an instrument called a chronograph to measure the Howitzer’s accuracy. He suspected that the gun hasn’t finished on the position by Zambar. “If we shoot the first couple days,” Carrillo said, “we’ll probably shoot the next couple days.”
Sure enough, a half-hour later, the Howitzer let off its ninth boom; two minutes after that, its 10th.