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NEWS | May 8, 2019

Soldiers fire Howitzer rounds from LCM-8 for first time since the Vietnam War

By Spc. Travis Teate 7th Transportation Brigade (Expeditionary)

In the small hours of Easter morning, a fleet of five Landing Craft Mechanized MK-8s (LCM-8) from the 1098th Transportation Detachment of 7th Transportation Brigade (Expeditionary), set sail from Ft. Eustis, Virginia, to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. They would join the Virginia Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion and the 111th Field Artillery Regiment to load and mount the 105 mm M119 Howitzer.


The conception for a riverine fire mission is nothing new, but it would be the first time since the Vietnam War it has been done. It would take Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Horn, who took responsibility of 1098th TD in 2016, to resurrect the concept.


“I’m a 13 Bravo and was with an artillery unit, so when I started to look into the history of the unit to familiarize myself with it, I was shocked to see that the modern day utility vessel was used as an artillery platform in the Vietnam War,” Horn said.


Once the concept was brought up to Lt. Col. Damien Boffardi, 11th Battalion, 7th Transportation Brigade (Expeditionary) commander, he recognized the relevance that this would give the watercraft units in a near-peer environment, and propelled the project forward.


1st Lt. Zach Wilson, executive officer of 1098th TD, details the progression by stating that Boffardi and the S-3 of 11th Battalion oversaw operation planning as Capt. Claudia Casso, Commander of 1098 TD, and her unit planned the tactical movement and mission planning.


 The 111th Field Artillery Regiment, jumped on board the opportunity to conduct the riverine mission with the watercraft and were instrumental in re-developing the method used to secure the Howitzer fast and effectively to the watercraft.


 “I literally had to read old doctrine from Vietnam and dig to find faded black and white photos to start getting an idea of where to start,” said Virginia Army National Guard Capt. Daniel Tarrant, 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery Regiment. “They were using different artillery and did not have digital equipment, so it was quite a big learning curve.”


“When I first heard about this mission, I was excited,” said Sgt. 1st Class Teran Alford, Battalion master gunner for 111th FA. “My job as master gunner is to ensure my soldiers are shooting rounds. I don’t care if we are shooting from a hill, forest or a boat. If we’re shooting artillery I’m all for it.”


The first challenge for the artillery unit was stability on the landing craft. Sandbags, composite bulkheads and platforms were fabricated to secure the Howitzer to the vessel. Once secure, the challenge would be how the recoil would affect the set up.


According to Tarrant, the largest challenge came later on in the digital communication during the dry fire missions.


“We weren’t receiving our fire mission from the lead vessel with the fire direction center. Having it loiter in the area made it difficult to receive information. Once the boat banked itself, we had no problems. These are the types of problems that we could not foresee and what make this exercise so valuable,” he said.


On the watercraft side of the operations, the biggest challenge was how to hold the vessel still with an extreme level of precision.


 “Firing accurately isn’t the only job of the gun crew, they have to shoot-and-move to avoid return fire,” Horn said. “There is a fine balance between beaching the vessel to a point that it is stable enough to fire, and not be so beached that it cannot pull itself off the bank to leave when the firing is complete. This is a job that is usually on the gun crew, but now resided on the vessel crew.”


Firing started early in the morning on the coastal range and all the kinks were worked out the day before. Boffardi would be the first person to fire an artillery round off of an LCM in 50 years and the first person to fire an artillery round for 111th artillery in 70 years.


“Reaching back to veteran doctrine and utilizing it in today's military environment, to be on the forefront of operational change and to potentially affect how the Army fights is extraordinary,” Boffardi said. “Not only were asset capabilities expanded, so were the operational abilities of the Soldiers.  All around, this was a fantastic opportunity for the 11th Transportation Battalion, and we are proud to have been a part of it.”


Col. Beth A. Behn, commander of 7th TB(X) would be the second to fire the weapon. She was enthusiastic to see how the careful planning from her team came together and had this to say, “Executing the waterborne artillery support exercise gave 7TB(X) the opportunity to demonstrate both the capability and versatility of Army watercraft, particularly in support of maneuver operations. 

“We embrace every opportunity we get to train with Reserve and National Guard units, knowing that we will certainly work together in any real world contingency.  The partnership between 11th Trans BN and 111th FA is a great example of Total Force integration.”


Tarrant felt that the overall riverine artillery mission was a “booming success” with great lessons learned.  “Once we were set up, we fired just like any other mission. Out of the 20 rounds that were fired, 17 were spot on. Our Forward Observers said the three that did miss were in a tight group, so I can lend that to the 13-knot wind gust we were receiving today.”