By Sgt. Thomas Calvert, 24th Press Camp Headquarters:
OROGRANDE RANGE COMPLEX, N.M. – Power.
Power and lethality are what artillery crewmen assigned to M777 howitzers feel every time they pull the cord to send a round up to 15 miles downrange. Every outgoing shot feels like a shockwave, and the boom is deafening.
Nerve and precision are needed when standing beneath the spinning blades of a Chinook helicopter while getting ready to attach, or sling load, an equipment asset to the underside of the twin-rotor aircraft as it kicks up an immense dust cloud.
Soldiers assigned to 2nd Battalion, 3rd Artillery Regiment, 1st Armored Division Artillery, loaded their artillery onto Chinooks assigned to the Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st AD, and conducted live-fire, two-gun raid exercises and gunline qualifications here Sept. 19 through 22.
“When you’re in combat, you’re taking these howitzers and you might not be able to move them with vehicles, so most likely air is going to be your best bet,” said 1st Lt. Jillian Jones, the pickup zone controller of the exercise and executive officer of Forward Support Company, 2nd Bn., 3rd FA Regt., DIVARTY.
When aviation and artillery come together, it makes for a combination that amplifies the capabilities of modern artillery.
“You’re going to shoot however many rounds you need to, and then you’re going to sling load and put them somewhere else,” Jones said. “It’s fast, it’s quick, it’s efficient; it’s the way to go in combat.”
The Soldiers prepared for the exercise hand-in-hand with personnel from the Air Assault School on Fort Bliss to ensure the training’s safety and efficiency, said Spc. Cory Reeser, a gunner assigned to Btry. B, 2nd Bn., 3rd FA Regt., DIVARTY.
The training exercise was extensive to simulate the challenge the Soldiers might face in a forward environment. The gun crews would sling load their howitzer, fly to a firing point several miles away, unhook the gun and be ready to fire as soon as possible.
“We did a rapid emplacement,” Reeser said. “Then we shot, rigged up the howitzer again to the UH-64 Chinook, came back and did another rapid emplacement. Then we did our special munitions shoot.”
As the pickup zone controller, Jones was up close and personal with the helicopters and those who fly them throughout the exercise. Through marking the grid and controlling the action on the ground, she acted as the liaison between the artillerymen on the ground and the pilots in the sky to keep every pickup running at a smooth pace.
“We’re doing it for time. We’re seeing how we are tactically, seeing how well our training is, and seeing how we can improve in the future with our training,” Jones said.
That training proved invaluable to some of the Soldiers and crews assigned to 2nd Bn., 3rd FA Regt., DIVARTY. As a gunner, Reeser is responsible for bringing the sights of the howitzer onto a target using all analog equipment with the help of his senior noncommissioned officer and lieutenant. He took the time to teach some newer Soldiers the basics of his position.
“Our section is pretty brand new: a bunch of E-2s and below,” Reeser said. “This is their first field problem, and their first chance to shoot actual field artillery. They’re busting their humps and getting it done.”
Jones was Air Assault qualified in March, and recognizes the exercise as an opportunity to put her skills to the test and give Soldiers a unique training experience.
“This is actually a really cool opportunity for these Soldiers who have never seen it before and never trained on it to get trained and bring it to other units,” Jones said.
For Jones, the exercise was an experience she won’t soon forget.
“I think that’s the coolest thing in the world,” Jones said. “A Chinook picking up a several-thousand-pound howitzer. That’s amazing!”
For Reeser, it was just another week dug in on the gunline.
“I love artillery,” Reeser said, “and (being) given the chance to come out here and do all this cool stuff is pretty awesome. And there’s the big explosions, obviously.”