1st Battalion - 21st Field Artillery "First Strike"
As of December 2004 the 1st Battalion 21st Field Artillery Regiment became part of the newly formed Fires Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division. The Unit, formerly part of the 1st Cavalry's Division Artillery (DIVARTY), made it's transition to the 4th Infantry as part of the Army's modular transfomation.
As of January 2006, 1st Battalion 21 Field Artillery Regiment, part of the 4th Infantry Division's Fires Brigade, had been operating out of Camp Liberty, Iraq, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
On order 1-21 Field Artillery deploys anywhere in the world to provide rocket and missile fires in support of the 4th Infantry Division.
The 21st Field Artillery was constituted in the Regular Army on 1 July 1916 and organized at Camp Wilson, Texas on 1 June 1917. It was assigned to the 5th Division in 1917 and saw action in France during World War I, participating in the St. Mihiel and Lorraine (1918) Campaigns.
Following World War I, the 21st Field Artillery was retired until 6 October 1939 when it was reactivated as part of the 5th Division. As part of the 5th Division, the 21st saw action in the World War II campaigns of Normandy, Northern France, the Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace, and Central Europe.
The heroic tradition begun in World War II continued in Vietnam as the newly formed 1st Battalion, 21st Field Artillery began its association with the 1st Cavalry Division. During the Vietnam conflict, the 1st Battalion, 21st Field Artillery participated in 16 different campaigns including the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley and the Tet Counteroffensives I-VII. During the Vietnam conflict, the battalion earned the Presidential Unit Citation for action in Pleiku Province, the Valorous Unit Award for the Fish Hook Campaign, and the Meritorious Unit Commendation for operations in Vietnam (1967). Additionally, Alpha and Bravo Batteries were awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for action in Binh Thaun Province.
The 1st Battalion, 21st Field Artillery was inactivated 2 July 1986, except for Alpha Battery, which continued to serve in the 1st Cavalry Division as Alpha Battery, 21st Field Artillery. In August 1990, the 1st Cavalry Division was alerted for deployment to Southwest Asia as part of the joint forces participating in Operation Desert Shield. The Red Team began a calculated war of deception along the Saudi Border. 1st Cavalry MLRS fires from Alpha Battery, 1st Battalion, 21st Field Artillery illuminated the night skies over Baghdad and crippled Iraqi targets deep within enemy territory.
Upon activation on 16 September 1997, with the addition of Bravo (MLRS) and Charlie (Target Acquisition) Batteries, the 1st Battalion, 21st Field Artillery became the first Divisional MLRS Command and Attack Battalion in the U.S. Army. In September 1998, Charlie Battery, 1st Battalion, 21st Field Artillery deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina to provide 24-hour Radar Support to Task Force Eagle.
On 28 July 2000, 68th Chemical Company, comprised of the Division's Smoke, Reconnaissance, and Decontamination forces, became part of the 1st Battalion, 21st Field Artillery and together with C/2-131 (MLRS) from the Texas Army National Guard completes the battalion in its current configuration. 1st Battalion, 21st Field Artillery completed the Army's first deployment of a Divisional Command and Attack battalion, Operation Desert Strike 01-07, an external evaluation at Fort Bliss, New Mexico in April 2001. A year later in April 2002, the Battalion conducted its first live fire exercise incorporating all three firing batteries at Fort Hood.
They arrived in Iraq April 2004. Each Platoon has two set patrols a day, but they also have numerous on-call missions like the Quick Reaction Force (QRF), Explosive Ordnance Escort (EOD), and Traffic Control Points (TCP) that add more to their plate. Also, for each mission there is usually 2 hours of prep before, and 1 hour of post patrol work, and the weather (120 degrees plus) doesn't help any. This schedule puts each of the 3 platoons out of the wire approximately 10-12 times a week, for a total of about 20hrs.
