By Sgt. Brandon BanzhafFebruary 27, 2015
FORT HOOD, Texas - Attack helicopters, tanks, infantry and artillery performed harmoniously with each other during the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division combined live-fire exercise Feb. 18 at Fort Hood, Texas.
The exercise was meant to evaluate each of the groups' efficiency in accomplishing their missions while simultaneously communicating with the others to accomplish shared tasks.
"For the last three weeks, we have been conducting our mounted gunnery where we have our M1 Abrams tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, infantry squads, our mortars and artillery all out in the training area at range complexes conducting live-fire exercises," said Lt. Col. Andrew Watson, commander of 2-7 Cav. "Starting at the crew level and then progressed, culminating through the last several days to platoon level, which means multiple vehicle live-fire exercises day and night."
Watson and his battalion have been in the field moving from one level of training to the next, each time polishing the skills they learned from the last.
"We ran a day exercise with our Bradleys where they were moving and shooting at different targets while also incorporating squads of infantrymen shooting," said Staff Sgt. Jason Burgess, a Florence, South Carolina, native, and platoon sergeant with 2-7 Cav. "A lot of guys haven't worked together and didn't know how each job affects each other. This field problem helped them see what the mounted Soldiers do as opposed to the dismounts and put it all together to accomplish one mission."
On the range adjacent to the Bradleys were the platoon-level qualification tables for the tanks.
"This is my first gunnery," said Pvt. Matthew Chickering, a Woodbridge, Virginia, native and battalion tank driver. "Even though it was a lot of hard work, it also was a lot of fun."
Chickering said his crew developed camaraderie to build a strong team as they progressed through the qualification tables. His crew won the title of "top gun" for their company, which is a sign of an efficient team.
"We get a chance to establish a good bond within the crew," he said. "We spend free time talking and joking with each other, but my favorite part of the job is hearing the gun go off."
Many residents living on and around Fort Hood initially heard the "booms" and may have even felt their homes quiver as the exercise grew in intensity and force.
"My wife has always mentioned that she likes to hear the sound of it when I'm in the field doing my job, having a good time, and it's kind of a comfort to her to know that we are out there doing what we have to do in order to defend our nation, if called upon," Watson said.
"With this being the culminating piece of the exercise where they're fighting a scenario where there is a large enemy force that they have to defeat, it involves the firing of a lot of live munitions," Watson said. "I think it has to do with the atmospheric conditions as well as the locations of the range complexes. As we fire, it's like a megaphone affect."
Part of the CALFEX requires calling for air and artillery support. Soldiers train on the right procedures now, so they can carry out those actions in a real-life situation.
Once communications were made and targets confirmed, the tank crews became still, in anticipation of what would come next.
A pair of AH-64 Apache crews with the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade flew low into the range complex. Approaching their targets, the aircraft increased elevation until they had a good vantage point...and then, "Boom!" They fired and swooped out of the area as their rockets hit the top of their intended targets for maximum destruction.
"We have to train as we fight," Watson said. "We start with lower scale munitions and simulations to start training, but for the final exercise we have to utilize our live ammunition to gain that confidence and our competency that we need in order to handle any mission that we are assigned as a battalion."
Watson said that during their most recent deployment to Afghanistan, the battalion went as a dismounted formation. Now they are returning to their original assignment - a combined arms battalion. That involves firing from M1A2 Abrams tanks, M2A3 Bradley Fighting Vehicles, along with dismounts.
"We are preparing to go to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, in a couple of months," Watson said. "This is our last major live-fire training event where we have the opportunity to perfect our skills and increase our proficiency."
The Soldiers of the battalion expended a lot of ammunition in order to perfect their skills, which increases their readiness level and further prepares the unit for whatever missions may arise.