News: Airborne artillerymen return to their trade
Story by Sgt. Mike MacLeod
FORT BRAGG, N.C. – An airborne field artillery battalion parachuted in and practiced setting up air-droppable howitzers on a drop zone here Dec. 3, a return to their native trade following several deployments of nonstandard missions.
The unit, 3rd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, prepositioned M119A2 105mm howitzers on the ground and dropped in gun crews, security and support personnel, and emplaced the artillery to fire.
“Probably 50% or more of the battalion has never seen a howitzer on a drop zone rigged,” said battalion commander, Lt. Col. David S. Pierce. “This gave us the first step to build those foundational blocks that will allow us to do this at full speed.”
“We only got to the walk phase today. The next time we do this, we’ll be at the run phase, and then every time after that, we’ll get a little bit better and faster, and hopefully by the time we reach our [mission readiness exercise], we’ll meet our time standards of 25 minutes at night, 20 minutes in the daytime,” he said.
Pierce said the exercise was controlled chaos, with artillery batteries divided into little groups of Paratroopers to perform the functions needed to set up and fire the guns.
Safety of the paratroopers and retention of equipment is job one during the airborne exercise, according to Command Sgt. Maj. Joey Love, the unit’s highest-ranking noncommissioned officer, after 25 years, still enjoys artillery.
Besides the inherent risk of parachuting, moving the two-ton cannon from its packing platform was the greatest source of danger in the exercise, called a “heavy drop” when the guns are actually parachuted to the ground, said Love.
Once paratroopers landed and assembled, instead of racing through the gun setup, an NCO directed and narrated the process to troops not directly involved.
“Because it has been two-and-a-half years since we’ve pulled guns off platforms on a drop zone, one of our greatest challenges is to rebuild that institutional knowledge of how it is done to standard,” said Love.
The section chief of the gun, Sgt. Michael Prater of Battery B, said that getting crew drills down to a science was critical for every gun crew, typically seven artillerymen.
“Honing of the crew drills – emplacing the gun itself, taking off the tire, putting down the base plate, putting the gun into service – is what we’re here to learn,” he said.
The battery hopes to execute four to five heavy drops in the next year, said Pierce.