FORT BLISS, Texas – Two self-propelled M109 Paladin howitzers sat idly by on the 1st Armoured Division’s desert training grounds, waiting to hurl 155mm shells about 10 miles away.
Partaking in a large exercise called Bulldog Focus, the two Paladins were waiting for other convoys miles away to get in position before they could safely fire.
“These guns are designed to kill,” Captain Alan Bauerly, who oversaw a few batteries, had said to his troops before they dispersed and waited to fire. “It doesn’t care who it kills.”
But before the artillerymen displayed the cannon’s incredible power, I got a chance to tour the Paladin and speak to the troops operating it.
Here’s what I saw:
I first came upon the five-man crew of this M992A2 Field Artillery Ammunition Supply Vehicle, which was stationed behind the Paladins.
As the vehicle’s name denotes, it supplies the Paladins with ammunition.
Mounted atop the ammunition supply vehicle is an MK19 automatic grenade launcher.
The crew showed me how they carry the 155mm projectiles, which weigh over 100 pounds. Some artillerymen said they carry it over their shoulders too.
The soldiers then challenged me to pick one up and, sensing a test, I couldn’t back down.
Thankfully I was able to throw it on my shoulder and not look like a wimp in front of a bunch of professional tough guys (including professional tough women). But they all still got a kick out of it.
We then meandered over to the two Paladin’s stationed about 100 yards away from the supply vehicle.
I got to meet the platoon leader of the Paladin battery, 24-year-old First Lieutenant Elena Ruiz-Krause. And she certainly had an interesting story.
Ruiz-Krause told me that she had been in the service for six years, and had deployed to Kuwait in 2016, completing one short mission in Iraq as well.
When asked what it’s like to not only be the sole female in the Paladin battery, but also it’s leader, she said:
“They treat me exactly the same. I grew up with guys. I have two brothers. I’m definitely a girly girl when I’m back home, but when it’s time to come out here, I’m just one of the soldiers. They tease me a little bit. I’m obviously the first female platoon leader they have had … I tend to be a little motherly, so, you know, if I see morale is getting low, I walk around with a big bag of suckers and I’m like ‘here, have some candy, guys’ and they’re like ‘mam.'”
But she said that the soldiers appreciate her, and that they just tease her like she’s one of the guys. “I care very much for my soldiers,” she said.
The Paladin was first put into service in 1994, and has since been upgraded a number of times.
Its 155mm cannon can fire six rounds per minute, or three rounds per minute sustained, up to 11 miles away.
It also runs on a Detroit Diesel 8V71T with a top speed of 35mph.
Here’s a view from the top, with the Paladin’s .50 calibre M2 machine gun on the right.
And the inside gets really hot when it fires, which is why they keep the side hatch open.
The six-man crew then invited me inside the hull.
The projectiles line the back side of the hull.
And the belt of primers hang next to the breach.
Here’s a view of the inside of the barrel.
The driver sits in the front left.
And here’s an outside view of where he sits.
Once the other troops miles away were in position, the artillerymen let it rip — and the blast wave was so strong that it felt like someone lightly punched me in the chest.
Lastly, here’s a little video we put together of the crew doing a dry run, and then firing.
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