FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- Commanders have a choice as to how they deal with the impact of impending budget cuts on troop training, according to one airborne artillery commander.
Recently concluding "gun raid" training here during which field artillery pieces were lifted by helicopter to a firing location, fired by artillerymen, and returned by helicopter in a matter of hours, the 3rd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment's commander, Lt. Col. Phillip Jenison, said that such hand's-on training may be less common in the months and years ahead.
Airborne artillerymen train to parachute into a location with their howitzers or to air assault them in by helicopter, and have them firing within 25 minutes, said Jenison. It's a timeline that takes repeated practice to achieve, and that can be expensive.
"Is the glass half full or half empty?" Jenison quipped with regard to the imminent Department of Defense belt tightening. "I prefer to see it as half full."
"I know how to make a budget," said the former enlisted artilleryman who also commanded one of the battalion's artillery batteries during the early stages of the war in Afghanistan. "I 'grew up' with a budget as a lieutenant and a captain. We have to know how to account for our monies."
While nothing quite takes the place of emplacing artillery by aircraft and firing live rounds at real targets, much of what makes for a successful artillery team is building muscle memory, and much of that can be done in an open field without live rounds, he said.
"It will require creative thinking on how we train," Jenison said, but with the profession of artillery and the Army in general both experiencing great change, that's a foregone conclusion.
For instance, over the past several deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, 3-319th AFAR has been used for convoy and base security, counterinsurgency-type infantry operations and, yes, providing artillery support for the infantry. At the same time, artillery's place within the Army's structure has morphed from being a corps and division asset to being one of six roughly equal constituents serving a brigade combat team, he said.
Jenison's battalion belongs to the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team.
Artillery supports infantry, and as the Army regains its decisive action focus and proceeds with plans to augment each BCT with an additional infantry battalion, Jenison expects his artillery battalion to add an additional battery to support it. However, until that happens, it remains to be determined how that firepower will be spread across the brigade's three infantry battalions, he said.
Jenison's battalion has also been selected to field the Army's new all-digital, M119A3 105mm lightweight howitzer, due off the assembly line in March 2013. Onboard self-locating gyros and other high-tech tools will cut the time his gunners can fire a cannon that has been moved from 6 minutes to under a minute.
"At the end of the day, we get paid to deliver rounds downrange to kill the enemy," he said. "We can't forget that, because as an artillery battalion, we've been doing a lot of different things to stay relevant to the fight."
Jenison, who hails from Tennessee, said that one possible benefit of the budget constraints is that the pace of training may slow down enough for troops to regain some necessary aspects of paratrooper life that have fallen by the wayside after a decade of war.
Those include renewed focus on developing junior paratroopers through regularly scheduled counseling and "sergeant's time" training, and better preventive maintenance of weapons, vehicles and other equipment, he said.
Reinvesting time into those pursuits can help bring back a level of predictability absent from the ranks for some time, he said, and that will foster a more professional artilleryman with a higher esprit de corps.
"My priorities are fighting, fitness, being fundamentally focused, flexibility, family and fun," he said.
Jenison took command of 3-319th AFAR in late 2012 following the battalion's return from Ghazni province, Afghanistan, where it provided artillery support for 1/82.