By Mr. Mike Bowers (Leonard Wood)July 16, 2015
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (July 16, 2015) -- They render salute with a bang. Their method to honor, pay respect and uphold traditions that began in the 14th century is a howitzer rather than the hand.
They are members of the Maneuver Support Center of Excellence Noncommissioned Officers Academy flag-call detail or "cannon detail."
About 75 select few of Fort Leonard Wood Soldiers are trained to pull the firing mechanism of the World War II-era M1A1 Pack Howitzer used on the installation for cannon salutes.
The NCOA conducts seven-days-a-week flag call and is responsible for cannon operation certification. It's a great honor for the NCOA to have the primary responsibility for the flag-call detail, said Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ramos, NCOA operations NCO.
"Each and every NCOA cadre member is certified on the operation of the cannon, as they are becoming certified instructors assigned to the NCOA," said Ramos, a native of St. Johns, Florida.
He said 92 percent of current instructors are certified, with training conducted by experienced cannon operators.
"Because we don't use live rounds and the cannons are slightly modified to operate with blanks, no special licensing is required," Ramos said.
Safety is a key feature of the training.
According to Ramos, flag-call cannon operators are required to wear hearing protection, gloves and eye protection. He said Soldier's Advanced Combat Helmets are added to the safety ensemble, when 75mm blank rounds are used.
Ramos described the strict protocol cannon operators must adhere to before each cannon firing.
Before going to the cannon, the operator stops by the Installation Operations Center to secure the 10-guage blank shotgun shell and blank adapter.
At the cannon, the operator performs a functionality check, loads the shell into the adapter, secures it inside the breach and stands by ready to fire. At that point, it's about split-second timing.
"The cannon operator must fire the cannon at an exact time," Ramos said, explaining it is fired on the first note of the morning reveille and the last note of the afternoon retreat.
"If the cannon operator isn't properly prepared or paying attention to the music," Ramos added, "Then there will be a higher probability of a late or misfire."
Other events, besides flag call, that may call for a salute battery are changes of command for senior leadership or distinguished visitors. Only presidents, past and present, receive a 21-gun salute, according to Army Regulation 600-25.
According to Ramos, the detail's largest and most impressive event is the firing of multiple cannons at the annual "Salute to the Nation" during the annual Fourth of July celebration.
"Five cannons are arranged side-by-side on Gammon Field," Ramos said. "As the birth of each state is read aloud, one cannon is fired."
Cannons for the annual salute are the same for flag call with a slight variance, Ramos said.
"We use 75mm blank shells, which creates a much bigger bang and lots of smoke. It's quite an impressive sight for all 50 shots," Ramos added.
He said, "The NCOs who conduct the detail take great pride in conducting such a task and go to great lengths to ensure all Soldiers are properly trained on every aspect of the detail, to include operation of the cannon and handling of the national flag."
Ramos, who is a certified cannon operator, said the honor could be a once-in-a-lifetime event for Soldiers. "For some, conducting the flag call, while assigned to the NCOA, is the only opportunity they get within their career to conduct such an honorable task," he said.