Paladins Ready: Teamwork in Iraq

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MUQDADIYAH, Iraq – Members of Company A, 3rd Battalion, 29th Field Artillery, are ready at a moment’s notice to support U.S. and Coalition forces in a powerful way.

Manning their mortars and their M109A6 Paladin systems, these Soldiers from 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team out of Fort Carson, Colo., are always prepared to provide an array of fire support against insurgent forces in northeast Iraq. Team members based at Forward Operating Base Normandy get called into action at all hours of the day and night.

“When they need light, we give them light,” said Pfc. Talalasi Sao III, the team’s Number One Cannoneer. “When they need smoke, we give them smoke. Or when they just need stuff blown up, that’s us.”

Sao, an American Samoan who hails from Laie, Hawaii, is responsible for loading the shells into the breech of the howitzer aboard the Paladin system. The shells weigh nearly 100 pounds each, and can be hurled as far as 30,000 meters away.

After Sao does his part, the team’s gunner, Sgt. Bob Chatham, a native of Blytheville, Ark., springs into action. He quickly stuffs the charge into the breech behind the round.

Sao primes the charge. Staff Sgt. Dwight Curtis, the team’s section chief then gives the lanyard used to pull the trigger on the cannon to Sao. He then yanks on it with all his might and fires the round.

If all goes well, the process takes 25 seconds.

“I get goose bumps as soon as I hear ‘fire mission,'” Sao said. “When we shoot the big bags, and the (recoil) comes all the way back here and we can feel it almost knock us off our feet; that’s a rush. I like that.”

Team members use the term “rush” a lot. Whether they are scurrying to send fire down range or describing the feeling they get as they hone their skills in a battlefield environment.

“We do enjoy putting rounds down range,” said Curtis, who was born in Jamaica but hails from Brooklyn, N.Y. “It’s our primary duty.”

“It’s always a rush…, plus (we) get the bad guys out there,” Curtis said. “We are here to keep Soldiers safe.”

“Whatever we need to do to provide a safer route for the Soldiers, we’ll do it.”

The fourth member of the team is its driver, Spc. Eric Richardson, who is from Dallas. The tall Texan said he is “the motivator” for the team.

“When we support our Soldiers, it’s a total team effort,” Richardson said. “One job can’t work without the other.”

The team’s platoon sergeant is Sgt. 1st Class Curtis McAdoo. A Russell, Kan., native, he said Curtis’ team members are top-notch performers.

“Staff Sgt. Curtis is a very knowledgeable section chief,” McAdoo said. “His team works well together and they always do well.”

Specialist Lee Elder is a photographer and writer with the 133d Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, based in Iraq.