The 18th Field Artillery Brigade recently completed a brigade field training exercise marking the end of a four-month training path. The exercise featured high mobility artillery rocket system battery night live-fire qualifications, distribution and maintenance platoon live fires, deployment readiness exercises, and battery/company external evaluations. The FTX was a multi-echelon training event designed to evaluate unit readiness for Global Response Force and prepare-to-deploy-order missions.
The operation started with initiation of the 96-hour alert sequence at the battery/company level to validate contingency mission readiness.
Battery A, 3rd Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment was the first battery to receive notification. The unit worked through the tactical order, rehearsals, equipment preparation and inspections before loading on C-17 aircraft for deployment from Pope Field to Camp Mackall.
At about 11 p.m., on Oct. 25, 1st Lt. Amanda Schmidt led her platoon through the reception of the HIMARS package at Mackall Airfield. After her platoon received a mission brief, they convoyed 40 kilometers to Fort Bragg’s Sicily Drop Zone where the platoon launched M31 rockets at a simulated enemy objective in the darkness of night.
“My Soldiers really enjoy this type of training,” said Schmidt. “If we received the mission to deploy with the GRF, we would know what to do.”
“I felt the EDRE (emergency deployment readiness exercise) kept our motivation going through the rest of the training,” Schmidt said. “And for our Soldiers to see the planning process from the beginning to the event’s execution makes our Soldiers appreciate the training we are doing for them.”
The unit will not always have aircraft to load vehicles and equipment at night or in any austere conditions. Without aircraft, Schmidt’s platoon rehearsed at night with red beams and chemical lights to simulate what would occur on a field landing strip.
“In order to become proficient you have to rehearse by any means necessary,” she said.
Global Response Force units have a short-time suspense to accomplish their missions. Brigade evaluators assessed HIMARS crews against realistic time constraints to perform fire missions. The time on target mission was a method for 3rd Bn., 27th FAR HIMARS crews to achieve GRF readiness standards.
Staff Sgt. Annie Sparks, a HIMARS crew chief with Co. B, 3rd Bn., 27th FAR, kept her crew motivated to meet their TOT mission.
During a TOT mission, Sparks’ HIMARS vehicle uploaded ammunition pods and fuel at the 188th Brigade Support Battalion resupply, rearm and refuel point and safely navigated to the firing point at Sicily DZ to execute the TOT.
“I have never missed a TOT, I don’t like failure and if you are on my crew, I will not allow you to fail,” Sparks said.
Sparks believes communication is the key to a proficient HIMARS crew for the GRF.
“In order to maintain a good environment, ensure you communicate with your Soldiers and let them know what’s going on,” Sparks said.
“I believe we have really good Soldiers,” said Sparks. “They are the ones that continue to keep me motivated.”
Units from across Fort Bragg participated as well. The 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade medically evacuated helicopters supported medical training modules and then supported scripted events during the external evaluations. CH-47 Chinooks supported external slingload training, and AH-64 Apaches provided armed reconnaissance then served in a “Red Air” role searching for HIMARS firing positions and hiding sites.
The 20th Engineer Brigade dug fighting positions. The 3rd Expeditionary Support Command provided material-handling equipment, ammunition, transportation and bulk water support. The 44th Medical Brigade provided a dental team for routine examinations and procedures in the field.