By Mollie Miller, 1st Inf. Div. Public AffairsApril 30, 2012
FORT RILEY, Kan. - As the first round from the M109A6 Paladin Howitzer flew over the rolling hills of the Fort Riley training area April 24, Soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division's 1st Battalion, 7th Field Artillery cheered as if they had just won the Super Bowl, slapped each other on the back and toasted the accomplishment with bright blue bottles of Gatorade.
For the troops from the "First Lightning" battalion, the round that seemed to sail effortlessly into the post's impact area represented the first round the unit had fired in two years and the success was certainly cause for celebration.
"We have waited a long time to hear that bang," First Lightning commander Lt. Col. Andrew Gainey said. "It sounds great."
For the past two years, Gainey's Soldiers from the division's 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team have been engaged in training and missions that took them away from their traditional field artillery roles. Last year, during a 12 month deployment to Iraq, the 1-7 FA Soldiers put their guns away and fell in on an infantry mission focused on counterinsurgency operations and training local Iraqi security forces. When they returned to the Flint Hills in November 2011, Gainey's team decided it was time for the First Lightning troops to get back to the business that had brought them into the Army.
"It is good to do other missions but when you get to do what you came into the Army to do there is a different level of excitement," said Command Sgt. Maj. Phong Tran, the battalion's senior noncommissioned officer.
Last week's live fire exercise kicked off April 23 with nearly 400 Soldiers deploying themselves and their equipment to the field. The successful deployment to the field was one of six training objectives the battalion team had identified for the weeklong training exercise. Additional objectives for the live fire included transitioning the battalion from a maneuver to an artillery mission and practicing battle tracking and reporting procedures.
"We are now getting back to the basic core competencies of the job, the basic standard operating precisions" Tran said. "That means we are delivering indirect fire accurately and quickly downrange."
1st Lt. Carlos Trujillo was happy to get back into the field with his team and was focused on making sure his troops regained confidence in field artillery skills that have been unused for several years.
"We have a lot of sergeants and staff sergeants who have never shot before or have not shot since (advanced individual training)," Trujillo said. "We are bringing them back to the basic skills they should have been learning throughout their careers but haven't because of the different missions."
Staff Sgt. Craig Hainds and his team from 7th section qualified during the training exercise's third day. The career field artillery Soldier said he was happy to be back doing the job he came in the Army to do.
"We are getting back into it at a slower pace to make sure everything is working well and we are doing everything safely," he said. "I've got a good crew here."
In total, the battalion fired 140 rounds and qualified 12 crews during the weeklong field exercise. Gainey said his entire team received some great training and will now be able to focus on continuing to build and improve their core competencies.
The Soldiers from 1st Bn., 7th Field Artillery Regt., will return to the field later this year for platoon, company and, eventually, battalion-level training and certification.