By Spc. Hannah Frenchick, 20th Public Affairs DetachmentAugust 20, 2011
TRAINING CENTER, Wash. " Billows of smoke rise from the rolling hills as the loud boom of cannons thunder throughout the empty golden wasteland of the Yakima Training Center. With the hot sun beating on their backs the Gunslingers are spending their days perfecting their aim at a field training exercise during the middle of August.
Three to five minutes are all Soldiers have to set up an M777 howitzer to fire. Patiently waiting on top of a large hill for grid coordinates, they tell stories or joke to pass the time. Once, the section chief shouts the order, "prepare to fire," to his team, he enters in the correct coordinates before sending the 80-to-109 pound round into the rolling hills.
Forty-three seconds later, a large cloud of smoke rises from the valley. Someone begins telling another story while waiting for the next call.
"This type of training is helping my Soldiers develop the skills, the confidence in their skills, ability to recognize any situation and how the weapon performs," said Sgt. 1st Class Edgar Campos-Flores, 3rd platoon sergeant, Bravo Battery, 1-377th FA. "When we get in country, they are familiar with the weapon and the type of mission we have to do with the weapon."
Soldiers must also have assurance that everyone in their section is proficient in their tasks when using a multi-manned weapon such as the howitzer.
"It takes a lot of teamwork," said Staff Sgt. Jason Lawson, section chief, Bravo Battery, 1-377th FA. "It takes at least ten people to run this piece. If you don't have your crew drills down then you aren't going to get your rounds downrange as fast as the infantry needs you too."
Teamwork isn't the only thing that has made them a well-oiled machine. Soldiers cross trained on the ten tasks it takes to operate the howitzer. The cross training has prepared them to take over another job if one person is unable to complete their task.
"We all are cross-trained, everybody knows everybody's job," said Lawson. "That's one of the main things we work on because we have a four minute crew drill, and we will switch people around so everybody has the same time no matter where they are at in the piece."
The Gunslingers' Commander, Lt. Col. Charles Roede, 1-377, 17th FIB, is confident that his troops will be successful.
"The bottom line is they're doing great," expressed Roede. "Our last exercise out here was in June and they are building on the foundations they laid in June and I see improvements every day. They're certainly on track."