FORT SILL, Okla. (April 23, 2012) -- Elements of the 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg, N.C., parachuted into one of Fort Sill's drop zones last week for a joint fires exercise.

1st Battalion, 321st Airborne Field Artillery dropped an M777 155mm howitzer and about 90 paratroopers on the Snow Ridge drop zone from two C-17 Globemaster III transports from Altus Air Force Base.

The exercise tested the global response force of the 18th Fires Brigade, part of the 82nd Airborne Division, said Lt. Col. Jim Wanovich, 1-321st AFA, battalion commander. Wanovich served as the airborne and ground force commander for the entire mission.


"We always have at least two M777 howitzers and two HIMARS launchers ready at any time to be up in the air to go anywhere in the world. We provide support for the Brigade Combat Teams of the 82nd Airborne Division," said the colonel. "So to be able to come to Fort Sill and to use the C-17s provided by the 97th Air Mobility Wing out of Altus Air Force Base, this has been a very productive training event, not only for our forces but for Altus and for Fort Sill as well," he said.

The airborne elements were picked up at Fort Bragg and flew directly to Fort Sill to make the jumps, and then fire rounds downrange.

"We fired 16 live rounds from the M777 howitzer and six rockets from the HIMARS. Our battalion, the 1st of the 321st Airborne Field Artillery is the only airborne M777s in the Army. So we're the only ones who drop our howitzers from aircraft and then jump and put them into action on the drop zone. We do this fairly often, as often as we can," Wanovich said.

Wanovich added the biggest part of the training event was to fly out of Fort Bragg. As a contingency force, their mission is to support the Brigade Combat Teams of the 82nd Airborne Division. They have to be able to deploy and fly anywhere in the world within 18 hours, and be able to parachute in and provide fires support to the Brigade Combat Teams.

Watch and learn

Some 200 Soldiers from the Fort Sill Advanced Individual Training program eagerly observed the airborne exercises. Many of them liked what they saw.

"It was definitely an experience watching all of the paratroopers jumping out of those big planes as they flew over us. I wouldn't have seen that back home. I liked it and it made me want to join an airborne unit," said Pvt. Jose Hernandez, B Battery, 1-78th Field Artillery.

"When they dropped the howitzer that was amazing. It's amazing what the Army can drop out of a plane. It landed within 30 yards of the drop zone," said Pvt. Michael Hawks, B/1-78th FA. "You could see what the Soldiers were doing. They were on point and they didn't miss a beat."

One of the M777 howitzer gun crewmen, Sgt. Adam Gallegos, B/1-321st AFA, summed up the importance of the exercise.

"I hope that these AIT Soldiers saw what we were doing and said to themselves 'That is a cool thing to do. I want to do that in my military career.' I hope they will want to take things to the next level in their career and try to get the most out of the Army by going airborne," Gallegos said.

Real-world training

Wanovich has deployed nine times, and was involved in the first 82nd Airborne Division mission to Afghanistan after 9/11. He said coming to Fort Sill was a good real-world exercise for his paratroopers.

"This is unfamiliar terrain, an unfamiliar drop zone and so everybody has to step up their game and understand that it's a different environment. Obviously with the mountains it's just like Afghanistan. You have intervening crests and things like that. So now the safety of your howitzers and projectiles is a little different," he said.

Everything didn't go exactly as planned. One of the aircraft developed a problem that prevented it from dropping the second howitzer. It was offloaded at Fort Sill's Henry Post Army Air Field when the HIMARS launchers were unloaded. A couple minor injuries were also sustained by paratroopers, but they were treated in the field. Fortunately, the famed Oklahoma wind cooperated by blowing at a mere five knots, well below the 13-knot limit for dropping paratroopers and the 17-knot limit for dropping the howitzers.

"Overall the exercise went well, and the great thing is the quality of our young paratroopers and our young Soldiers. To be able to strap yourself into about 100 pounds of gear, throw yourself out of a C-17 airplane at about 800 feet above ground, to land, move to the howitzer, de-rig it and get it ready to fire safely in a short time. That is remarkable that these young paratroopers can do that. It is a tribute to the strength of our Army," Wanovich said.