By Spc. Jeffrey Ledesma
1st Cavalry Division public affairs
CAMP TAJI, Iraq – During World War II, the 1st Cavalry Division saw action in the Pacific Theater and was the first unit to enter Manila during the liberation of the Philippines. When war broke out on the Korean peninsula, America's First Team in 1950 conducted the first amphibious landing of the Korean War and, during the subsequent counteroffensive, was the first unit to enter the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.
In the early stages of the Vietnam War, the 1st Cavalry became the first fully committed division in the war and now, during Operation Iraqi Freedom 06-08, they write another first into the history books.
Multinational Division-Baghdad soldiers with the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, conducted on May 5 the first operational firing of the XM982 Excalibur, a 155mm precision-guided, extended-range artillery projectile, targeting a well-known safe house for insurgents in a northern region of the Iraqi capital.
Elements from the 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, and their fellow Ironhorse comrades with 1st Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, teamed up to fire the historical shot documenting the future capabilities of the Army's artillery power and pin-point precision.
Donned in full battle gear Ironhorse troopers headed out on a dismounted patrol toward the impact site in the green rural area of Taji during the early morning hours. After securing the site, they headed for an observation point.
The Excalibur, a combination of U.S. guidance expertise and Swedish airframe experience, targeted a house with a history of insurgent activity situated in the farmlands about two miles from base.
According to the commander of the 1st Battalion., 7th Cavalry Regiment, Lt. Col. Kevin Macwatters, the owner of the house was detained by the previous unit for the murders of several Iraqis, and documented on a videotape were scenes of the insurgent and his family pushing bodies into the Tigris River.
"Whenever we conduct missions in the area, terrorists operating in the area would flee to this house because it's isolated, so they feel safe here," said Macwatters.
Since then the unit has received intelligence of the continued use of the house as a safe haven for militia activity in the area. Last month they were able to confirm that information after a cordon and search of the house and the surrounding area uncovered artillery rounds, mortar rounds, and rocket launching rails.
Macwatters said use of this GPS-guided artillery round is part of the Army's overall campaign of taking safe houses away from the enemy and limiting the enemy's mobility. The decrease of the insurgent mobility has lead to an increase in the amount of information local nationals are willing to provide, because they don't feel the constant threat of a strong insurgent hold on the village.
And with its accuracy, and increased effectiveness, the Excalibur reduces the logistical burden for deployed ground forces. It also provides lower collateral damage through its concentrated fragmentation pattern, increased precision and near-vertical descent.
"This could be a tool we use in the future to precisely eliminate enemy equipment, safe houses, weapons caches, or whatever the case may be," Macwatters said.
However before the call for fire and the thundering sound of a safe house crumbling into ruins, soldiers headed to Fort Sill, Okla. Preparation for the attack on the safe house initiated 15 months ago when troopers stayed at the "Home of the Field Artillery" and vigilantly trained on the techniques necessary to fire the round.
"Troopers of the 1-82 have all been working really hard waiting for this day. They are thrilled and honored to get to be the ones to shoot it," said Lt. Col. Martin Clausen commander of 1st Battalion., 82nd Field Artiller.
And one lucky 21-year-old Comanche' trooper got to make the call for the firing of the technologically advanced artillery round.
"I think it's a great opportunity for us to keep up the legacy of being the first to do everything," said Spc. Richard Paliki, a forward observer with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment. "We are the best. It's been proven time and time before and we're just going to continue to do that."
From "Splash, Out," to "Splash, Over," Paliki added, the addition of being the first unit to fire an Excalibur round in a combat will have an impact on the capabilities of fighting forces on the ground in Iraq.