Camp Blanding, Fla., (March 8)--The New York Army National Guardsmen of 1st Battalion 258th Field Artillery, based in New York City and Kingston, N.Y. are spending two weeks here honing their skills on a new weapons system: the M119A2 howitzer.

The unit had been training on the Vietnam-era M102 howitzer and the Soldiers were eager to get use a more modern cannon, said A Battery 1st Sgt. John Rembert.

"There's a lot of young Soldiers here, and they're motivated," Rembert said.

"I just can't wait to shoot," said Spc. Latrell Sellers, as his crew finished reassembling their gun's breech.

The battalion arrived here on Saturday March 6 for a two week Annual Training period that ends on March 20.

On Sunday, Vehicles were lined up for inspection before the two firing batteries and a headquarters battery for the 258th and their support unit, Golf Company (part of the 427th Brigade Support Battalion) headed into the field.

Soldiers of Alpha Battery, 1st Battalion, 258th Field Artillery Regiment woke up in their pup tents this morning, shaking off the early 30-degree chill. While their gunnery live fire is still days away, the Soldiers had plenty to keep busy in the interim.

Alpha Battery's Soldiers spent Monday refreshing themselves on the intricacies of the 105-millimeter M119A2 howitzer. For some of the newer members of the unit, the M119 was a new weapons system; a change from the smaller, Vietnam War-era M102 howitzers they were accustomed to.

For the uninitiated, a howitzer is the modern version of the classical cannon, and requires a crew of seven to operate and fire. Each crew position on an M119 has a unique set of responsibilities, which crew members repeatedly train in order to perform as fast and accurately as possible.

Alpha Battery plans to conduct a live fire Friday, when their gun crews will certify on the M119A2. Between now and then, a team of trainers from Fort Sill, Okla., will help guide the teams through each step of the M119's operation.

But in order to fire, gun lines need to know where to aim, which is the responsibility of each battery's Fire Direction Center.

"Each piece is integral," said 1st Lt. Nicholas Tommaso, Alpha Battery's fire direction officer. Tommaso explained that when an artillery battery receives a mission, his team's job is to determine exactly where and how to aim each individual cannon, as well as to determine the type of ammunition to use in each shot.

It's a complicated process -- wind speed, relative target altitude, and distance each have an effect on the way an artillery round will travel, and depending on the type of target, different rounds and fuses must be selected. While the team has a computer to make calculations quickly, Tommaso's FDC team also does the complex mathematics by hand -- twice, for an extra fail-safe -- using charts and slide rules to determine each gun's aiming point.

"If the computer turned off, which is always a possibility, we can always run the numbers chart-to-chart," Tommaso said.

Both Alpha and Bravo batteries will take turns at the gun crew qualification range, known to artillery crews as Table VIII. Meanwhile, Headquarters Battery and Golf Company maintain a steady pace making sure meals are served, vehicles are maintained and repaired, and that basic Soldier needs stay met. The battalion Tactical Operations Center is undergoing MDMP (Military Decision Making Process) training with the Sill team while the TOC practices information management.

"Soldiers are the most valuable commodity you have," Rembert said. "If you fail your Soldiers, it doesn't make any sense for you to be a leader."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16