FORT SILL, Oklahoma (May 28, 2020) -- When an Army mission planner needs to quickly destroy a high profile target that’s on the fringe of the battlefield, and create a large damage area in bad weather, he or she might employ a Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS).“The rockets leave the tube at Mach 2, they can reach out to 270 kilometers, and destroy any kind of target in the world in any kind of weather,” said Sgt. 1st Class Carl Lephart, A Battery, 1st Battalion, 78th Field Artillery. “That’s really cool and speaks for itself.”Lephart is senior instructor for the MLRS and High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) crewmember Advanced Individual Training (AIT) course here. AIT students learn both weapons systems over five weeks of instruction to earn a “13 Mike” Military Occupational Specialty.Although the M270A1 MLRS and the M142 HIMARS fire the same variety of munitions, including precision-guided ordnance, there is a vast difference between the weapons systems, Lephart said.The MLRS launcher is a track-based vehicle, he said. “It is more functional in bad and hilly terrain, like in Europe and Korea.” It carries two pods, which is 12 rockets, or two tactical missiles at a time.”The HIMARS launcher is mounted on a Light Medium Tactical Vehicle, or LMTV truck, Lephart said. The HIMARS is lighter and faster than the MLRS, and it can be transported on aircraft. It carries one one pod of six rockets, or one missile.The procedures for firing the rockets and missiles for the two systems are similar, but the HIMARS has a little more modern software, he said.The 428th Field Artillery Brigade conducts about 40 13M AIT classes annually at Critz Hall, Lephart said. The classes average 24 students.AcademicsThe rigorous curriculum begins with a three-day communications course where students learn to operate and speak over the single-channel ground and airborne radio system.Then they get an introduction to the positions and roles of an MLRS/HIMARS crewmember, and how the crew operates within a battery, and with the battalion and brigade, Lephart said. The crew consists of launcher chief (generally a staff sergeant); a gunner (sergeant or E-4); and a driver (E-4 and below).Next, students are introduced to the M270A1 for five days, he said. They learn preventive maintenance checks and services (PMCS), and light maintenance.They also learn the driver’s responsibilities of the MLRS on a fire mission, he said. “That includes about 1,000 performance steps, which they have to memorize and dictate in order.”During week 2, students learn about the Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck, or HEMTT, which is the resupply vehicle for the MLRS, Lephart said.Students learn its PMCS and how to operate its crane, which is used to move the rocket pods and missiles. “They have to perform a resupply operation where they remove two rocket pods off the truck and set them down safely, and get them back on the truck and strapped down,” he said. This is done at the A/1-78th FA motor pool.In week 3, the students are exposed to the HIMARS, and learn the crew responsibilities, Lephart said. HIMARS has just as many performance steps as the MLRS.Week 4 instruction includes introduction to the Resupply Vehicle, or RSV, which is used with the HIMARS, he said. Because the RSV and the HIMARS use the same drive line (engine, transmission, frame, wheels), students go straight into resupply operations, and not PMCS.“The RSV is lightweight and can only carry two rocket pods, or two missiles,” he said. “Its crane is a little different (from HEMTT’s) and primarily operated by remote control.”The last week of AIT consists of a cumulative training exercise where the students use all their training, as well as all the Soldiers skills they learned in basic combat training, Lephart said.“They’re performing the upload and downloads of missile pods, and learn the tactical functions of the launchers, such as setting hiding, and firing points in the computer, and learning about what the launcher chief and gunner would do in the field,” he said. Students do not fire the MLRS/HIMARS during AIT.Students in Lephart’s Class No. 11-20 were in their final week of training and in the field May 6, watching an MLRS launch. Instructors use the firing not only as a training lesson for students, but also to maintain their own crew certifications, Lephart said.AIT student Pvt. Kaylee Haug, age 19, of Boise, Idaho, said she chose to go 13M because it is a combat arms MOS.“I was attracted to it because you're in the action, shooting rockets and missiles,” said Haug, who is a Wyoming National Guard Soldier.She said she feels good about going to her first duty assignment because of the quality of instruction she received.“My instructors are wonderful. They gave so much detail, were always asking us questions, and constantly pushing us to do our best,” she said. “They really care about us learning.”Student Pvt. Wayne Klier, 20, of Wills Point, Texas, said he joined the Army because it’s a family tradition. His father and grandfather are retired Soldiers.He said he found the most difficult part of the course to be the HEMTT uploads and downloads.“It’s challenging to get both pods up without hitting anything,” said Klier, who will be assigned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.Student Pvt. Ernesto Gamez, 20, of El Paso, was the class honor graduate, and as such he got to sit and observe in the M270A1 during its fires mission.“At first I was scared, but once you get inside you know what you’re doing and there’s nothing to be scared of. It’s fun.“Ever since Day 0, the instructors have been pushing to make sure you have your ‘bible’ (study guide). Once you read it, you know everything ( procedures).” Gamez will remain at Fort Sill for his first duty assignment with A Battery, 3rd Battalion, 13th Field Artillery.AIT interruptedShortly after the course began, the Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill had a three-week safety stand down because of the COVID-19 pandemic.Once they returned to their course, the students had to maintain social distancing in the classroom, ate chow in the battery area and not the dining facility, and could only be in groups of 12 or less, said Lephart.“The students wore masks, and they frequently washed their hands with sanitizers at building entrances and in the classroom,” he said. “It took a little more time, and a little more effort, but they got the same training they would have gotten anyway.”Class No. 11-20 graduated May 14, 2020, in a ceremony that was livestreamed..