By Sgt. Joe Dees, 214th Fires BrigadeJune 26, 2014
FORT BLISS, Texas -- The Soldiers of 2nd Battalion, 4th Field Artillery spent June 7-27 in the open deserts of southeastern New Mexico at the Dona Ana Range Complex of Fort Bliss training to retain their status as one of the most up-to-date and highly trained field artillery units in the Army.
As a battalion equipped with the M270A1 Multiple Launch Rocket System, finding an area to test the Soldiers' skills can be difficult outside of Fort Sill. The M270A1 can fire guided and unguided projectiles past 25 miles and with certain missiles, can directly hit targets over 190 miles away. What really makes the M270A1 special is its unique ability to shoot and scoot, firing its rockets rapidly then quickly moving out of the area to avoid being detected and targeted by enemy artillery.
The maneuvers, fires and training were designed to accomplish multiple goals. The 214th Fires Brigade's focus was on unit readiness and the "Deep Attack" Battalion achieving a fully trained status on its mission essential skills. This status means the battalion can meet its mission requirements for a scheduled upcoming deployment to the Middle East.
"This mission is a true test of our readiness and versatility," explained Command Sgt. Maj. Kenneth Snow, battalion CSM.
"The vast and open terrain allowed us great flexibility and maneuverability all while looking like the terrain that we have been fighting in for over 10 years now. We are trying to adjust the force away from the static forward operating base mentality and enhance our field craft to become lighter and faster for the force-on-force battles of the future. Our job in field artillery is to own the battlefield by defeating or disrupting the enemy, enabling maneuver forces to occupy battlespace and ultimately achieve victory," said Snow.
Working in an unfamiliar environment challenged the battalion.
"We were forced to maintain strong communications between many elements over long distances in a realistic environment with 24-hour operations that tested our Soldiers, equipment, tactics and capabilities," said 1st Lt. Joshua Rivera, B Battery.
As M270A1s roared across the desert throwing dust in their wake, support personnel of the 696th Forward Support Company raced to keep vehicles fueled and maintained. Meanwhile, headquarters staff tracked the enemy and planned movements and missions to ensure American forces controlled the battlefield.
This style of training and warfighting was new to many team members, but succinct guidance and timely leadership ensured they learned and understood what was required, culminating in an effective and proficient force. Unlike many previous training missions and operations, the scenario such as this threw many considerations and needs at the warriors simultaneously. This forced leaders at all levels to call upon their experience and knowledge to recalculate ranges on their maps.
Additionally, they had to quickly decide important questions regarding the delegation of fire missions according to munitions loaded, positions and movements while containing and evading return fires.
"A lot of preparations went into this mission," said 1st Lt. Brad Woolsey, 2nd Firing Platoon leader, A Battery. "It gave us a much clearer picture as to our strengths and areas that need improvement. Seeing our results however, we are confident that we will take what we have learned here and translate it into future success on any mission that comes our way."
Platoon, battery and battalion fire missions fired over 120 rockets on target in a timely, effective manner that involved mass fires, firing on command and time on target missions. As many as 16 rockets streaked off within seconds of one another.
Blazing sun and dust storms attacked from above like nature's own artillery, the sparse vegetation all bore thorns and thistle while concealing wildlife that protected their lives with venomous bites and stings like an Army's small arms defenses. The Soldiers of 2-4th FA continually showed they were the most dangerous, deadly and toughest in the sand.
The training not only focused on maintenance and rocket fires, but also scenarios that seasoned Soldiers have become well accustomed, having them give on-the-spot guidance to newer troops. Once the battalion's headquarters was set up, trainers would often alert the battalion that their location had been compromised, forcing the unit to pack up as fast as possible and start from scratch somewhere else.
Quick actions and swift thinking were put to the test as a mass casualty exercise surprised the battalion. Though always ready, the scenario inflicted multiple wounded Soldiers and requirements to secure the area while moving injured Soldiers to safety miles away.
"This battalion has continued to improve over the last year," said Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Hanley, battalion master gunner and operations sergeant major to sum up the exercises. "Our superstars have stepped up to help the Soldiers who needed extra training; our maintenance team has stepped up to make sure we have more equipment in the fight; and we are ensuring that we can operate at the high standard we expect as a whole. These guys have proved that we can go to war with no issues."