By Levi Spellman, 214th Fires Brigade, Fort Sill, Okla.April 30, 2010
FORT SILL, Okla. - On the morning of April 7, rocket exhaust billowed across the early sky and Spc. Derek Kirkman smiled. Following the fading ember, his head turned, and then back again as the second rocket fired, completely obscuring the launcher in a deadly cloud of hot vapors.
As a human resources specialist with HHB, 214th Fires Brigade, Kirkman witnessed a side of the Army he had never seen before, and became a little better acquainted with the field artillery mission. However, things were about to become much more intimate.
Crewmembers of the 2nd Battalion, 4th Field Artillery charged through the smoke and out into daylight to reload their launcher, nicknamed "Bacon." They policed up the watching Kirkman. Within minutes, heavier by 12 rockets and one human resources specialist, Bacon was repositioned for another attack, ready to fire.
"I've been here since late 2008, and mostly all I've been doing is paperwork - and a lot of it - and I like doing my job. But, to see another aspect of the military, people on the front lines who are really in the [fight]... I enjoyed it."
Though he said he is committed to fulfilling his duties and obligations in combat, Kirkman considers himself to be more laid-back than the average Soldier. However, he said the rigid demeanor of many combat arms units - and the awards for them that pass across his desk - are now easier to understand after seeing what they do.
The opportunity to attend the live fire exercise came from a morning chat he had with Col. Mike Cabrey, the commander of the 214th FB. Once Cabrey discovered that Kirkman had never seen a launch, he arranged for Kirkman to accompany him the next morning.
"For someone who's so high-ranking, he's really easy to talk to," said Kirkman. "He'll actually hold a conversation with you."
As a leader, Cabrey often takes one of his Soldiers along to see some of the Army's more impressive sights. One of the reasons Cabrey likes to familiarize young Soldiers with the combat elements they support is to help them acquire an appreciation for their role in accomplishing the larger mission.
"[Having] teams who actually see themselves as a team makes being a leader a lot easier," said Cabrey.
While military leadership is often exercised as a science, the effects Cabrey achieves with these excursions are equally human and personal.
"When you have that kind of rank, you don't have to pay attention to [anybody]," said Kirkman. "It's nice to be able to respect the man as well as the rank."
Overall, the experience is one Kirkman says he will always remember and one he would recommend to anyone.
"I think anybody that's stationed here should see it. How can you PCS from the home of the field artillery and never see them firing a rocket' It's like working at IHOP and never eating a pancake," he said.
"It's definitely one of the nicest experiences I've had in the military," he added.