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Staff Sgt. Guillermo Mundo, left, Sgt. Jorge Mora, 22, center, and Pvt. Laurence Stewart prepare to fire a Paladin howitzer at Rodriguez Range, South Korea, on Monday.

Staff Sgt. Guillermo Mundo, left, Sgt. Jorge Mora, 22, center, and Pvt. Laurence Stewart prepare to fire a Paladin howitzer at Rodriguez Range, South Korea, on Monday. (Seth Robson / S&S)

Staff Sgt. Guillermo Mundo, left, Sgt. Jorge Mora, 22, center, and Pvt. Laurence Stewart prepare to fire a Paladin howitzer at Rodriguez Range, South Korea, on Monday.

Staff Sgt. Guillermo Mundo, left, Sgt. Jorge Mora, 22, center, and Pvt. Laurence Stewart prepare to fire a Paladin howitzer at Rodriguez Range, South Korea, on Monday. (Seth Robson / S&S)

Pvt. Trinity Phomsopha, 19, of Fort Smith, Ark., uses a "battleaxe" to calculate the distance and deflection of a Paladin shot into Rodriguez Range.

Pvt. Trinity Phomsopha, 19, of Fort Smith, Ark., uses a "battleaxe" to calculate the distance and deflection of a Paladin shot into Rodriguez Range. (Seth Robson / S&S)

A Paladin waits to fire near Rodriguez Range, South Korea, on Monday.

A Paladin waits to fire near Rodriguez Range, South Korea, on Monday. (Seth Robson / S&S)

RODRIGUEZ RANGE, South Korea — Second Infantry Division gun crews have wrapped up a week of testing the effects of various types of ammunition on Paladin gun tubes, according to artillerymen who’d fire back at North Korea if war broke out again.

Capt. Robert McGuire, 34, of West Palm Beach, Fla., commander of Battery C, 1st Battalion, 15th Field Artillery Regiment, said his unit spent last week testing a variety of charges in the self-propelled howitzers.

“Every time you fire a round downrange, some of the steel in the tube erodes a bit. The effect is a loss of pressure in the tube that affects the range of the gun. Once you get to a certain point you have to put a new barrel on the gun,” he said.

Different types of ammunition create different stresses inside the gun barrels, McGuire said.

“The battalion may draw five different lots of ammunition. They all burn at different rates. We are trying to create data for each of these propellant loads by measuring the efficiency of the powder, how quickly it burns, and what is the effect on the range,” he said.

Some ammunition shot by gunners in South Korea is very old, McGuire added.

“Last time I shot, I was using propellant from 1969. It could have gone to Vietnam and then come back to Korea. I know people who have shot ammunition from the Korean War era,” he said.

If war breaks out between North and South Korea, 1-15’s mission would be to fire on North Korean forces on the other side of the Demilitarized Zone, McGuire said.

“We all have particular target boxes we are assigned. In the event of hostility we would be prepared to deliver fire as part of the counter-fire team,” he said.

In a war, the 1-15 guns could be spaced far apart. But in South Korea, where training space is limited, the guns sit close to each other at a firing position surrounded by fields and houses.

The other focus of the recent 1-15 training, which ended Monday at a firing point near Rodriguez Range, was testing the battalion’s ability to work as a unit in a “base piece” exercise, McGuire said.

Gun crews and operation centers from the battalion’s A, B and C Batteries and observers from its Headquarters Headquarters Battery were involved, he said.

A base piece exercise is designed “to link the three parts of the field artillery team together: the observers, who are the eyes of the guns; the fire direction centers, which are the brains; and the line of steel [the guns], which is the brawn,” McGuire said.

Each gun represents a battery. It comes from an old idea of having a base gun or lead gun. In pre-revolutionary times, the lead guns of the Continental Army would fire first and transfer the technical data to the other guns, he said.

Now, a computer gathers data for each of the guns. But as a safety precaution, soldiers still calculate the shots manually with large metal rulers called “battleaxes,” McGuire said.

From one of the Paladins this week, Company C gun commander Staff Sgt. Guillermo Mundo, 31, of Compton, Calif., and his crew were firing 155 mm rounds into the range.

Mundo said all of the 1-15’s guns are accurate and that he thought guns in the base piece exercise were chosen because they’re in the best condition.

Another crew member, Pvt. Laurence Stewart, 26, of Jamaica, showed pride in the speed the unit could put rounds down range.

The standard for shooting a round is 30 seconds, he said, “but we can do it in 10.”

When the signal was given, the crew moved with lightning speed to insert a round — weighing almost 100 pounds — into the gun and blast it over some nearby houses into the side of a hill at the back of the range.

Nearby, 2nd Lt. George Brooks, 23, of Cumming, Ga., was helping direct the fire from a fire direction center.

Inside an armored vehicle, soldiers sat at computers communicating with the observers at the range and plotting the trajectory and direction of fire from the guns. Next to them, at a small table, other soldiers used battleaxes and slide rules to make the same calculations.

“They are measuring distance and deflection [the sideways movement of the round] to get the round on target,” Brooks said.

Calculating the correct direction and distance for the shots manually is a safety measure that ensures the artillery does not rain down on friendly forces, he said.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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