By Wisconsin Army National Guard press releaseSeptember 14, 2009
In field artillery parlance, massing fires means that multiple cannons aim at the same target for maximum effect.
In much the same way, officials of the Wisconsin National Guard's Regional Training Institute at Fort McCoy, Wisc., hope that closer coordination with the Field Artillery School at Fort Sill, the Fires Center of Excellence, will result in can't-miss training for both Guard and active Army Soldiers.
To that end, Brig. Gen. Ross Ridge, commandant of the United States Army Field Artillery School, visited the Wisconsin RTI Aug. 29, accompanied by Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson, Wisconsin's assistant adjutant general for Army as well as the Deputy Commanding General - Army National Guard, for the FCOE.
"It was a home run," said Col. Kenneth Koon, commander of the 426th Regiment which operates the RTI, and also the 16th commandant of the Wisconsin Military Academy which houses the RTI. "It was exactly what we wanted to achieve. To have the chief of the field artillery school come to our schoolhouse was a significant event."
This marked the first time an active component school commandant had visited any National Guard RTI, Anderson said. The Wisconsin RTI is designated as the field artillery subject matter expert for the National Guard - Koon referred to the school as the "Fort Sill of the National Guard."
Shortly after arriving at the RTI, Ridge began discussing how the active duty and National Guard schoolhouses could work together, and spoke of breaking down barriers between the two components.
"We may be better served by a closer relationship," Ridge said. "You should be able to leverage the same things we're developing, so the same thing we have in the classroom at Fort Sill is available here."
Anderson said that hardware and software improvements could provide quick results to the RTI in the short term. Improved connectivity, for example, would allow for distance learning opportunities so that portions of various courses may be attended by students in multiple remote sites.
Ridge described a university concept in which the field artillery school at Fort Sill was the main campus, and schools such as the Wisconsin RTI served as extension campuses. Koon suggested to Ridge that active duty Soldiers may choose to attend classes here due to the compressed schedule. National Guard schoolhouses typically feature longer class days and continue classes over weekends to meet the required instruction time in the fewest days, Koon said. A recent change in funding procedures will make it easier for RTIs to be reimbursed for training active Army Soldiers.
Koon outlined the various training provided at the Wisconsin RTI. In addition to field artillery training, the RTI conducts schools for officer and warrant officer candidates, combat lifesaver training, and boasts a unique simulation center offering training for weapons, vehicles and convoys. The schoolhouse also can send teams of instructors to remote sites, and recently dispatched a team to Kosovo to teach infantry certification to83 students there. The Wisconsin RTI has been named a Center of Excellence, and the school's basic non-commissioned officer course also received a Center of Excellence rating.
Koon said the Wisconsin RTI was not typical, but not unique.
"It's that flavor that's missed by the active component - all the things we do," he said. The potential for sharing resources and expertise seemed to appeal to Ridge. "Instead of me setting up something at Fort Sill, how can I leverage the RTIs to set up these courses'" he asked. "We have an opportunity with the transformation of the Fires Center of Excellence - we need to find a way to exploit this."
Anderson agreed. He said one of his first focuses as deputy assistant commandant will be to visit with other regional training institutes "so we're not double-tapping," or duplicating efforts. Koon saw many positives from the visit.
"The field artillery is far and away on the leading edge of building the 'university' concept," he said. "It's really exciting that [Ridge] sees us as an extension of his university." "I think one of the main things Brig. Gen. Ridge gained from the visit was the personal perspective of the RTI's capabilities, facilities and professionalism of its cadre," Anderson said. "Now he can fully understand why Wisconsin's RTI has that [Center of Excellence for field artillery training] designation."
Koon noted that National Guard field artillery units have not always been regarded on equal terms with active Army units, despite the fact that approximately half of the Army's artillery is in the Guard.
"Brig. Gen. Ridge has indicated a desire to be more inclusive," Koon said."We have an awful lot to offer."
Ridge expressed interest in better partnering between the Fires Center of Excellence and the various regional training institutes.
"Within the context of constrained resources and competing needs, it is imperative to complement each other's training programs," Anderson said. "Brig. Gen. Ridge's visit gave him a first-hand viewpoint of where we can link those capabilities." Koon projected the potential of such a partnership.
"I would like to see, sometime in the future, us become a real live advanced individual training site," he said. Soldiers earn their military occupational specialty, or MOS, during advanced individual training. If Koon's wish were realized, the Wisconsin RTI would become even more of a "Fort Sill of the National Guard."