Mortar platoon protects Falcon
By Sgt. 1st Class Robert Timmons
4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division Public Affairs Office
BAGHDAD, Iraq – They wait for the sound of the guns. Some put together models. Others read novels to pass time as they wait. While one listens closely to the sound of the radio.
But they all listen for the ominous sounds of incoming – the wail of the sirens or the audible thumps of rounds impacting inside Forward Operating Base Falcon.
Then they jump into action. They are ones tasked to protect Soldiers working on the base by providing quick and accurate responses.
They are the mortar platoon of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment of the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. While at Falcon the Tomahawks are attached to the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Inf. Div., based out of Fort Riley, Kan.
Even though they are not in the same division, the mortar team is glad to provide support whether they wear an Indianhead, big, red one or any other patch on their shoulders.
July 7, a unit from 1st Squadron, 40th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division was in a major firefight south of Falcon.
“We could hear the firing in the distance,” said Staff Sgt. Casey Marcano, a squad leader for the Fort Lewis, Wash.-based unit. “The unit was almost out of ammo when we received the call. They were getting flanked when they called us.”
Marcano, 39, said his crew manned their tube in minutes and was lobbing mortars down range. Usually, when a fire mission comes in they verify coordinates, man the weapon system, receive the vicinity grid, get air clearance and fire the shots.
“The enemy was moving around their flank,” said Staff Sgt. Richard Brown, a squad leader from Eldorado, Kan. “They had called in Air Force support but they couldn’t drop bombs because of fears of collateral damage.”
With the action being so near to the base, artillery fire was out of the question so the mortars got the nod, the unit’s platoon sergeant said. Sgt. 1st Class Scott Mathis, 35, from Paris, Tenn., praised the mortar crew about that night.
“We have speed and accuracy that you don’t have from ground-mounted systems,” he said. “We are up and ready and just need brigade to clear the land and air. Our guys are one of the few crews (mortar) platoons that are actually doing mortar crew stuff.”
It was not until after they had fired their 120mm high-explosive rounds did they learn the outcome.
“It makes me feel very good to know what we did,” Mathis said. “And I know it makes them feel they are in the middle of the fight.”
Some members of the platoon, which have spent two years honing their skills together, credit their accuracy as a factor in the decline of indirect fire shot at Falcon.
A few weeks back, an enemy mortar team was operating with relative impunity 3 kilometers outside of the bases’ walls, lobbing rounds into the installation and then scurrying off to another firing point. That was until a forward observer in one of the towers teamed up with the platoon, Marcano said.
Marcano and Brown said that the observer spotted the shooters, got the range and called it in – the mortar team did the rest. Since then, the amount of indirect fire shot into the camp has decreased significantly, they said.
While the crew has seen significant action, there have been a few times where they were at the tube ready to fire, when they were told to stand down. Such is the life of a mortar crew, they said.
The five-man crew and another similar team stay in trailers at their firing position, waiting for the call and doing what Marcano calls, “Living here 24-7, and trying to maintain morale.”