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    Oregon National Guard artillery battalion tests new weapons capability

    Oregon Field Artillery fires M777A for first time

    Photo By Maj. Leslie Reed | An Oregon Army National Guard Soldier with Charlie Battery, 2nd Battalion, 218th Field...... read more read more



    Story by Capt. Leslie Reed 

    41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team

    YAKIMA, WASHINGTON - - The Oregon Army National Guard’s only field artillery unit, 2nd Battalion, 218th Field Artillery Regiment, 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team, had the opportunity to show-off it’s new M777A Howitzer capability during their two-week annual training, in May 2016, at the Yakima Training Center near Yakima, Washington.

    The new weapons system is assigned specifically to the battalion’s new Charlie Battery, which was stood up just a year ago as part of the U.S. Army’s transformation process. The other batteries in the battalion fire M119A3 Howitzers.

    Oregon Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class John Clevenger, a gunnery sergeant with Charlie Battery, 2-218th Field Artillery Battalion, said that the battery is making necessary progress,“We’re suppose to have 107 (personnel) on the books, but we only have probably 50, so it’s one big family, and we are all taking our share of the responsibilities and duties.”

    That was exactly what took place during their familiarization fire, with the two Charlie Battery firing teams leap-frogging; each team firing three of the six total M777A Howitzers.

    2nd Lt. Kalani Scott, the 1st Platoon leader with Charlie Battery, 2-218th Field Artillery Battalion, echoed the gunnery sergeant, saying that they are slowly continuing to build and that while it’s been a tedious process, in addition to getting the correct and sufficient number of equipment, that the last couple of months have been extremely fast-paced.

    Clevenger recalls the ball starting to roll quickly about a year ago, when a plan was put in place regarding the new guns. Charlie Battery then stood up and federal recognition soon followed.

    “It’s been a slow-rolling process for some and too soon, too quick for others,” said Clevenger, who also works for the battery full-time. ”We’re trying to fit 10-pounds of stuff in a 5-pound sack.”

    There were individuals selected for Charlie Battery that came from both inside the battalion and were recruited from outside of the battalion, to include former military police, aviation, engineers, and battalion support personnel.

    “Everyone has been coming from everywhere,” said Clevenger. “Nobody knows this weapons system and it gives people the opportunity to have a fresh start on a weapons system that no unit here in Oregon has ever used. Anyone can join this unit, we can take from any unit, we sort of feel like this is our own ‘Field of Dreams,’ and we are building it.”

    Scott said the battery benefitted when the U.S. Army sent a training unit (called a Mobile Training Team or MTT) to Oregon to help those switching over from other military occupational specialties (MOS) to the 13-Bravo series (cannon crewmember), instead of having to send the Soldiers out of state to MOS qualification school.

    Months of preparation and training led up to the familiarization firing in May.

    “Finally getting the weapons systems now, the Soldiers have been anticipating getting these for a long time,” said Clevenger. “They are ready to go. They’ve been going through the motions. They are one entity, with one common task and they’ve been executing it to standard. The teams that we’ve made in Charlie Battery, it’s a group coming together as one that I’m not sure I’ve seen in any other unit, for the goal of shooting the 777’s.”

    On the morning of the May 22, 2016 with both the battalion and a handful of brigade staff on site to witness, the six M777A’s fired their first rounds over the terrain at the Yakima Training Center in central Washington.

    The first rounds had to be fired with a 25-foot lanyard, because some of the main components on the M777A’s were used (all the electronic components were brand new). This safety measure is standard procedure after retrieving items from maintenance to ensure the refurbished weapons were put back together safely. The lanyard was pulled behind a truck for the first shot with each of the guns. After that, the guns then rolled into a fire-for-effect; firing eight rounds per gun.

    Clevenger said the M777A’s nearly double the distance the battalion can cover on the battlefield.

    “Our medium howitzers will still cover a distance in a shorter amount of time, and we can cover them while they move, “ he said. “We will also able to cover our brigade infantry battalions as they move, to quicken their time, and open up more space for them to maneuver.”

    Pvt. Cole Nelson, #2 cannonnier, with Charlie Battery, 2-218th Field Artillery Battalion was pumped following the conclusion of the familiarization fire.

    “It was amazing, the impact hitting you. I’ve done the M119s but never the triple 7’s. The 119-ers compared to this, is like a peashooter, it’s very small; the blast will still rock you, but not like the 777. You can definitely feel how much power is behind these.”
    Prior to the live-fire, the battery performed rehearsals, known as dry-fire, to ensure all the crewmembers knew what to watch for when the time came to fire live rounds. The dry-fire rehearsals are another standard procedure to ensure safety.

    “During the dry-fire, it’s a lot easier, going through the motions and learning it,” recalled Nelson. “Compared to this (live familiarization firing), when you can see how things can go wrong at any minute, you’ve got to check what you’re doing and definitely stick with that training.”

    Nelson had originally started out in Alpha Battery, but then volunteered to switch to Charlie Battery, which of course came with a little “ribbing” from his peers.

    “When I’m out there, I know I have people watching my back, making sure everything is running smooth,” said Nelson. “It’s just a crazy feeling, feeling the earth shake and that impact hitting you.”



    Date Taken: 09.20.2016
    Date Posted: 09.20.2016 18:23
    Story ID: 210125

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