By Amanda Kim Stairrett May 17, 2016
FORT RILEY, Kan. -- The familiar booms of 1st Infantry Division howitzers were joined by a different sound, May 14, as "Big Red One" artillery units teamed with the Kansas Army National Guard for a weekend training mission.
Soldiers from the guard's 2nd Battalion, 130th Field Artillery Brigade, traveled from their home station at Hiwatha, Kansas, to Fort Riley where they worked with 1st Infantry Division Artillery and the 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team. Active-duty Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery Regiment, were conducting their Table 18 gunnery -- battalion-level certifications -- as the guard crews fired their high mobility artillery rocket systems.
HIMARS aren't commonly seen at Fort Riley as no Big Red One units use the weapons system.
Soldiers from both organizations often used the word "opportunity" to describe the benefits of the training.
"This partnership we have is very, very special," Maj. Gen. Lee Taffanelli, Kansas adjutant general, said May 14.
Active-duty Soldiers at Fort Riley and their Kansas National Guard partners have worked alongside each other downrange for the last decade, Taffanelli said. Now Army leaders are stepping up that partnership at home when it comes to training opportunities.
That effort is coming straight from the top: Gen. Mark Milley, the Army's chief of staff. Soon after taking over as the Army's senior leader last fall, Milley emphasized the importance of one Army -- one Army made of its active duty, National Guard and Reserve components.
"When you look at the threats that we face as a nation, you look at the size of our Army, we know we have to do things together," Taffanelli said. "Our active component, the National Guard and the Reserve -- everyone has to come together to make the mission successful. So opportunities that we have like this where we can train together and really get that familiarity down and really get an understanding of each other's capabilities, and the more we can work together just makes it a much better, ready Army."
This Total Army Concept has trickled down to affect Soldiers' everyday training opportunities.
On May 14, that meant three of 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery Regiment's batteries were firing cannons on Fort Riley as a platoon HIMARS crews were nearby sending their rockets downrange.
"So what we'll see is a combined shoot that will allow them to fire on the same target at the same time," said Col. Thomas Bolen, DIVARTY commander. "So really when we talk about massing fires, that is a true massing of fires. Not only the full weight of 1-5's cannon units, but the HIMARS on top of it. So two units, two components coming together to do a combined shoot, and I think it's just a fantastic opportunity."
DIVARTY's master gunner sees the plusses of the combined training at his level, saying it "benefits DIVARTY just because DIVARTY is everything that's field artillery, and being able to work with not only canon units, but canon units, rocket units, anything that is part of the field artillery community," Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Depasquale said.
"It adds capabilities to the division, to the brigade, to shoot at … different levels and to be able to hit the deep fight of battlefield in what canon systems can't hit," he said of getting to work with HIMARS crews again.
It is the job of the DIVARTY's men and women to not only help coordinate and oversee training and qualifications for the Big Red One's artillery units, but also that of partner units like the 130th FA Bde.
Bolen and Col. John Rueger, 130th FA Bde. commander, started work on a combined training event eight months ago when both were new to their positions.
"And we got a chance to start working together and start planning from the training perspective on what events we'd like to try and work toward over the next 12-18 months," Rueger said, "and this is a long road to where we are now and we're seeing it come to fruition."
The 130th FA Bde. is based out of Manhattan, Kansas, and has several battalions headquartered throughout northeast Kansas. Taffanelli said that geography makes the partnership between the brigade and division even more special.
"Having the Kansas National Guard in close proximity to the 1st Infantry Division really creates some great opportunities for our Soldiers to come out and train alongside their active component counterparts," he said. "Today is a great demonstration of that training."
Regardless of the high-level concepts, each participating unit was getting the opportunity to prepare its Soldiers for the types of missions they could conduct in a deployed environment. The live fire allowed Rueger's crew to train like they would in combat, he said.
"We don't get to do this very often in the HIMARS battalion," Rueger said, "so it's another opportunity for us to do that and also to be able to integrate into other organizations or other components as we would actually if we went to war. So it's a great opportunity for us to exercise all aspects of that."
The brigade typically gets to fire its HIMARS once a year, but Rueger expected that to change with the newly minted partnership with the 1st Inf. Div. and DIVARTY.
"This is the first time we've been able to integrate with an active component entity such as 1st ID and actually do a live fire," he added, "so this is groundbreaking for us."
Bolen said it was an exciting day.
"We've had a really good time not only looking forward to the execution, but just building the relationship with the 130th and the Kansas Guard over the last few months as we've planned this," Bolen said. "And really we're just looking forward to the start of what will be several live fire exercises together in the future."
The biggest pro for the National Guard Soldiers is getting out to shoot live rounds and seeing other units training, said Capt. Michael Sprigg of the 2nd Battalion, 130th Field Artillery Brigade.
"There's always a lot of takeaways from that, so that's the biggest benefit that we have just additional time to get out here in the field and train and do something that we haven't done before."
Units of the 130th Field Artillery Brigade will be back at Fort Riley this summer for their annual training rotation where the brigade headquarters will set up a tactical operations center in a field environment. It will allow the brigade and its battalions to "connect up all of our systems and function and train as an entire brigade together," Rueger said, "so it's an exciting time for us."
Rueger said his Soldiers loved the training.
"They appreciate the opportunity," he added. "They really appreciate all the partnerships and the ability to work with 1st Infantry Division. 1st ID has been great to work with and really have bent over backwards to help make us successful out here and so we just appreciate all the opportunity we've been given to do this."
After talking with a HIMARS crew waiting to fire at the range last week, Depasquale put the partnership and opportunities they created into perspective: "We're training today, but we might be fighting tomorrow overseas."