FORT SILL, Oklahoma (Aug. 30, 2021) – 2nd Battalion, 2nd Field Artillery Soldiers beat most of the heat Aug. 27, with a direct-fire mission on M119A3 howitzers.
Evidence of the plentiful rains abounded at Firing Points 156W and 168 as weeds rose 5 to 6 feet high between emplaced guns.
Capt. Burns Farley, B Battery, 2-2nd FA commander, said Headquarters and Service Battery personnel resupplied the firing point early with ammunition and fuel to fire and move the battalion’s six guns.
“Direct fire is part of Table 6 certification, but most people just don’t actually get to do it,” he said.
But, Farley said the battalion’s Soldiers fire a lot of rounds as they provide artillery support for the Marine Artillery Detachment, the Fires Center of Excellence, Basic Officer Leaders Courses, and Advanced Individual Training.
Beyond training for this immediate support, Farley said the battalion wants its Soldiers ready for expectations at their next duty station.
“What we’re trying to do is fight (military occupational specialty) atrophy,” said the captain. “We want to make sure that when these Soldiers go out to Forces Command (FORSCOM) units that they are MOS ready to move up to the next position and haven’t forgotten everything they need to know for FORSCOM.”
Training began with Farley’s three gun crews firing 20 rounds apiece in what he called Killer Junior.
“This is air-burst munitions that result in fragmentation to counter ground troops coming at you,” he said.
In this case, that enemy force was represented by derelict vehicles about 600 to 1,000 meters away. Certainly not a long distance for enemy troops who aren’t just moving toward the 2-2nd FA gun emplacements, but firing, too. While technology has made the art of field artillery much easier, Farley said the Killer Junior shoot would take that technology – laser range finders – out of the Soldiers’ hands.
“They need to aim through the gunner’s sight and estimate distance with maps, binoculars, and terrain association,” he said.
Sgt. Tyler Johnson did have the use of a computer that he said sets the fuze time, or how long the 105mm round is in the air before it explodes. He said it also records missions fired with specific data that can be checked to ensure safe firing.
Morale seemed high with the Soldiers as evidenced by Johnson’s thoughts on the training.
“I love it, we don’t get to do it often so it’s pretty cool to be able to do this,” he said.
Spc. Matthew Rayburn sat in the gunner’s position taking aim and firing when ready.
“I’m coming from a Paladin, the M109A6; to shoot this artillery piece is just worlds different, and I love it. It’s great work – and a lot of work, but to see your rounds impact it’s by far one of the coolest things I’ve done in the Army.”
As gunner’s assistant Spc. Dylan Horton loaded and locked shells into the breech, five other crewmembers attended to their various duties. One of the features of the M119A3 is its “portability” in that two crewmembers can move the gun to the next spot the gunner needs to fire from.
“Once they get it emplaced, I take the sights and set it on the target and send rounds downrange,” said Rayburn.
As the artillery pieces continued to report each round expelled, medical expertise was waiting in case a Soldier got injured.
Medic Sgt. Joseph Gast said their medical care begins right at the gun.
“We do our immediate medical interventions, get them loaded up and transported directly to the closest ambulance exchange point (AXP),” he said. On the way they would call Range Control to have an ambulance meet them at the AXP.
His medic partner, Spc. Thomas Ratzel said Fort Sill has a lot of safety procedures and plans in place to deal with the worst case scenarios. This begins with AXPs every five kilometers around a training range. There’s three AXPs on the basic training side of post, and six on the main post.
“We don’t have to think about what our grid is or where we’re at, we know the nearest AXP is Echo at the intersection of Tower Two and Deer Creek roads and that’s the agreed upon meeting location,” said Ratzel, who added this minimizes the wait time for the injured Soldier.
Should injuries be life threatening, the medics can perform a 9-line immediate medical evacuation to either Comanche County Memorial Hospital in Lawton, or Oklahoma City.
Once Farley’s crews finished, A Battery Commander Capt. Catherine Grizzle’s three gun crews took their turn.
The battalion then moved to Firing Point 156W for direct fire on targets 1,000 to 1,500 meters away.
The six gun crews fired 180 rounds first at the section level, then battery level before completing the day with a battalion full gun line direct fire mission, said Farley, thoroughly enjoying his second battery command.
“I love it. Anytime I get to shoot artillery I’m in a good mood,” said the eight-year veteran.