By Sgt. Kris Bonet Rivera, 24th Press Camp Headquarters:
(El Paso, Texas, Feb. 1, 2018)
When it comes to winning, no trophy or prize beats bragging rights. Any section, platoon, battery or battalion can sound off with “We’re the best!” but very few can actually prove it with results.
To find out who truly is the best, nothing shines light on a shadow of doubt like a good competition, and when it comes to shining light, the field artillery knows all about it.
Artillerymen assigned to 2nd Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery Regiment and 4th Battalion, 1st Field Artillery Regiment competed against each other in the “Best by Test” competition at Fort Bliss Dec. 11 and 12, 2017.
First Armored Division Artillery, nicknamed Iron Steel, plans to establish the “Best by Test” as an annual event to build readiness in the organization and instill a sense of tradition.
“As the DIVARTYs are growing and building, we’re bringing some of these programs back to increase the core competencies,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Darrel E. Walls, DIVARTY’s noncommissioned officer in charge. “It inspires people to train even harder. That is one of the end states of the program.”
Master gunners, or “mike golfs” as they are called in artillery slang, implemented strict standards. Field artillery officers, cannon crewmembers, fire support specialists, fire control specialists and firefinder radar operators were graded on their physical fitness, technical knowledge and tactical proficiency.
The two-day event began early Monday at 5:30 a.m. when Soldiers took their Army Physical Fitness Test.
“First one baby!” celebrated Pfc. Giuseppe Presutto, a cannon crewmember assigned to Battery A, 4th Bn., 1st FA Regt., slapping his chest as a sign of victory as he finished the 2-mile run in first place with a time of 13 minutes, 17 seconds.
After changing from their physical fitness uniforms into camouflage and full battle rattle, Soldiers exercised their marksmanship by firing their M4 carbines at the shooting range and giving their teams an advantage by scoring an expert qualification.
Finally, after a long day of hard, physical work, the artillerymen got a chance to sit down, but not to rest. Some ended their day with written exams that tested their knowledge of artillery equipment, while others took a more technical approach, such as the fire control specialists. Their test was based on the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System, which helps artillerymen on the field have better accuracy when firing.
Although Soldiers were tested in their individual military occupational specialty, master gunners designed this competition to work as a team training event. When it comes to effectively destroying a target, it’s all about teamwork.
“Our missions are a team effort,” said Sgt. 1st Class Michael González, master gunner for the 4th Bn., 1st FA Regt., DIVARTY. “The fisters (the fire support specialists) are the eyes, the juliets (the fire control specialists) help with communication, firefinders tell us where the target is and crewmembers make it go boom.”
Day two was hands on, and Soldiers started off their day at the motor pool with the Artillery Skills Proficiency Test. There, artillerymen showed off their skills by racing against the master gunner’s stopwatch in timed events such as disassembling and assembling the breech-block and firing mechanism on an M777A2 howitzer.
The final and toughest event where artillerymen showed their true colors, however, was the area occupation exercise. Soldier attached their howitzer to a Light Medium Tactical Vehicle, drove off the motor pool and arrived at an open field, positioning the cannon towards the objective.
Then, the entire team of nine Soldiers, led by Staff Sgt. Nathan L. C De Baca, dismounted the vehicle to start preparing the cannon for fire, a process that looked similar to a pit crew changing tires on a racing car.
Finally, once the cannon was in place, one Soldier on each side of the howitzer began spinning wheels as fast as they possibly could to raise the cannon to an almost 90-degree angle facing the sky. Then the master gunner stopped the clock and the Soldiers could rest easy.
“The competition is very close right now,” said Sgt. 1st Class Oscar Poyer, master gunner for DIVARTY. “The top two teams are only 10 points away.”
At the end there can only be one, or in this case, one team per specialty. From Battery C, 2nd Bn., 3rd FA Regt., the cannon crewmembers from C De Baca’s squad and the fire control specialists from Staff Sgt. James Johnson’s took first place in their respective categories. Spc. James Nichols and Spc. Miguel Rivera-Luna, assigned to Headquarters Battery, 4th Bn., 1st FA Regt., won in the firefinder radar operator category. And finally, in the fire support specialist category, Staff Sgt. Vincenzo Volpe’s squad took home the winning spot.
Through friendly competition, the units accomplished the missions of maintaining readiness, preserving tradition and upholding the standards. And while only one team can be crowned as the best, these Soldiers have proven that artillery is the true King of Battle.