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NEWS | Dec. 28, 2006

Mortar Operations in Fallujah, Iraq

By Sgt. 1st Class Clinton Wood 1/34 BCT PAO

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq - In just a couple of minutes, Soldiers of Company B, 2nd Battalion, 136th Combined Arms Battalion, can make the enemy have a bad day.

That is the time it takes four Soldiers working as a team to set the fuse on a round that weighs 35 pounds, set the deflection and elevation on the gun and "hang" the round or fire it. The mortars are fired from positions just inside the perimeter of the camp.

"We get called pretty regularly. Mostly to provide illumination at night for the combat outposts here. We also provide the counter battery fire for the insurgents that are firing the IDF (Indirect Fire) onto the camp," said platoon sergeant, 1st Sgt. Richard Ellwood of Duluth, Minn.

He said his platoon's mission is to provide indirect fire for the Soldiers and Marines around the Anbar Province.

"We support them with high explosive and illumination rounds 24/7," he said.

His platoon of about 30 Minnesota Army National Guard Soldiers fires 120 millimeter, 81 millimeter and 60 millimeter mortars.

This platoon also dug all the fighting positions for its mortars. They fortified their bunkers with reinforced concrete, wood timbers, and layers of sandbags.

"If you're in that bunker and a round impacts, you're going to be safe," said Ellwood, who has been involved with mortars for the last 15 years.

The reason that the platoon built their own bunkers was that the Marines that the platoon replaced did not have 120 mm mortars. The platoon's mortars were brought from Minnesota. They have trained on them since the mobilization began.

"We're pretty fortunate that this is what we trained for and we're doing it here," Ellwood said.

"Basically we're firing back at the enemy. That's all you could want as a mortar team in Iraq," said Spc. Jared Smith of Duluth, Minn.

Firing back at the enemy has been a memorable experience for Spc. Bryan Bjerklie of Goodrich, Minn.

He said when the round goes off, "it takes your breath away."

The concussion of the round knocks things off the walls in the fire direction center located a few meters from the fighting position, said Bjerklie.

The platoon has also supported mounted patrols.

In either mission, this platoon's mission is vital to saving lives of Soldiers and Marines, said Ellwood.

When soldiers are on patrols or combat outposts and need accurate indirect fire support, the mortar platoon provides that. When the Soldiers are in contact with the enemy they need fire support right now. They need those rounds to be impacting onto the enemy's location," he said.

And all in a two-minute warning.