Staff Sgt. Darryl "Gunny" Joseph leaps into the night of northern Iraq as the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter touches down, the dust from the rotary wash clouding his vision. His mission is simple: set up the landing zone and guide in the aircraft carrying the M777 artillery pieces to a raid site.
Joseph and the soldiers from Battery C, 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, "Task Force Strike," practiced sling load operations many times before, but this is the real deal.
Task Force Strike advises and assists Iraqi security forces with planning and intelligence, training and equipping, and, on this night, indirect fires. For Artillerymen from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), this was a gun raid--moving M777 howitzers to a forward location to support Iraqi security forces' advance on Qayyarah, a city south of Mosul.
Raids are fast and deliberate operations, said Sgt. 1st Class Juan Burkett, the platoon sergeant with 1st platoon, Battery C. The artillerymen can move to a location quickly to set up and fire without the enemy's knowledge. Since arriving in Iraq in late May 2016, Battery C has executed hundreds of missions and fired thousands of rounds in support of ISF operations.
Joseph moves into the night to establish the hot landing zone. When the next helicopters arrive at the raid site everything must be set up perfectly. None of this is new to Joseph, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom a decade ago. Having attended the United States Army Pathfinder School, he provides navigational aid to incoming aircraft, and select, mark, improve, and control landing sites.
"Check that berm over there," he says calmly, pointing the soldiers in the right direction. Before the mission began he studied the imagery of the location and determined where he would need to be that night. "Pop those chem lights and start shaking them."
Joseph walks the location marked off for the incoming helicopters, making sure it is visible in all directions. Well-rehearsed, his team quickly completes their tasks. "Do you have eyes on?" Joseph radios to the CH-47 Chinook helicopter pilots as they approach. Given the affirmative, he watches as they float toward the landing zone. With a dull thud and a cloud of dust the guns are released onto the ground and the CH-47's turn off into the night.
The 101st is known for air assault operations and, this operation is business as usual. "Let's go, let's get a move on," Joseph says...