By Spc. Anthony Jones
Oklahoma National Guard
CAMP GRAYLING, Mich., (7/7/10) - As the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team prepares for possible deployment to Afghanistan in 2011, the Soldiers of the brigade’s 1st Battalion, 160th Field Artillery traveled here to test their mettle with a new cannon system.
The M119A2 Howitzer replaces the unit’s decades old M102 Howitzer, which first saw action during the Vietnam War.
The battalion will receive 16 new M119A2s, a system developed more than 20 years ago with constant improvements being made to the cannon, said Lt. Col. Jimmy Thomas, the unit commander.
“The M102 Howitzer is actually a Vietnam era system and there are no longer repair parts available,” he said. “We have had significant issues on keeping them maintained and keeping them firing.
“The operational readiness of the unit will stay higher, due to the fact we have a newer system we can maintain, and we see as more reliable thanks to the improvements over the years.”
The first week of the 160th’s training focused familiarizing the Soldiers with the new system.
“This training has been pretty challenging,” said Staff. Sgt. Christopher Markgraf, a section chief with Battery A. “We are firing this weapons system for the first time. You really have to know what you are doing with this system. My crew really likes this system and is assimilating to it really well.”
To become qualified on the M119A2 Howitzer, the Soldiers of the 160th underwent training provided by the Illinois National Guard.
“We cover orientation, maintenance, disassembly and reassembly and teach all the way up to lay procedures in the fire point,” said Staff Sgt. Jason Perez an instructor with the Illinois National Guard’s 2nd Battalion, 123rd Field Artillery, who has been teaching National Guard Soldiers across the United States on the use of the new cannon.
The battalion had four days of hands-on training with the new cannons prior to each gun crew being issued 10 rounds to validate the training. After completing the crawl and walk phases of training the trainers allowed the battalion to plan and execute their own missions to test the tactical proficiency of their Soldiers.
“Anyone who has worked with artillery will tell you speed counts,” said Staff Sgt. Matthew Martin, a section chief with Battery B and a field artilleryman of 21 years. “That’s the whole purpose. You need to get the rounds down range safely.
“My guys are true professionals. I am totally impressed with the way they retain the information and apply it and how they are constantly improving. Every mission is better than the last one.”
The importance of the training is critical with the unit’s possible upcoming deployment to Afghanistan, said Sgt. Dontarious Morgan, one of the Illinois National Guard trainers.
“These Howitzers are used a lot in Afghanistan so these guys will be ready if they need it,” he said.
“The Oklahoma Soldiers are probably the best gun crews we have had here. They came here motivated, ready to learn and ready to fire. I believe this has been the easiest group to teach that we have ever had.”