Like their active-duty counterparts, the Soldiers of 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, Iowa Army National Guard, are required to qualify with their weapons twice a year. More than 400 Soldiers of the Iowa Army National Guard used the ranges on Fort Riley March 14 to 17 to conduct this training.The battalion Soldiers worked two rifle ranges for the individual weapons along with two ranges dedicated to the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon and M240 machine guns, as well as two dedicated to specialty weapons -- 60 mm mortar and sniper rifles."One of the most difficult parts of coordinating a weapons qualification is the logistical piece and the troops to task," said Capt. Jacob Johnson Company C, 1st Bn., 168th Inf. Regt. 2nd ABCT, 34th Inf. Div., commander. "The time it takes to move troops, ammo and food from range to range so it's a really good exercise for our battalion staff and also our executive officers and all of our logistical personnel."Johnson said Camp Dodge, Iowa, offers ranges they can use, but at a limited capacity."We have a SAW range and an M4 range, but shooting 7.62 mm or larger caliber rounds -- we can't shoot in Iowa," the Des Moines, Iowa native said. "So, we have to come to a place like Fort Riley."The range time also provided opportunity for Soldiers in his company to do infantry skill level training, he said."We live on the range, it's what these guys signed up for and this is what we love to do," he said.
For 1st Lt. Jesse Parker, scout platoon leader, it was a chance to allow Soldiers in his sniper section to train as well as give Soldiers who are attending sniper school experience behind the rifles.Two firing systems were used as the Soldiers worked as a team to fire down range. The first was the M2010 rifle firing a .300 WinMag round. The second was the M107, .50 caliber rifle."It gives our Soldiers an opportunity to reach out and hit targets further, which gives them more confidence in their weapon system and their abilities," the Adel, Iowa, native said.On the opposite side of the impact area, mortarmen from the battalion assembled to fire their 60 mm mortars. Something the Soldiers do not get to do often."We drill once a month, when we do that we don't really get to do this aspect," said Sgt. Jeremy Harker, fire direction control noncommissioned officer, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Bn. 68th Inf. Regt. 2nd ABCT, 34th Inf. Div. "It's either dry rehearsals or whatever else they have us do. So, when we get to come out here and do this, it's what we signed up for, so it's really cool."The training also brought forward observers into the mix to allow for enhanced team building. The forward observers are primarily the Soldiers who call for indirect fire support and adjust the round's trajectory once they impact."We don't ever get to see the FO's side of it, to work together and be able to actually see what they have to do to be able to complete the mission," Harker said. "And, vice-versa they get to see our end of it."Harker said relying on the forward observers abilities is critical to achieving their mission.
"You just have to have the trust in the FOs and their capability in doing their job the way they're supposed to," Harker said. "Which, we've for the most part have worked with the same FOs for -- I've been in for almost 12 years now -- a lot of them have been in for that time too. We have a lot of experience working together. So, that makes me feel a lot more comfortable in that regard."Hacker said the opportunity to train on Fort Riley was similar to what the mortar platoon does during combat operations."When it gets here and you get down to execute, there is no better feeling," he said. "To pack up everything and maneuver down here, I enjoy that. It adds like a real war feel to it, you know. We are never staying in one spot. When you pack everything up, from the top down, you have to make sure everything is there. I think it's another great training tool. I personally enjoyed that a lot."
Johnson praised Fort Riley and the civilians working the ranges for their ease of use."The ranges here and the folks that run our ranges, up in the towers, are fantastic," he said. "We have great relationships with Range Control. Fort Riley is very easy to work with."