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Photo by Sgt. Lucas Hoskins
FORT HOOD, Texas - Within seconds after the ready signal was given, the ground shook as the sound barrier gave way and commanded a thunderous boom to come forth. The sky lit up in a blaze of fire as if it were the 4th of July.
The commotion could be heard and seen from miles and miles away, fortunately, no one would get hurt. The only upset would come from a few cows in a distant pasture close to the impact zone.
The 1st Battalion, 21st Field Artillery Regiment, 41st Fires Brigade conducted its Table VIII, artillery gunnery qualifications on Fort Hood, Texas, March 10. During Table VIII training, the launcher crews must qualify on three firing missions: when ready, time-on-target, and at my command with the M270-A1multiple launch rocket system. There are a total of 12 tables in the qualification process. 1-21 FA will fire a total of 54 rockets throughout the week allowing all three batteries to qualify on its rocket systems.
1-21 FA is comprised of three firing batteries; A, B and C batteries, maintaining a total of 18 launchers.
Maj. James Schwartz, executive officer for the 1-21FA explained how the battalion recently redeployed from a non-standard mission to Iraq last July and the Soldiers are excited to begin training on their systems again.
“We’re conducting artillery gunnery tables. We go out and train the crews and certify them and make sure they actually understand what they are suppose to do in the MLRS launcher, in a dry status—where they are not actually firing any rockets,” said Schwartz. “We also certify them on the computer system before we progress to firing live rockets.”
Schwartz stressed safety and how important it was to understand the functioning of the equipment before the Soldiers could move to firing live rockets.
Soldiers of the 1-21 FA completed the certification training and was more than eager to start the qualification tables, said Schwartz.
“It’s a big confidence booster, it’s like getting back in the game,” said Lt. Col. James Davel, battalion commander for the 1-21FA. “I can’t tell you how long the Soldiers have wanted to get back into the launchers. Think about it; it’s like if I pulled you away from your job and made you do something else for 30 months. If you love your job, you would want to get back to what you know and what you’re passionate about. It’s been awhile for the brigade and it’s been awhile for the battalion.”
“The last time the unit fired any live rockets on Fort Hood was in the spring of 2008 before the unit deployed,” said Schwartz.
Sitting the game out for a period of time came at a price when the crews ran across a few technical delays, but the training has proved valuable.
There were some challenges with the equipment along with some maintenance problems, but the soldiers jumped on it and fixed it,” said Davel. “Overall the Soldiers have been performing magnificently out here. It’s been a lot of fun.”
The crew chief for the “Chuck Norris” team expressed how excited he and his team were to be on the range doing their jobs once again.
“It feels good; it’s like riding a bike all over again,” said Staff Sgt. Raymond Duran, crew chief for the Chuck Norris team, C Battery, 1-21 FA. “At first we had the training wheels but then we went through the crawl, walk, run phase. A couple of weeks ago, we started off crawling. Last week, we were walking and now—we’re running.”
Duran said he hasn’t had time to label his launcher yet but he still felt that the name was fitting.
“We named our launcher ‘Chuck Norris’ because you hear all the jokes about how awesome he is…yeah, my track is pretty awesome too—so is my whole crew.”
The MLRS is a three man system, said Schwartz. “You have the driver, gunner and the chief.”
The Table VIII training is important because it gives all the crews a chance to practice on their primary jobs but it also gives them a chance to practice on the other members’ jobs.
“It’s important that the Soldiers and the crews know how to operate the systems inside and out,” said Spc. David Rodriguez, M270-A1 driver, C Battery, 1-21 FA. “We have an important mission and we can assist our fellow Soldiers during war.”
“The training is very important to us,” said Duran. Everybody knows their roles if something were to happen. But we also have to cross-train so if something unfortunate were to happen then; we know each other’s jobs.
There are a lot of moving elements just to send a rocket down range said Sgt. Jeremy Hammers.
“It takes a lot of coordination to make the mission a success,” said Hammers. “You have the observers at the look out, the fire direction center, and then you have the actual crews; there’s little or no room for error because this is real.”
By the end of the week the three batteries will have qualified on the three firing missions and prepare for their next table in June.
As the smoke clears and the dust settles, the launcher swings back and takes off at a commanding 60 miles an hour. By the end of the day, 1-21 FA is qualified and ready to move out and move on.