(you can read part I here)
At once I was startled as I nearly plowed into the back of the halted mortar ring. Halted?? Excitement was crawling into my gut. I was then alarmed by the realization that I was standing on the port side (left) of the ring… the flat side that it would drop on if it were commanded to establish itself into firing configuration.
I valued myself out of the way just as the ring shifted ballast to its port side causing it to be off-balance heavy to port. It leaned over plopping itself flat to the ground with a dull yet seismic thud and dust plume. The mortar tube snapped up and pointed itself some 35 degrees to the horizon. A computer clicked and whirred as the gun tube jerked up and down slightly to make fine range and azimuth corrections.
At once my omnipresent earpiece crackled and came alive:
“Fire mission: Charge 12 and 1/4”; adjust fire; hang it on one gun when ready”
Jesus paste, I needed to stop… and get with Hammer time. I punched open the limber chest that was sitting pretty, not more than 25 feet from the waiting mortar tube like a faithful hunting dog. I snatched a 240mm round out and started stripping charges from their shipping config of maximum distance, to charge 12.25. Round ready.
I wasted no time since the command to fire was already given. I inserted the whopping round fins first into the gaping mouth of the gun tube. I let it slide as I turned away from the mortar, bent forward, opened my mouth, and pressed my ears firmly closed with my fingers.
The shock of the report slapped me hard. I was astonished at how loud it was. It was always a surprise to me, that first round of the day.
“Shot, over…” I announced.
“Shot, out” came the response.
I counted down the number of seconds that were supposed to elapse before the impact of the round was expected.
“Splash, over…” said I.
“Splash, out” came the response indicating that the observer had seen the impact and was prepared to make an adjustment from the mortar gun line to the target.
I was mildly self-conscious really, of just how loud the mortar’s belch was, and scanned my horizons to see who the hell might have also heard that report and was going to be concerned about it.
“Charge 12, 10 rounds fire for effect at my command,” crackled my earpiece. Oh hell, I had 10 rounds to cut charges on. I stripped them at the speed of light and stacked them in a pyramid pile under the muzzle of the mortar. The gun was eager to spit high explosives at some poor souls. The mortar ring didn’t care who it killed; it just wanted those green stamps for killing people in bulk.
“Hell, party of 17… Hell party of 17, your table is ready; no waiting… Hell…”
“Hang it on one gun, fire for effect,” came the command. I hefted and dropped the rounds down the gullet as fast as I could twist and cover myself from each blast and recover the next round.
I counted the number of seconds before the impact was due to present itself.
“Splash over… splash out… rounds on target,” I continued to pour on the rounds releasing more maximum scunion on the target.
“Rounds complete” I reported.
“Repeat at my command” came the command meaning the observer wanted 10 more rounds on the same target. The gun tube again twitched this way and that as I stripped charges away from the rounds like a man possessed. I built the same Giza mound under the gun tube as before and waited.
“Fire for effect,” came the command and I twisted and shouted to the hammering concussion of the gun’s blast.
“Rounds complete,” I indicated, then waited for BDA, Bomb Damage Assessment.
“Estimate 17 personnel KIA, four transport vehicles and one armored assault vehicle destroyed. Three transport vehicles and two armored assault vehicles out of action. Good shooting, and mission complete,” came the final announcement.
Great Scott, it did dawn on me that we (?) had just tweaked the living B-Jesus out of a considerable amount of Iraqis… how would they feel about that? I mean are they the forgiving type? Do they have sects of pacifist lefties like we do in the States that you could go up to on the street and punch as hard as you can in the face… only to have them respond: “I forgive you, my friend…”
Odds are likely in… oh, how should I say this… contra-favor of that.
Your average garden variety Iraqi soldier grew up in a mud-n-shit house with no electricity, plumbing, running water, TV, or food… not much of anything. He weaved shit out of thatch to sell at the Souk while his Mother and Sister baked over-sized pitas for dinner for the 10,000th time in a row.
He didn’t get jack-squat for Christmas… well, because they don’t have Christmas in Iraq, but as an award for being a good boy or doing something exceptionally commendable he got as an award… an over-sized pita.
This all flooded to mind as I processed the generous plume of smoke and dust my Fire for Effect (FFE) had generated, and, shifting my gaze to the horizon, I contemplated in a negative light the dust plume that appeared to be answering my commotion.
“Lord love a duck!” I stressed as I scrambled to release the jack (of sorts) from the limber chest. I shot a final glance to the distant plume to gauge whether or not I should continue to recover the gun, or just self-destruct it with a punch of the remote and skedaddle on back to my FOB.
I choked down my personal pride as I jacked the mortar ring with great gusto just to within 10-15 degrees of vertical, where the onboard ballast system whirred and shifted weight to take control of system balance. I pushed the FSB waypoint on the remote and the mortar ring slowly began to roll in an opposite direction home, selecting a smart route, and crisscrossing its original path as it went, faithful limber chest chugging along just meters to the rear.
I lay prone then on the leeward side of a small knoll assessing the single visiting vehicle, which, as it grew near appeared to be an armed troop transport speeding toward the plume of the rolling mortar ring. Knowing I was not a match for this size force, I was comforted by the faint hum of a scheduled drone over-flight. I looked up to it and frantically flashed the sign for enemy presence, pointing out the direction.
The drone flew an extra circle over my position, it’s visible-light camera lens rotated a counter circle from the drone’s flight path to remain locked onto the approaching vehicle. At once the drone broke orbit and made a straight route for the oncoming transport. At an impressive standoff, it released a ground attack rocket that lazily arched its way toward and impacted the target in a belch of black smoke and associated fireball.
“Gawd… that was significant,” I muttered. The airborne drone flew overhead and ejected the small payload of a pair of water containers, walked me a greeting with its wings, and tagged along after the rolling mortar ring.
I ported my AR and began a brisk jog along the desert mantle, fixing my gaze on the single rut of a track that the ring made in the sand. “We should be rolling back over the Forward Friendly Lines (FFL) just before BMNT (first morning light) if the mortar ring’s progress remains consistent,” I calculated, and the mortar always was consistent.
Within 100 meters or so of friendly lines, I began to make communications with the FSB Line of Sight (LOS) to start my re-entry procedure, all the while following the rushing noise made only by the mortar ring, invisible in the black of night. Blue light signal flash combinations challenged me to my front, to which I returned a green combination response. A swath of concertina obstacle wire was pulled open by a couple of my buds as we two rolled through.
The sun was peaking a lazy eye over desert buttes as I sauntered into the mess tent to whoops and cheers of my brothers, pleased over my one-piece return. I grabbed a powdered meal and high-fived the many hands as I passed down the aisle to a vacant powered chair at a powdered table.
“It’s been a good couple of days for man and machine,” I reflected; “here’s to many more,” I gestured with a raised canteen cup of powdered milk. Outside I heard mortar ring rolled to a stop and plop itself flat to the ground nearby with a dull yet seismic thud.
By God and with honor,
Images courtesy of Wikipedia