BULBOACA TRAINING AREA, Moldova - Soldiers from the North Carolina (NCNG) and Alabama National Guard (ALNG) completed Operation Fire Shield 2019, a training exercise hosted by Moldova as part of the State Partnership Program.

Fire Shield's mission was to share knowledge and best practices among the NCNG's 139th Regional Training Institute (RTI) and ALNG 1st Battalion, 117th Field Artillery (FA) experts, Moldovan soldiers and military personnel from other nations.

The two weeks with their Moldovan peers Sept. 9-22 covered multiple weapon systems, crew training, practice drills and even a chance for Guard Soldiers to fire one of the howitzers during live-fire exercises.

"Moldovan [artillery] crews carry out their drills very effectively," said Sgt. 1st Class Dean Joyce, a senior field artillery instructor at 139th RTI.

Some Guard officers and noncommissioned officers observed Moldovan training from their command post, seeing how Moldovan leaders coordinate live fire from multiple artillery pieces.

Moldovan observers stationed across multiple ranges called for fire as they identified simulated targets via radio to the tactical operations center (TOC). Moldovan leaders assigned missions to artillery units and soldiers at the TOC quickly computed the range and distance from the guns to the target.

Radio operators relayed target information to crews of Moldovan soldiers waiting near their guns. Moments later, there was the low rumble of multiple guns firing and the whistle of rounds flying downrange. Soon shellfire covered the targets.

"Call for fire, the charts, targeting, the math is the same," said Capt. Trey Lawless, training officer, 1st Battalion, 117th FA, ALNG.

The next day, several Guard Soldiers got hands-on experience on how Moldovan Artillery soldiers accomplish their mission. Moldovan officers invited U.S. Soldiers to the huge 152 mm howitzers lined up along one of the training area ranges. The Guard Soldiers observed as their hosts demonstrated the intricacies of aiming, loading and firing.

"It is a great opportunity to see how other countries operate," Joyce said.

The next day it was time to prove how well the Guard Soldiers learned. They rushed to the howitzer as the fire mission was called out by the Moldovan battery commander. One Soldier adjusted the aim of the gun, confirming coordinates with a Moldovan officer. Another Soldier brought the high explosive shell forward and slid it into the breech. The next Soldier on the team loaded the bags of powder.

The breech slid closed and the weapon was ready to fire as the crew ran to a safe position behind the gun line. One Guard Soldier remained ready to fire. The Moldovan battery commander yelled the command to fire. The Guard Soldier pulled hard on the rope leading to the trigger and the 100-pound shell was on the way downrange as several other weapons fired up and down the gun line.

Smiles, handshakes and laughter from the Moldovan and U.S. Soldiers followed after the successful mission.

"I speak artillery, I don't need an interpreter," said Sgt. 1st Class Emanuel Littrell, platoon sergeant, A Battery, 1st Battalion, 117th FA, ALNG.

On the last day of the mission, Romanian and Moldovan soldiers stood in formation with Guard Soldiers for the closing ceremony honoring and thanking the Guard for their support of the operation.

"We express our gratitude for your professionalism, dedication and effort as part of Fire Shield," said Moldovan Army Col. Octavian Varzari.

The NCNG has teamed with Moldova for more than two decades as part of the State Partnership Program to increase peace and stability in Europe.