July 27, 2007

1-111th Field Artillery brings out the 'big guns' at annual training

Spc. William D. Lamountin, the first gun spotter for gun team one of A Battery, 1st Bn., 111th Field Artillery, spots and checks measurements as the rest of the team set the howitzer. The Soldiers participated in a live fire exercise at Fort Pickett as part of their annaul training. (Photo by Sgt. Jesse L. Houk, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

By Sgt. Jesse L. Houk
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

FORT PICKETT, Va. – The trees swayed back and forth according to the breeze that pushed them. The endless fields danced left and right. The songs of birds echoed throughout the rolling hills and cloud-spotted sky.

But the serene scene was quickly broken by the blast of a 105 millimeter howitzer gun and the smell of gun powder that soon followed. This was, after all, not the description of a vacation resort, but it was, in fact a look at Fort Pickett during annual training.

Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery went to the field July 21 to conduct live fire missions as a part of their annual training and were accompanied by G Company of the 429th Support Battalion.

Annual training is usually a 15-day exercise that allows units sharpen their skills and knowledge they already have through repeated practice. It also provided a chance for the Soldiers of these units to come together and build a sense of teamwork.

“AT definitely helped us hone our skills and helped us verify what we knew we could do,” said 2nd Lt. Jonathan J. Fair, A Battery fire direction officer. “The drills leading up to AT really provided a chance to improve team building.”

Soldiers from gun team two, A Battery, 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery fire a round from their 105 millimeter howitzer with the intention of hearing that they received "steel on steel" contact. (Photo by Sgt. Jesse L. Houk, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

It is team building that leads to communication and that leads not only to the success of the mission, but also the safety of the Soldiers. Teamwork is also important when it comes to the gun lines laying their howitzers in the standard amount of time. The guns must be laid (or set) within eight minutes and must be ready to fire within 15 minutes.

“The guns were set up within three and a half minutes,” said 2nd Lt. Steven R. Tarrell, A Company platoon leader. “They did the steps and didn’t rush though things. It’s more important to do it the way you’re supposed to do it and then the time standards will come.”

Also contributing to the success of the mission is the leadership that the NCO’s provided and their experience they have gained over the years.

“The NCO’s have done an excellent job,” said Fair. “If it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t be able to do this. Our senior NCO’s have been doing this for 15-20 years. They’re really great at what they do.”

“I pretty much try to bring these guys under my wing,” said Sgt. Samuel B. Beasley. Beasley has been a section chief for seven of his 17-year career in the National Guard.

Sgt. Francis D. Gaul sends a radio transmission to check for guidance as the rest of the gun team lays the howitzer. (Photo by Sgt. Jesse L. Houk, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

“I try to show them to the best of my knowledge how to do things and how to be safe while doing it,” said Beasley. “For the ones that have never been trained to do this I have to take a little more time to get them up to where they need to be at so we can get the bullets down range. This AT was really vital.”

The training and knowledge that was passed on helped them complete their mission during this annual training.

“Our Soldiers are some of the most professional in the National Guard because they have been doing it for so long,” said Fair. “Field artillery Soldiers are a thinking-mans warrior.”

And so the sound of howitzers blasting will cease and the ranges of Fort Pickett will be peaceful once again. But the silence will be interrupted when the 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery returns to the field for future exercises to continue to build on the success of this annual training.

Click HERE to return to the top of the page ~ Click HERE to return to the news directory