For some artillerymen from Alpha and Bravo Batteries, 2nd Battalion, 300th Field Artillery, it’s been a couple of years since they did their job – fire rockets from High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems launchers.
It took a few hours to work out the kinks and get to the business at hand, a live-fire exercise used to evaluate and certify skills with the Army’s new evaluation system.
Some of the launch crew members have gained experience after National Training Center rotations and deployments to Afghanistan in past couple years, but even they haven’t fired rockets and a few report it’s not quite the same.
Sgt. Tom Albin, a crew chief from Alpha Battery said training fires like the one on Sept. 7-8 are more difficult than in combat.
“This is a lot harder than real-life. There are a lot more people involved, and all the safety precautions have to be right on point,” he said while inspecting his launcher for maintenance issues after the exercise. “It started out slow, but we all are very good at troubleshooting and we were able to regroup and get back on the firing points. I think it turned out to be a great experience.”
His boss agreed.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve all been in the field together and shooting rockets, so we had to shake the dust off and do some re-learning and solidifying,” said Alpha’s commander Capt. Jerry Zach. The first few hours of the live shoot yielded little more than cancelled missions under the full moon at Camp Guernsey.
“There are so many differences between live rockets and training rockets,” he said. “Just the weight and transporting them and loading them on the launchers is a big change. But I think after we shook off the dust, and at the end of the day, it was a great learning experience.”
Assessing the training is at the heart of the Army’s new Objective T mission, a system intended to paint a realistic picture of a unit’s readiness and proficiency in its warfighting capabilities. A unit’s command may have colored that assessment with subjective bias, but Objective T standards provide a data-driven black and white portrayal of ability to perform mission essential tasks.
“We can’t just thump our chest and say ‘we’re good;’ now we have to prove it,” said Lt. Col. Fred Nasredine, commander of the 2-300 Field Artillery Battalion. “The Army only cares if we can field these 16 crews.”
Nasredine said HIMARS are classified as an Echelons Above Brigade weapons system, a very important component in the Army.
“We are usually there early in the fight, long before the infantry or whomever else comes in,” he said. “They are also a high value target to the enemy, so we have to be good.”
The battalion headquarters’ training team and master gunner, Sgt. 1st Class Dale Fowler oversaw the evaluation with First Army personnel from the 3rd Battalion, 358th Field Artillery, 189th Field Artillery Training Brigade to ensure unit adhere to Army standards.
“Throughout the year I check the training plans and the results and identify deficiencies leading up to this culminating live fire event,” he said.
Maj. Mike Pezeshki, the battalion executive officer said evaluating at night was part of the training doctrine.
“It adds stressors,” he explained. “The launch crews will also be ambushed along the route to the launch points. They will be evaluated on their ability to move out fast, hide and shoot.”
Staff Sgt. Derek Paxio, is a fire direction control specialist with the headquarters battalion, and who deployed with Bravo. “There are human checks and there are so many checks in the system. If something goes wrong it tells us. It’s serious business, whether training or in real life.”
Army training and deployment cycles call for units to be in various states of reset, proficiency and combat readiness over several years. Nasredine said he is “happy with the results of this event.”
“As most training events unfold, you have the crawl, walk, and run stages. This live fire exercise was the platoons’ walk stage. We are taking a deliberate, progressive, and methodical approach to ensure that our launcher crews are trained in a tactically sound manner,” the commander explained.
“More importantly, with the help of our Active Duty partners, we have identified some training deficiencies that we are addressing during the upcoming IDTs leading up to our next LFX in May of 2018. The Soldiers of the 2-300 are professional, disciplined and eager to improve the readiness posture of the battalion. I have full confidence in their abilities.”