By Sgt. 1st Class James McGuire, Wyoming National GuardAugust 2, 2017
CAMP GUERNSEY JOINT TRAINING CENTER, Wyo. -- The Wyoming Army National Guard's heritage is steeped in field artillery excellence, and if a Guard member wants to learn how to be a "Red Leg," the Cowboy State is often where they come to do it.
Whether a personal choice or their command's choice, a Guard member generally needs to attend a reclassification course to learn a new skill, and when it comes to becoming a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System launcher driver, the 213th Regional Training Institute at Camp Guernsey is the destination for some.
Soldiers from eight states, ranging from as far away as Vermont, Oklahoma and Michigan recently completed a two-week reclass course earning them the new job title of 13M, or HIMARS driver.
As varied as the locations they came from, are the backgrounds of the 16 students.
Sgt. Anthony Ekman, from Lawton, Oklahoma, has had a number of jobs in the Guard including wheeled vehicle mechanic, water treatment specialist and infantryman. Spc. Carter Davis, currently an Army Guard recruiter in Casper, but a Marine motor transportation specialist for eight years, was nudged to take the class by his command.
"I actually took a few years off after my eight in the Marines, and drove a truck, but the oil fields dried up, so I came to the Guard," Davis said. "(HIMARS) are awesome. We can fire a lot of different kinds of ammunition. It's impressive."
Sgt. Lane Fall, from Holland, Michigan, has been a truck driver and ammunition specialist during her seven years in the Guard. For her third deployment overseas, she volunteered to augment an artillery unit. Her unit trained Jordanian soldiers to be HIMARS crewmembers, and during a live-fire training mission, she got the opportunity to "flip the switch," a task that sealed her fate.
"I thought I'd try something new, so I deployed with the (field artillery) as an ammunition section chief. We spent the last couple of days of training the Jordanians out in the country. They fired some and we fired some," Fall said. "The first time I flipped the switch to fire a rocket, I knew this was for me."
That was not her only incentive, however.
"I am the first female in the battery to be part of a launch crew. And the only female in this class. This opportunity wasn't open to females until 2012," she explained. "I like to be different and prove people wrong, especially about combat arms, so this is awesome."
The course's youngest student, 19-year-old Pvt. 1st Class Jacob McGee, recently transferred to a Kansas artillery unit from Nebraska, where he was a wheeled vehicle mechanic.
"I had to move down to Kansas to take care of my grandpa, so they put me in the FA unit and sent me here," he said. "It's going good. I've learned a lot."
"This is a pretty sharp class," said Staff Sgt. Troy Ross, one of four guest instructors and a member of Wyoming's A Battery, 2nd Battalion, 300th Field Artillery, who is helping teach the course for a fourth time. "I like getting up in front of the class and imparting some of my knowledge and wisdom on young hearts and minds."
He said the course is set up like most Army training and features crawl, walk and run phases.
"The first four days are all classroom instruction and then it goes about half and half. It's a lot of hands-on, and every hands-on lesson relates to a classroom lesson and the Army publications and manuals."
Ross was one of three instructors from Wyoming. A fourth instructor, from a howitzer-based unit from Kentucky, but an expert in artillery ammunition, who teaches in his home state, rounded out the crew.
"Kentucky recently switched to HIMARS, so it's kind of an even trade off, learning from each other," said A 2/300 Staff Sgt. Tim Rychecky who has been working with HIMARS since Wyoming fielded the weapon system in 2008. "His expertise in ammunition really makes the class more interesting he said of Staff Sgt. Martin Brown.
The instructors said because this is a 10-level, or basic course, students learned tasks associated to all three HIMARS crew members, but were evaluated only in the driver role.
The RTI generally hosts the class twice a year, and looks forward to this autumn and sending another group of graduates back to their home units with a new skill set and fond memories of their time spent in Guernsey.