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O/T Huge cannons quiet for now in Helmand

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Huge cannons quiet for now in Helmand

Troops along Can-American gun line share coffee, entertain brass

FORWARD OPERATING BASE ROBINSON, Afghanistan -- The men of 2 Royal Canadian Horse Artillery battled little more than boredom and the blazing sun Tuesday as the towering cannons that point out enemy territory in Helmand province entertained visiting brass and posed for photos.

The only sound of shooting was the whir and click of digital cameras as Canadian artillery men stood alongside new-found American friends from the 321st Airborne Field Artillery Regiment for souvenir snapshots and Tim Hortons coffee.

"We joke around that right between where the two guns split out there is the American-Canada border, no passports needed," said Sgt. 1st Class William Holt, who commands the 4th Platoon of Bravo Battery from the 321st's 2nd Battalion, based in Fort Bragg, N.C.

"Believe it or not, it all started with a cup of cowboy coffee."

The brew, a boiled, high-octane campfire concoction of coffee grounds and bottled water, lured the Canadian artillery men shortly after they arrived two weeks ago on this Spartan base an hour's chopper ride west of Kandahar.

"It took about a day or two, until we needed our coffee fix, and we saw that they had coffee," said 2 RCHA Bombardier Mike Wiseman, 26, from Winnipeg, who cracked open a tin of Tim's on Tuesday to the delight of the American soldiers. "It brought us all together there, and next thing you know, they're over here, we're over there, then it became the one big gun line."

They call it the Can-American gun line, and in those first few days, Canadian and U.S. Howitzers pounded out hundreds of 55-kilogram rounds to support British, Danish and U.S. troops as they battled Taliban fighters in fierce firefights just 300 metres outside the base's perimeter.

"It's happened twice out here when we've had mass missions going on, and we've been able to rely on each other to pool resources to expedite the mission and get rounds down-range to our infantry on the other end," said Holt.

"Getting rounds down to our infantry helps get them out of contact quickly, or destroys the enemy."

When the dust finally settled, U.S. and British soldiers alike were coming over to the weary Canadians to express their gratitude for the help.

"It feels pretty good. Like I like to say, (the enemy's) bad day is our good day," Wiseman said.

On Tuesday, British Brig.-Gen. John Lorimer of the Light Parachute Regiment paid a visit to examine Canada's two 155-mm Howitzers and to say thanks for the help his men have received over the last two weeks.

"It gives an example of where multinational forces are working at their most efficient and most effective," Lorimer said. "Everyone is working together with a common purpose and they've got a good mission that we believe in, and I'm delighted. It really is excellent."

There's plenty of good-natured ribbing between the two sides, especially when it comes to the guns. Canada's massive cannons have the furthest range, while the smaller American guns are quicker to load, said Holt.

Between the 155-mm cannon, the resilient LAV-III armoured vehicles and a new fleet of sturdy Leopard tanks, Canada's heavy artillery is the envy of the coalition, said 2 RCHA Capt. Derek Crabbe.

"Canada really is the big kid on the block," he said.

Meanwhile, no one knows for sure whether the Can-American gun line will once again shatter the relative quiet at Forward Operating Base Robinson, where the most nerve-jangling noise in recent days has come from illumination rounds fired by the Americans and the nightly flares that shoot out from the sentry points surrounding the base.

In the meantime, Holt and his men have nothing but respect for their northern neighbours, whom he said are far from the placid peacemakers that is their reputation.

You can say that about any country.

"Some of my guys are easy-going and docile, some of his are," he said. "But when it comes down to it, it may be an artillery thing or whatever, but nah -- none of us are real quiet and docile. When it's time to do business, we do business, and quickly."

-- Canadian Press

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