Texas soldiers train on newest rocket launcher

Joint Task Force 136th (Maneuver Enhancement Brigade)
Story by Pfc. Praxedis Pineda

Date: 07.17.2011
Posted: 07.20.2011 20:28
News ID: 74038
Soldiers train with new weapon system

FORT HOOD, Texas - The horizon glistened and waved in the unyielding summer heat. As the countdown progresses to zero, uniformed artillerymen work their duty stations in preparation for the imminent explosion. With the call for “fire,” the rocket launcher’s monstrous boom leaves behind a towering cloud of smoke, followed by a distant impact seconds later as the weapon reaches it target.

Soldiers with 4th Battalion, 133rd Field Artillery, Texas Army National Guard field-tested the new M-142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System here for this year’s annual training. July 17 marked their final day of launches, after which they continued their summer training until the 22nd and returned to their unit headquarters in New Braunfels, Texas.

"This is the first time for us to launch in seven years", said Lt. Col. Steve Metze, the battalion commander. The unit is currently in the process of upgrading their equipment to a more easily deployed and versatile weapons system, said Metze.

Previous to the HIMARS, the battalion operated the 155mm SP Howitzers, a much larger device that required mounting on a track vehicle, such as a tank. The bulky rocket launcher further required a large specialty plane to transport it overseas. Also, many of the 133rd’s soldiers participating in the exercise came from 2-131 Field Artillery, where they fired the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System.

Both systems hold the same massive firepower, but unlike the M-270, the HIMARS can be transported in a smaller plane, such as the C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, which is more efficient and less expensive for the military.

The new weapons system is mounted on a five-ton truck and can reach speeds of over 50 miles per hour in transit. These increased speeds, combined with a faster reload time, enhance the overall effectiveness of artillery in modern warfare.

The M-142 uses the same controls, communications and crew as the old M-270 launcher, while speeding preparation time to an impressive 15 minutes for mission-readiness from the moment it lands. The launcher’s 227mm M-30 guided tactical rocket has a range of about 40 miles, offering top tier, long-range rocket artillery fire.

Now that the battalion has turned-in its outdated Howitzers, it anxiously awaits the time when it receives the newest field gear the Army has to offer.

"I think it may be one or two years before we receive our own HIMARS," said Metze. "Thankfully, the Oklahoma National Guard was able to provide support. They didn't have to help us; they are letting us use their equipment. Without it, we wouldn't be having this training."

158th Field Artillery Battalion, 45th Fires Brigade supplied the Texas troops with the much needed equipment for the unit's annual training this year. In addition to providing the HIMARS, the Oklahoma National Guard supported the training with a maintenance team to help the 133rd complete their mission.

"We help them with anything they needed," said Lt. Col. Rodney Davison, 45th Fires Brigade deputy commanding. "It is always a good thing when two states work together."

"This is an outstanding unit," said Davison. "They are extremely well led, extremely well rounded and extremely competent."

The unit began training on the weapon system in March. Soldiers attended three full days of training each month, leading to their 15-day annual training in July.

"We began at 40 percent," said Sgt. 1st Class Edward Sean Reeder, the Battalion fire direction chief. "The unit steadily progressed until they reached maximum efficiency. Today we were at 100 percent."

The unit would not have met the standard without the invaluable support of the local community. In addition to the interstate support provided by Oklahoma, the battalion enjoys remarkable encouragement from its home town. On the last training day, citizens of New Braunfels, including the mayor, attended the live-fire exercise.

The mayor also had the distinction of leading the countdown for the first missile launch of the day.

"This was such an experience," said Gale Pospisil, the mayor of New Braunfels. "This is my first time out here, and I couldn't believe how much power they had."

Her husband Vladimir, a former field artilleryman, and her daughter, a former Guardsman, give Pospisil a great appreciation for the military forces.

"It is my job to have the community show their support and help them keep doing what they're doing," said Pospisil.

"It was pretty neat to have the mayor here", said Reeder. "It opens us up and gives people a better understanding.”

After the 133rd completed their training, the smoke dissipated and the teams prepared to depart. Prior to the return trip home, Lt. Col. Metze hosted an informal ceremony recognizing local and regional dignitaries and support personnel for their role in the training.

"I think it went real well," said Reeder. "Next year, we hope to let families participate in the countdown," he said.

The battalion's unwavering dedication and solid relationship with the community ensures their effectiveness during overseas missions.

"This couldn't have gone any better," said Metze.