News: SC National Guard's 1-178 Field Artillery lights up sky over Fort Stewart
Story by Sgt. Erica Knight
GEORGETOWN, S.C. - The South Carolina National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 178th Field Artillery demonstrated the explosive firepower of the M109A6 Paladin Self Propelled Howitzer through day and night live fire exercises on the ranges of Fort Stewart, Ga., during their annual training March 2 to 16.
The soldiers spent five days in the field conducting fire missions. The most important mission that each battery completed was a manual computation and plotting for fire direction.
"Over the past decade we have lost a lot of institutional knowledge when we converted from manual means to automated means," said Lt. Col. Allen McLeod, 1-178th FA commander. "This exercise is the first step to allow the junior officers to learn or re-learn what has been taught during the past 60 years of field artillery fire."
He explained that, when deployed, the soldiers need to be able to complete their assigned missions with or without a computer.
"The forward observer, considered the eyes of field artillery, defines the target location,” said 1st Lt. Benjamin Yenicek, Alpha Battery fire direction officer (FDO). "To accurately hit our target we carefully calculate the target location, and the weapon location."
He explained that the FDO needs to take the gun variables, ammunition weight, and the elements into consideration."These variables are brought into calculations, computed and given in a very specific set of instructions to the howitzers."
Each battery was trying to bridge the knowledge gap between seasoned artillery Soldiers and those new to the battalion.
"I have been spending as much time as possible with my junior enlisted and junior officers teaching them the process of manually plotting and teaching them to use protractors instead of computers," said Capt. Kevin McClure, B Battery commander.
Many of the soldiers found successfully completing the challenge of the manual computations to be the highlight of annual training. Another highlight was the night exercises.
"We shoot illumination, followed by high explosive rounds underneath it," said Capt. Brunson DePass, C Battery commander. "That makes it possible to see the round and where it lands. This is something that we have not done in over 10 years."
Although each battery may get to train during drill weekends, annual training is the only time they are able to come together as a battalion to conduct missions. Over the course of the exercise the batteries fired approximately 650 rounds.
"Our number one goal is safety. Our number two goal is to give our guys the freedom to make mistakes, all within our safety parameters" said McLeod. "This is called annual training for a reason. We are allowed to make mistakes, we are allowed to learn from them and then we do it again and do it correctly."
Supporting the live fire units during annual training was the 1178th Forward Support Company. Their goal was to keep the soldiers in the field well provisioned and supported.
"We are a multi-function unit," said Capt. Tee Woodham, 1178th FSC commander. "The transportation, feeding, re-arming and refueling is what we do out here. If there is a gun that can't be fixed by the forward maintenance team, we evacuate the gun back here for repairs."
Most soldiers look forward to the challenge and camaraderie of annual training, and one particular soldier indicated that this annual training was his final one.
"This is my last AT before retiring and my first time back in the field after many years," said Sgt. 1st Class Timmy Tanner, a maintenance platoon sergeant with the 1178th FSC. "The Guard has come a long way and is much more high-tech since I was last in the field. Working with the people and training the young soldiers is what I am going to miss the most about the Guard."