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February 22, 2013

News

Artillery unit trains with new howitzer

Story & photos by Rob Schuette, Public Affairs Staff

With a limited window of opportunity to train on a recently fielded field artillery howitzer before deployment, members of a California Army National Guard unit found the instruction and training environment at Fort McCoy ideally suited for their requirements.
PHOTO: Members of B Battery of the 1st Battalion, 143rd Field Artillery fire a new 155 mm howitzer. Photo by Rob Schuette
Members of B Battery of the 1st Battalion, 143rd Field Artillery of Bakersfield and Santa Maria, Calif., fire a new 155 mm towed howitzer (M777A2) at a Fort McCoy firing point.

Members of B Battery of the 1st, 143rd Field Artillery of Bakersfield and Santa Maria, Calif., spent Feb. 1-15 training at Fort McCoy under the guidance of the 1st Battalion of the 426th Regiment of the Wisconsin Military Academy (WMA).

Sgt. Chad A. Stevens from the 1st, 120 Field Artillery, a National Guard unit from Stevens Point, Wis., was an instructor for the M777A2 155 mm howitzer.

“The new equipment is lighter and easier to set up than the towed howitzer it is replacing,” Stevens said. “That should make it easier to tow, too.”

Sgt. 1st Class Craig Cook, a 13B field artillery instructor with the 1st, 426th, said that as a nationally recognized center of excellence in artillery training the 1st, 426th offers artillery training to Army active-duty, Reserve and National Guard personnel.

“This is one of the main reasons the B Battery of the 1st, 143rd chose us to give them high-speed training on the Army’s new howitzer, which they will fall in on when they deploy to support Operation Enduring Freedom later this year,” he said.

Unit members used equipment that belongs to the 1st, 426th and is stored and maintained by the Maneuver Area Training Equipment Site at Fort McCoy, Cook said.

PHOTO: Members of B Battery of the 1st Battalion, 143rd Field Artillery do familiarization training with a new 155 mm towed howitzer. Photo by Rob Schuette
Members of B Battery of the 1st Battalion, 143rd Field Artillery of Bakersfield and Santa Maria, Calif., do familiarization training with a new 155 mm towed howitzer in the Fort McCoy cantonment area. Unit members later fired the howitzer at an installation firing point as part of training to prepare for their deployment to support Operation Enduring Freedom later this year.

WMA can use this equipment year-round for units coming to McCoy to train so they don’t have to transport their equipment to the installation.

Staff Sgt. Juan Martinez, a section chief for B Battery of the 1st, 143rd said the unit chose Fort McCoy as its training site because the WMA could provide support and meet the unit’s time constraints.

“It was good to have the instructors and WMA staff looking over our shoulders during training,” Martinez said. “If we needed anything we could ask them questions.”

Because the unit is located in Southern California, the temperatures usually run between 50 and 90 degrees.

Martinez said the training at Fort McCoy gave unit members a chance to train with the equipment during colder weather conditions.

“We’re likely to use the howitzer during our deployment or on a future mission in colder weather,” Martinez said. “This training gives us the opportunity to see all of the aspects of the equipment we will have to deal with during colder weather.”

Staff Sgt. David Reed, also a section chief for the 1st, 143rd, said the training included one day of classroom instruction, three days learning motor pool aspects of the equipment, several days training how to tow, position, aim and fire the equipment.

The training proceeded through the crawl, walk and run stages, Reed said. As unit members learned the equipment, they picked up the pace.

“We also wore our clothing in layers to combat the cold, snowy weather we encountered,” Reed said. “The troops got used to encountering snow because we normally don’t see it and don’t get a chance to train in it.”

Pfc. Jose Rodriguez, a cannoneer II with the 1st, 143rd said he learned a lot from training at Fort McCoy and in the cold weather.

“The WMA staff is very knowledgeable,” Rodriguez said. “It’s helpful to be out in the field to learn how to use the equipment when we are deployed.”

Cook said the training also allowed the WMA instructors to keep on the edge of training for new equipment and technology for future units and students coming through the WMA. Conducting this training during winter weather also allowed WMA staff members to recognize the importance of maintenance and taking the proper steps to ensure the howitzers remain functional, he said.

“Although we generally don’t begin outdoor field artillery training until April, once we received this mission we were able to get our howitzers, instructors and support staff set up and ready to receive and execute this mission on short notice under colder conditions,” Cook said. “Our instructors get the satisfaction of knowing the Soldiers are getting quality training on the M777A2 howitzer that will allow them to be successful moving forward to the battlefield.”

For more information about field artillery training at the WMA, interested units can contact the WMA at 608-388-9967 or visit the website http://dma.wi.gov/dma/arng/WMA.asp

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