WATERTOWN, Ala. - Every year, the U.S. Field Artillery School at Fort Sill, Okla., recognizes the best active-duty artillery battery in the Army with the Henry A. Knox Award. This year, A Battery, 2nd Battalion, 15th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (LI) took home the prestigious honor.
During their nine-month deployment to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, from January through September 2013, A Battery Soldiers performed with distinction as a Security Force Advise and Assist Team and provided artillery fires in support of maneuver operations.
"The Knox Award for artillery units is probably the highest achievement a unit can be awarded - the highest form of recognition," said Capt. Michael L. Sim, A Battery commander. "It literally means these guys are part of the best battery in the Army."
The unit began on the road to success while training at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif., in October 2012. At that time, leaders were unsure how they would be task-oriented during their upcoming deployment. They had to devise a training plan that would enable Soldiers to fall into a wide range of missions once they hit the ground.
From the onset of the NTC rotation, all artillery Soldiers trained on both M777A2 and M119A2 Howitzers. This decision gave the platoons the flexibility to employ the appropriate weapon system for each call-for-fire mission. Their training concept also enabled the Soldiers to deploy both weapon systems simultaneously at the same firing point.
"In the artillery community, that is challenging just because the ballistics of the weapon systems are different. We had to figure out how to employ this hybrid concept successfully and safely so we could support maneuver," Sim explained. "That was probably one of the main challenges for the gun line guys."
As for the SFAAT Red 1 team, Soldiers used NTC to validate their ability to provide advisory assistance to Afghan National Army artillery platoons. Their unique training plan involved training non-artillery Soldiers to successfully execute Artillery Tables certification and qualification requirements on M119A2 Howitzers - the first of its kind ever conducted at NTC.
"The root of the problem was how to get non-artillery guys to shoot artillery proficiently," Sim said. "Those are big challenges. This unique program allowed Red 1 to hone skills that are absolutely key to advising."
Upon arrival in Paktika Province, A Battery was spread out to three different locations. First Platoon occupied Forward Operating Base Orgun-E; 2nd Platoon at Combat Outpost Zerok; and Soldiers of 1st Platoon, B Battery, 2-15 FA, who were under A Battery's command, positioned themselves at FOB Boris. Each position saw its far share of enemy interaction.
Due to 2nd BCT's mission to retrograde several FOBs and COPs in the region, the platoons relocated several times and eventually provided surface-based fires from five different firing positions.
Sim was very impressed with the Soldiers' ability to remain flexible and maintain morale under such a high operations tempo deployment.
"The danger was real and tangible," he said. "The requirement for support maneuver was present from the start. These guys did a great job stepping up to the challenge."
SFAAT Red 1 also was very successful in performing its mission. The Soldiers transformed two D-30 Howitzer artillery platoons that were only capable of static firebase operations into firing units proficient at raiding forward off-the- FOB firing points. Red 1 members not only helped the ANA platoons to support their own infantry maneuvers, but they helped create a third ANA artillery platoon and establish a master gunner program.
"They did a great job at establishing interpersonal relationships with their D-30 counterparts," Sim said of Red 1's success. "A lot of emphasis was placed on making sure that if ANA got better they had a way to sustain their improvements. They wanted to create a long-lasting positive effect."
By the conclusion of deployment, there was no doubt that the battery delivered world-class support to all of its missions. From providing close-support fires to coalition force adviser and maneuver forces, counter fires in defense of several combat outposts and forward operating bases, to giving advisory assistance to a D-30-equipped ANA artillery battery, A Battery Soldiers completed their missions with distinction.
These achievements were accomplished in the face of adverse conditions due to the frequency of enemy indirect fire attacks. All in all, the battery fired 2,600 rounds and enabled its ANA counterparts to fire more than 400 operational rounds in support of their operations - outnumbering other U.S. and ANA forces in Regional Command-East during 2013.
Col. Dennis S. Sullivan, 2nd BCT commander, who endorsed the unit's nomination, referred to the battery as "exceptional and combat proven."
"I have been continually impressed with the drive and determination of the Soldiers and leaders within A Battery, 2-15 FA, and their ability to quickly adapt and accomplish any mission assigned," Sullivan said. "I was most impressed with their support to the brigade during our deployment. Their legacy will rest with their accomplishments."