By Capt. Charlie Dietz, @14th Fires Brigade PAOSeptember 5, 2013
FORT SILL, Okla. (Sept. 5, 2013) -- Mix in the biggest guns and missiles the military has, a bunch of fired up field artillery Soldiers and the drive to be the best three-man team in the unit and there's bound to be some tough competition.
That's exactly what Maj. Keith Williams, 2nd Battalion, 4th Field Artillery operations officer, wanted when he came up with the idea to have the battalion compete in a "best by test" competition. "Deep Attack" battalion held the contest Aug. 19-23 at Fort Sill, testing Soldiers on various entry level warrior tasks, resupply operations and crew drills specific to launcher functions. These challenges determined the battalion's top team.
"I decided to make this event a competition because it facilitates a more focused training environment where no one wants to lose. In addition to that, it instills esprit de corps while ... [identifying] the best at their profession," said Williams.
Teams formed by Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) crews consisting of a staff sergeant, sergeant and junior enlisted member. Each of the members competed to show not only who was the smartest, but also the strongest and fastest to complete the challenges to a known standard.
"If there are any areas that are not to standard then the crew has to re-do the events until they can get them right," said Sgt. 1st Class Jerry England, one of the event graders. "I'm not telling them anyone else's scores to ensure that they keep trying their hardest."
The best-by-test began with a 50-question exam that covered basic field artillery knowledge. After each crew member took the test, the average score of the team was used for the overall standings. Next was a round robin style evaluation set up in a field environment that included occupation skills, ammunition reloads, fire mission processing, emergency procedures, land navigation and safety procedures. Crews were graded on their total time and accuracy in following the step-by-step procedures inherent with each task.
"Our goal out here for this fire mission processing test is to go from a cold launcher to ready to receive the mission and roll in around four minutes," said Sgt. Aaron Flagg, A Battery launcher chief.
Teams then reloaded an MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) in full Mission Oriented Protective Posture gear.
This head-to-toe protective ensemble safeguards Soldiers from nuclear or chemical attacks and includes a full suit, gas mask, boots and gloves.
ATACMS are 13 feet long and around 3,000 pounds; it requires all three Soldiers to reload.
"The most challenging part of the day was reloading in full MOPP gear. The heat combined with running around with the extra clothing really tested the Soldier's stamina," said Staff Sgt. Brent Erickson, an A Battery launcher chief.
Sgt. 1st Class John Reinhart, the battalion's master gunner, had the idea to have external evaluators from outside the battalion grade the crews, ensuring there was zero chance of any bias given. This twist was a hit with the leadership.
The master gunner is a multifaceted job requiring the Soldier to be an expert on training, safety, ammunition resupply and maintenance operations for artillery platoons within the battalion. He is the chief trainer and certifying authority of crews and the subject matter expert of all artillery systems the battalion uses. Because of Reinhart's knowledge and coordination with 1st Lt. James Greenawalt, fire direction officer, the battalion completed the complex event.
"Great training out there today," said Col. Andrew Preston, 214th Fires Brigade commander, "I like the way they have the stations set up and the idea of using external evaluators because it helps ensure we get an unvarnished look at ourselves."
Warrior task testing and battle drills comprised the final phase of the testing. Crew members were tested on basic Soldier skills including map reading, first aid, weapon familiarization, radio procedures and composite risk management.
Winning crews were chosen for best ammunition section, launcher crew, and fire direction section based on overall crew scores.
Greenawalt and Reinhart wanted to make the prizes something memorable that the Soldiers had not seen before. They used on-post resources and awarded rocket pod covers engraved with the battalion emblem, battery sigils and best section accolades. Rocket pod covers have always held special significance to rocketeers, and finding one that is still in one piece is unusual.
A live fire field training exercise followed the best-by-test the next week. The launcher crew identified by best time during the hands-on portion of the test received additional rockets to fire in a salutary gesture to the battalion and Fort Sill.
"This is the kind of event that Soldiers gain a great deal from. It provides them the opportunity to learn as they challenge themselves to earn the best possible score," said Preston.