May 7, 2009

Artillery battalion dedicates new howitzers at AT

By Sgt. Andrew H. Owen
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

FORT PICKETT, Va.— On the field of the Fort Pickett stadium, the Soldiers of the Virginia  Army National Guard’s Hampton-based 1st Battalion, 111th Field  Artillery Regiment  held a dedication ceremony May 1 to christen their new howitzers as a culmination of the unit’s two-week annual training.

  New howitzers

Soldiers of Norfolk-based B Battery, 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery Regiment stand alongside their M119A2 howitzers in formation during the dedication ceremony held at Fort Pickett, Va., May 1. (Photo by Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

In a traditional ceremony in front of family members and distinguished guests, the artillerymen of the Richmond-based A Battery and Norfolk-based B Battery broke bottles over the barrels of their 16 new artillery pieces as the guns were given their new names. With names like “Apocalypse” and “Bad Boy,” all names beginning with an A or B for each battery respectively, the guns were welcomed to the unit.

The unit, which had not fired in two years due to its state mission as the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, High Yield Explosive Emergency Response Force, or CERF, spent the previous two weeks training on the new M119A2 howitzers.

From the tactical operations center, to the forward observers in the field calling for fire, to the firing batteries, the Soldiers were tested through an external evaluation, by a “new equipment team,” according to Maj. John Winkler, battalion operations officer.

  New howitzers

A soldier from B Battery, 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery Regiment smashes a bottle over the tube of "Big Ben" marking the guns official dedication by the unit. The unit held a dedication ceremony at Fort Pickett, Va., May 1 to welcome their new M119A2 howitzers to the unit. (Photo by Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

The guns were then certified by the battalion themselves, said Winkler. “Even though an outside agency said they were good…We wanted to make sure they met our standards”

Throughout the unit’s AT there seemed to be one common goal: To land a 105mm round in an approximately eight kilometer impact area. While this may seem like a simple feat it gets harder as one starts to look at all the factors working against the battalion. According to Capt. Jon Fair, fire direction officer, the Soldiers must factor in direction to the target, distance to the target, wind speed, air pressure, temperature, weather, even the rotation of the earth.

According to Fair, all those factors and more will affect the trajectory of the shell. “We have to take all of that in to consideration,” said Fair. “Otherwise, instead of a round landing over there where the houses are, they may land on us or our observers.”

After all the external circumstances are factored into the coordinates, the battery then manages to fire the round within ten meter proximity of the target, said Winkler.

  New howitzers

Artillerymen load a 105mm shell into the M119A2 howitzer during a live-fire exercise April 28 at Fort Pickett, Va. The Soldiers of Battery B, 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery Regiment spent their two week annual training at Fort Pickett familiarizing themselves with the weapon. (Photo by Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

By the end of the two weeks and the day of the dedication had arrived, the Soldiers had already been given the opportunity to work with another service in a joint force environment. The Soldiers worked closely with Marines of the 2nd Marine Division, according to Lt. Col. Todd Hubbard, battalion commander.

“It was nice to exercise, not only how to shoot the guns, but also how to coordinate the fires with the infantry on the ground,” said Hubbard.

The Marines used their mortars, and flew in F-28 Hornets, as well as Harriers. While the planes would come in and drop their bombs, the battalion provided suppression of enemy air defense, according to Hubbard. After the planes would exit the impact area, the firing batteries would rain artillery onto the targets.

“It was the first time we did a joint mission with the Marines,” said Hubbard. “We worked really well together and tried to accomplish the objectives.”

According to the U.S. Army equipment fact file, the M119A2 105mm towed howitzer is a lightweight towed weapon that provides direct support fires to light, airborne and air assault forces.  The prime mover for the M119 is the Humvee, but it can be dropped by parachute or airlifted with its basic load of ammunition by UH60 and CH47 helicopters or C130 aircraft. The M119A2 provides significantly greater range and lethality than the M101A1 and M102 howitzers.
                                               
The M119A1/A2 fires all standard NATO 105mm artillery ammunition, including the M1 High Explosive, M314 Illuminating, M60/M60A2 White Phosphorous (smoke). In addition, it fires the M913 and M760 extended range ammunitions.

"The Strike Battalion is very excited about receiving these new guns. Our Soldiers love the challenge of the Artillery mission,” said Hubbard. “Our forward observers work with the gun crews to hit targets over eight miles away."

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