KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — They have become a rather indispensable lot, the soldiers of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Field Artillery Regiment.

Like many Army units these days, this 25th Infantry Division unit has been working somewhat out of its “lane.” The howitzers that the unit brought from Hawaii are still in their rightful places, but so much more has been asked of the soldiers who fire the guns or support triggermen.

“We’re all over the place,” said Maj. David Flynn, the unit commander. “It’s something definitely different from what I’m used to as an artillery guy.”

In the months leading up to its deployment from Schofield Barracks on the island of Oahu, the battalion was gearing up for what it does best, Flynn said. Then, late in the planning stages, the mission expanded to include infantry work and other duties.

“On a daily basis you’re asked to do things that you won’t normally do [in your military occupational specialty],” Sgt. Hamzat Saba said. “You adapt and overcome.”

The range of additional duties runs the gamut, from drug interdiction and weapons seizures to checkpoints and foot patrols. When the holy month of Ramadan ended in November, the unit brought some goats, sheep and rice to some Afghans so they could celebrate the festival of Eid, which breaks the fasting observed during Ramadan.

“Normally, food distribution is not our game,” Flynn quipped.

The same can’t be said for Sgt. Frank Villa, a cook assigned to the unit. But since food preparation is contracted out, Villa’s culinary skills aren’t needed, unless his colleagues desire a tip to spice up their Meals, Ready to Eat.

These days, a person is more likely to see Villa toting a gun than a spatula.

“You learn as you go,” Villa said.

In addition to the extra duties, the battalion is patrolling an area that is considerably larger than the one its predecessor, the 10th Mountain Division, had when it was in the region.

Capt. Nathan Wilbourn figures the current area of operations is 10 times the size, explaining the New York division primarily stuck to the areas near the airfield. By contrast, the bulk of the artillery battalion bounces around five provinces.

“A lot of these villages [in the new areas] had not been contacted by U.S. forces before,” Wilbourn said. “The outlying areas are important, too.”

In some of these remote places, Villa said, the children seemed afraid of the GIs.

“The kids,” he explained, “would run into the house” at the sight of a U.S. patrol rolling through town.

Over time, the kids stopped running, and the artillery battalion has settled nicely into its expanded role.

“These guys,” Flynn said, “are just average Americans out there trying to make things happen.”

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