Story by SSG John Healy on 08/28/2015POCHEON, South Korea - The Soldiers of Bravo Battery, 3rd Battalion, 16th Field Artillery Regiment "Rolling Thunder," 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, have spent the past month parked on top of firing point 180, a small, fenced in patch of dirt located directly beside Pocheon, a rural town in South Korea.
Three M109A6 Paladins, a massive self-propelled howitzer firing 155mm shells, sit on concrete pads stationed across the fire point. Their turrets point north towards Rodriguez Range, where the 1st Battalion, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd ABCT, is completing their gunnery cycle on the peninsula.
The cannon crews spend most of their time trying to stay out of the sun or picking at field rations.
Sgt. Bernard Poole, a cannon crew chief from Miami, Florida, half-listens to his Soldiers making jokes while radio chatter fills in the background. All conversation stops when they hear one phrase come in on the wire.
Poole doesn't have to speak; his Soldiers already know what to do. Each crew member has a specific task and purpose, their efforts synchronized to near perfection.
It's the speed that makes artillery fire so deadly, said Poole. Within seconds, Poole and his team can annihilate a hillside from up to 15 miles away. It's also one of their favorite things to brag about.
"When they send the mission down, fire when ready, it's like a big competition for who can get the rounds out the fastest," said Sgt. Bernard Pool with Bravo Battery, 3-16 FA.
The best crew in the 2nd ABCT, is in Bravo Battery. Unfortunately, Sgt. Poole is not the leader of the best cannon crew. He is the leader of the second best.
"I guess that makes us the first place losers," Poole says with a laugh. "We're right behind them by about two seconds."
"You can associate certain things that happen in the gun," said Poole. "Like if the number one man can't get the primer out of the belt fast enough, that's two seconds. The time it's taking to read back data to the driver, that's two seconds. Waiting on the tube to travel from load to high angle is two seconds."
Regardless of who has the fastest crew, Poole is still proud of what his Soldiers have accomplished.
"We're pretty hot over here on this gun line," said Poole. "Our crew is pretty tight."
Poole's reason for choosing field artillery was largely influenced by his time spent as a football coach before joining the Army.
"They told me it was a team sport, and I said, that's the job for me," said Poole. "It's all fun competition. You push the rest of the crew to be better."
Poole's gunner is Spc. Leonard Garcia from Augusta, Texas, and the second most senior of the crew. His job is to verify targeting data and check the fuse on each round before it fires. Garcia also finds the most rewarding part of the job to be working with his fellow crewmembers.
"I've been shooting artillery my whole career," said Garcia. "I love it, the camaraderie within the section, and how close we get. We have such a close bond."
The crew's loader, Spc. Antoine Sheppard from Compton, California, is the youngest. His job is to prepare the shells to fire. Each round weighs more than 95 lbs. and must be hand loaded into the breech of the weapon.
Sheppard also gets to pull the ripcord that fires the Paladin, an experience that Sheppard finds exhilarating.
"Once you actually get hands on rounds and you actually shoot, I don't know, I get this chill going through my body," said Sheppard. "My wife complains because its all I talk about now."
Sheppard thinks of the entire process as a sport. Before he even went to advanced individual training to learn his job, Sheppard was watching videos on YouTube of other crews conducting fire missions, challenging others to beat their time.
"Like you watch your favorite player, I'd watch fire missions," said Sheppard. "I'd think, I believe I can beat that section, or, I know my section can beat that section."
Poole doesn't record his crew drills. If anyone critiques his Soldiers he wants it to be him.
"I've been on every artillery piece," said Poole. "I know what right looks like."
Poole takes every available opportunity to train his Soldiers, even if that means running drills while their Paladins are parked in the motor pool.
"You get to the point where when you sleep, you wake up in the middle of the night and you think you're still working," said Sheppard. "You just practice it all day, it becomes a natural habit."
Now that 1-9's gunnery cycle has concluded, the Soldiers of Bravo Battery may return to their barracks on Camp Casey for a much-needed break, but not for long. Sgt. Poole is already planning their next training exercise.
After all, as Garcia said: "This is not garrison artillery, this is field artillery."