By Marie BerbereaMay 20, 2011
FORT SILL -- Advanced Individual Training Soldiers completed their capstone event prior graduating the six-week field artillery course.
Like a relay race as soon as the baton (or firing order) was handed over, the soon-to-be 13B-Cannon Crew members had to move fast. In less than a minute Soldiers of D Battery, 1st Battalion, 78th Field Artillery loaded light and heavy field artillery weapons and fired. And, they did it while checking and double-checking to make sure they did it properly.
"In a normal unit you have 30 seconds from the last digit of the quadrant, so if the quadrant reads 3-4-6, when they say 6, your time starts and you have 30 seconds and then, boom!" said Staff Sgt. Matthew Gehling.
Under the concealment of camouflage nets they put all their knowledge to use on how to fire M119A2s, M102s, M777s and Paladins as they let the rounds fly.
They were not alone in their live fire exercise as Soldiers from two other military occupational specialties were also learning to pull the fight together and perform in a joint environment.
"It's the field artillery team. And the gunnery team you have to have all three elements or you're not going to fire,"said Staff Sgt. Joshua Kuhnert, 13D instructor.
While 13Bs learned their explosive MOS, 13D-Field Artillery Automated Tactical Data System Specialists and 13F-Forward Observers executed what Capt. Thomas Veld, 1-78 commander, called the "brains"and "eyes" of the operation.
The cannon crew members were described as the "brawn"as they had to literally muscle munitions weighing up to 98 pounds in some weapons and ram them into place.
During the 13B course, Soldiers learned how to start and maintain wire and radio communications; identify target locations; operate self-propelled howitzers, ammunition trucks and other vehicles; participate in reconnaissance operations and use computer generated fire direction data to set the elevation of the cannon tube for loading and firing.
A crucial part of the curriculum is learning how to set a fuse and charge on those munitions. Students said it was definitely challenging as they had to learn a variety of combinations that are vital to where the round finally lands. One mistake and nearby Fort Sill residents would not be very happy.
Veld said while safety incidents are rare, he would like an extra week to train Soldiers before firing the real thing.
"I want to make sure they're putting the right fuse in there with the right charge, because if not, the round is not going to go where you want it to," he said.
Before the Soldiers even load ammunition or set a charge, they make sure they have the deflection and elevation of the gun correct. The student who is acting as the radio and telephone operator calls out the coordinates and the firing chief, who is also a course instructor, verifies.The No. 1 guy on the gun sets the coordinates, which are again verified by the chief. Then the ammo is checked and loaded before making a hasty exit downrange.
For such a tedious list of safety checks, in real time the scene is similar to watching a swarm of bees fly fast and furiously.
On the M119A2 the Soldiers literally had to make their ammunition count. They loaded bags of powder into the round according to how far they wanted it to go.
"We're shooting a charge four. Which means they're only shooting the first four bags. So bags five, six and seven will come back out here to the powder pit," said Gehling.
After the Soldier broke off the last three bags of ammunition and held them up for the firing chief to check one final time a huge boom belched from the weapon along with a plume of flame and smoke.
As far as what part of the course the students liked the best, they emphasized they were in it for the explosions.
It was summed up with one silly grin after Pvt. Kenny Davis pulled the lanyard on an M777,"It's crazy. I hadn't fired anything yet until just now. My heart is still beating fast."
The Soldiers graduated the 13B course May 13.