Delta Battery Seeks, Waits for Mad Mortarman

By Sgt. 1st Class Todd Oliver

AL HAWIJA, Iraq — The men of Delta Battery are in search of the "Mad Mortarman."

Well, that's not exactly true. The 173rd Airborne Brigade's artillery unit has an idea where he is and he certainly knows where they are. It's just that the boys of Delta are hoping to drop in on this man, drop a 105mm howitzer round in on him to be exact.

From the nearby town of Al Hawija, the Mad Mortar Man lobs both mortar and artillery shells and rockets at Forward Operating Base McHenry, home to 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment. The men of 1-12 are friends of Delta Battery you see and like any good friend Delta Soldiers are a little ticked that someone is trying to kill their comrades.

Without making light of the situation, they did the only thing a bunch of artillerymen could do; they dragged their guns out to the FOB and waited.

They still wait.

But they're the patient kind, and they're confident they'll get the Mad Mortarman.

It's just a matter of time.

"The initial plan was to be here for a day," said 1st Lt. Kyle Barden, Battery Fire Direction Officer. "The base was getting mortared a lot, so we wanted to come out here, get an acquisition, shoot back and hopefully get the Mad Mortar Man. We realized that wasn't feasible and are going to be here an undetermined amount of time."

From the look of things, according to Barden, the base was being bracketed. The Mad Mortar Man was getting smarter, and the smarter he got, the closer he was getting to the unit.

"He knows what he's doing. He was getting more and more accurate. He had rounds fall short of the FOB and other rounds land far. They (1-12) already had their 120 mm mortars out here, but they brought us out for the extra firepower and the extra reach."

"The 120mm mortars response time is not as fast as ours," said Delta's 1st Sgt. Frank Marcantonio. "And the mortars can't reach as far as we can. Our counter fire time is just a lot quicker."

Dust, as fine as talc, covers the ground five inches in most places at Forward Operating Base McHenry. It gets everywhere and it gets into everything.

Where the dust isn't, there is only barren rock. The ever-present HESCO barriers line the compound. For those who have never seen a HESCO barrier, imagine a brown paper shopping bag with a wire frame built around the outside. Got a clear picture of that? Good, now fill the bag with dirt. Finally imagine that same bag five-feet wide, five-feet deep and five-feet tall. It looks like a giant grocery bag for a giant that dines on dirt. They are everywhere in Iraq, near areas used by coalition forces and they ring D-bat's compound inside FOB McHenry.

The soldiers affectionately nicknamed their compound "Texas." Inside the command post, a large Texas flag hangs, tribute to the home state of Battery Commander, Capt. Jackey Howard.

Outside, adjacent to a large burn pit used to dispose of trash and human waste, the FDO continued explaining the battery's mission. Tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles clank by on a nearby dirt road kicking up large, choking clouds of the ever-present talc. Barden is covered in the stuff; everyone is covered in the stuff.

"We do two things, we shoot harassment and interdiction fires or we shoot counter fires," Barden explained.

By using sophisticated radar systems, the battery is able to determine from what location artillery or mortar rounds or rockets are being fired. This system, theoretically, should allow the battery to quickly kill anyone firing at them.

The rockets are jury-rigged and fired from unconventional platforms (a fancy term for a dirt hill), this makes the tracking of their trajectories all the more difficult. Still, the Mad Mortar Man can be tracked.

"He knows that if he hides in the town, we won't shoot back," Barden said. "We just have to be 'on it' and we need some luck. Not only do we have to be on it, he has to be slow."

Marcantonio doesn't think luck will have anything to do with it.

"No, not luck," he said. "We just have to get cleared to fire."