By Sgt. Christopher HernandezJanuary 23, 2019
OROGRANDE RANGE COMPLEX, N.M. -- Staging their M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) onto an oft-beaten desert trail, Army National Guardsmen of Alpha Battery, 5th Battalion, 113th Field Artillery Regiment, Louisburg, N.C., prepare to execute their live-fire exercises here.
Soldiers with First Army Division West's 5th Armored Brigade, 2nd Battalion, 362nd Artillery Regiment, are providing observer coach/trainer support for the exercise.
According to Capt. Earle Pope, battery commander of A Btry., 5th Bn., 113th Regt., the unit has been extensively training as part of their mobilization validations.
"What we're doing out here today is preparing for a mission readiness exercise," said Pope. "Currently, we're conducting a familiarization exercise with the M28A1 Reduced Range Practice Rocket…and what we're doing is making sure that we stretch our launchers, rehearse our crew drills, and make sure that we stay proficient on our basic tasks as artillerymen."
Although the HIMARS can load and fire munition types similar to their M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) counterparts, there are some key differences between the two platforms.
"The M270 MLRS was originally developed back in the '80s, while the M142 HIMARS was a more recent development," Pope said. "(Since) it's a newer and younger system, the M142 trimmed down the fat, maintained a healthy dose of lethality, and massively increased the mobility by being able to be loaded onto a C130 Hercules and land on an unimproved landing strip, back off, chute, roll back on and be gone. So we have much greater flexibility on how we're employed."
The HIMARS' only disadvantage is that it holds only six rockets at a time, whereas the MLRS boasts a 12-round capacity, Pope said.
Despite its reduced payload, the HIMARS is nevertheless a tour de force on the battlefield.
"The HIMARS itself is just scary," said Cpl. John Eason, HIMARS crewmember for A Btry., 5th Bn., 113th Regt. "This piece of equipment can really put warheads on warheads, and we can take out whole grid squares. Anything on the receiving end of a HIMARS is going to have a real bad day."
In addition to the HIMARS crewmembers, operational success is dependent on other members of the unit with their disparate skill sets.
"We got the mechanics that have been working since we've sat down here, getting our GPS up and making sure that the launchers are ready to put rockets downrange," Eason said. "The RSV (Re-Supply Vehicle) itself is also a huge piece of equipment as far as our job is concerned, because it gets munitions from point A to point B. The launcher can't pick it up if we don't have the RSVs out here with live pods dropped on the ground, ready to be picked up."
Moreover, the Soldiers that run the Platoon Operation Center (POC) and Fire Direction Center (FDC) play another pivotal role in HIMARS combat operations.
"So in our POC, when a fire mission comes down from higher, we process it, send it down to our launchers, and effectively hit the target," said Sgt. Charles Smith, fire control specialist for A Btry., 5th Bn., 113th Regt. "Also in an FDC, we effectively control all of our launchers. We build our communication networks through our AFATDS (Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System), and we send our missions down either digitally or by voice. Depending on which type of mission it is, we plug it into our system and then hit the target."
In the meantime, the unit maintains their dedication and vigilance in their premobilization training regimen.
"My goal out here is to shake down and smooth off any rough edges," Pope said. "My Soldiers have more or less have been on orders since (last year), and we had them almost continuously working and preparing for mobilization. So this is our culminating event."
For Eason, he and his peers have been eagerly anticipating their flight into their overseas tour of duty.
"We're ready to go downrange and do our job," Eason said.