Their job, when they see a rocket or mortar engage coalition forces, is to estimate its launch point, head to it and kill the insurgents responsible. But they don't always take the insurgents by surprise when they find them. A couple of rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) have been fired at them, and there have been a couple of small-arms engagements with anti-Iraqi insurgents. Locals have led Soldiers to cached rockets and mortar firing points. They've been invited to weddings and offered tea "out of the blue" by the locals
Just before sunset 27 June 2004 -- on what would be the last night before the coalition turned over control to a sovereign Iraq -- a platoon of Soldiers from Battery B, 1st Battalion, 21st Field Artillery Regiment, headed out on a counter-mortar mission. Insurgents had been firing rockets and mortars at various targets from the battalion's area. Lately, such attacks have increased, making counter-mortar missions like this one more important. This mission ran much like every other counter-mortar operation. The platoon of Multiple Launch Rocket System crewman and fire direction specialists reached their first observation point as the oppressive heat of the day slipped into something more bearable. Iraqis milled about, silhouetted against an orange and red sunset. The Soldiers waited for something to happen. They heard the noises of parties off in the distance. They commented on dogfights. It was a typical night for these Soldiers. They waited for something to happen, hoping nothing would.
Although they still have constant patrolling, by May 2004 the focus of our patrols has begun to shift. They began devoting a great deal of time to civic improvements in the surrounding Iraqi neighborhoods. This includes things such as garbage collection and the construction of a new footbridge near a local school. While soldiers are not actually performing these tasks, interactions with the citizens of the neighborhood have been essential to achieving these goals. As for the barracks, the restrooms continue to undergo renovations. The unit has purchased a foosball table, as well as an extremely popular ping-pong table. Also, they expected to have a fully functioning internet café. The barracks facilities are drastically improving. There is Air Conditioning, even though the electricity goes out regularly. Also, Engineer National Guard soldiers are working on building an indoor shower and bathroom facility. The Bulldogs are roughing it,
The 1st Cavalry Division's first Silver Star Medal for valor in combat during this deployment was presented to a 5th Brigade Combat Team Soldier 13 August 2004. Pfc. Christopher Fernandez, of Battery A, 1st Battalion, 21st Field Artillery Regiment, stood proudly in front of his entire brigade as the division's commanding general pinned on the small medal with red, white and blue ribbon. Fernandez said his family was proud, that they had even told members of his church back home about his award, but he didn't know if they understood that the Silver Star was a big deal. "It's a great honor," said Fernandez a Multiple Launch Rocket System crewman in Battery A, 1st Battalion, 21st Field Artillery Regiment. Fernandez was awarded the Silver Star for actions he had taken on the night of May 5, when his unit came under attack. Fernandez, a Tucson, Ariz. native, was on a patrol through the city's Saidiyah neighborhood when insurgents ambushed his unit. An improvised explosive device hit the patrol's rear vehicle. Immediately following the explosion, the patrol was barraged with small-arms fire. The patrol's crew-served weapons, a M-240B machine gun and a .50 caliber machine gun, immediately returned fire. Two U.S. Soldiers were killed and five others were wounded in the IED explosion and their vehicle was inoperable. Fernandez returned fire with his weapon, an M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon. He reloaded his weapon at least once during the short engagement, said Capt. Thomas Pugsley, Battery A's commander. "There was a tremendous volume of fire coming at them," Pugsley said. In all the chaos, Fernandez saw the stricken vehicle's M-240B machine gun was unused. Acting on instinct, Fernandez knew that another weapon would suppress the enemy's fire long enough to evacuate the wounded and leave the area. He left his vehicle, ran to the disabled humvee and recovered the weapon and its ammunition. Fernandez then opened fire on the enemy. What made all of that spectacular was the recovered weapon's condition, said Pugsley. The hand guards covering the machine-gun's barrel, so the gunner's hands won't burn, were blown off in the explosion. That didn't matter to Fernandez though; he kept firing even though his hands were burning. Pugsley said two other Soldiers were recommended for Bronze Stars with Valor devices for their actions that night. One received it; the other received an Army Commendation with V device.
Although the historic transfer of authority officially occurred at the end of June 2004, Soldier's lives remained essentially the same. They still conducted patrols, however the concept of patrols changed from that of an offensive nature to a defensive posture. The significance of this change would fully reveal itself in time, as it was too early to determine any type of substantial consequence.