Practice makes perfect
September 12, 2011
YAKIMA TRAINING CENTER, Wash. -- A soft hum echoes through the rolling hills of Washington's Yakima Training Center, on a quiet breezy morning. As the humming gets louder, the breeze turns into a wind. Within minutes of hearing a CH-47 Chinook carrying an M777 howitzer, it barrels over a hill in the distance.
As it approaches, the Chinook turns the quiet landing zone into a storm. The power of the propellers makes it almost impossible for anyone to stand. Rocks begin to levitate and fly as if they were in the center of a tornado. The fine dust which was once settled now whips around scratching everything and everyone in its reach.
The Chinook releases the howitzer into the storm of dust, rocks and wind then takes off into the hills.
As the dust storm settles, Soldiers from Bravo Battery, 2nd Battalion, 17th Field Artillery Regiment, charge up the hill where the howitzer waits.
Once they reach the landing zone, two Soldiers attack the ground, digging two holes with pickaxes and shovels to bury the spades of the howitzer. The spades are two titanium pieces on the back of the M777. They stabilize the system while it's fired. With rocks and dust flying in the air, the Soldiers attempt to drop the spades to see if they fit; no luck. They lift the heavy spades and continue to dig. With the rest of the members of their section surrounding them and yelling words of encouragement the Soldiers continue with the time consuming task.
"Now that we have been out here for three weeks, it's become a joke amongst the guys, we already know we are digging in to a gravel pit," said Spc. Phil Puzzo, a cannon crewmember. "It's each one of us that pick each other up to get through this challenge. When you see myself or another guy picking up a pick, you can just see the teamwork that we have, because you go in there to help somebody else when you know they're worn out. I think that's what gets us through the frustration of digging up rocks."
During the last ten months of training, the team has made vast improvements, with teamwork being a key element to their successes.
"I look back at nine or ten months ago, when we first started and the barrel was on the ground, we were jumping off the truck falling over, and the tube was landing on someone's foot," said Puzzo, a gunner. "We honestly looked like we were Barnum and Bailey's coming out of the back of a Volkswagen with red noses. Now, 10-months later you see how much we have improved and how we are as a team. My back is turned and my eyes in the gun sight and I know what's going on behind me. That's the best part of this team, knowing everybody has your back and that everybody is doing their job."
While the section continues to prepare to fire their rounds downrange, Sgt. Roger T. Boyd, the cannon crewmembers' ammo team chief, uses his wide range of knowledge to help the Soldiers who are new to the weapon prepare for combat.
"Sgt. Boyd has created something from clowns getting out of a car to a well-oiled machine," said Puzzo. "He really passed down his artillery skills to our younger members. Without us experiencing it first hand, he has given us an idea in our head what it will be like while deployed."
Although the section has improved, Boyd said he reminds his Soldiers to look where they were ten-months ago, look at where they stand today, and to imagine where they will be ten months from now.
The Soldiers sit on the landing zone, waiting for the call to come in. They hear their crew chief yell, 'fire mission', and jump to their positions. Loading the round and the seven white bags of propellant, the team prepares for the round to be fired downrange and the earth-shaking boom that comes along with it.