JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - Gun tubes flamed and the ground rumbled here May 2 as field artillery soldiers dusted off their howitzers that had laid dormant for a year, to sharpen their skills and complete their annual certification.

The artillerymen of the 2nd Battalion, 17th Field Artillery Regiment, conducted a live-fire training exercise that tested not only those experienced with the unit's weapon of choice, the M777 Howitzer, but also those who had not fired the gun in a real training environment.

This twice-a-year firing exercise requirement will certify the unit to use the M777.

However, the training began a week earlier with basic artillerymen skills, gunner tasks and the Artillery Skills Proficiency Test.

"This is training and certification. We do this twice a year to meet the battalion commanders requirements," said Sgt. 1st Class Ernest Robledo, battalion master gunner, 2-17FA. "We haven't shot these guns in over a year due to being in Afghanistan. So they have just been sitting. These soldiers have had a lot of long days and late nights this week, but they are excited to shoot."

Four guns filled the firing line as each one belched its steel payload on the targeted impact area. Some of the crew members were amazed by the amount of power that each gun and round can put out when it is fired.

"When you put a 105-pound round downrange with a heavy charge it's fun," said Cpl. Nicholas Cooper, ammunition team chief, 2-17 FA. "I still get butterflies when we shoot and it rocks the earth. It never gets old."

For the 2-17FA, this training not only fulfilled an annual requirement but was a vital piece of training that allowed the senior team leaders and noncommissioned officers to see who would step up and take charge.

"This is when we start figuring out those who are the leaders and we will mentor those that we are able to develop into our noncommissioned officers," said 1st Sgt. James Cannon, B Battery 2-17 FA. "This is critical for us as senior leaders, to assess the guy who is going to step up and for us to see who has the drive we want. We are looking for that natural born leader to train to do what is needed."

For Cooper, the opportunity to fire the gun and work through these missions with his team solidified the reason he become a field artilleryman.

"Any day I can come out here and shoot is a good day," said Cooper, a Cleveland, Ohio, native. "I like being field artillery and I want to be in the platoon sergeant's spot running a gun someday."

The Steel Battalion was not going to let budget cuts and training cutbacks deter them from maintaining their mission readiness, said Sgt. 1st Class Ronald Deutsch, battalion master gunner.

Despite a limitation in the amount of rounds they were able to fire, the unit successfully fired 72 rounds during the one-day exercise.

"The mission still goes on we still have meet our requirement," Deutsch added. "We still get the training value out of this despite fewer rounds. We just have to be creative with the training that we are able to do, and do it well."

Once all the rounds had been fired and the smoke had cleared, the unit had completed their training exercise. Now they will continue to prepare for their next training and certification shoot later this year.