SOUTHWEST ASIA –
Soldiers from Bravo Battery, 1st Battalion, 14th Field Artillery Regiment, 65th Field Artillery Brigade, Task Force Spartan, worked through long hours and the heat of the Middle East to complete exercise Golden Sparrow on June 29, 2018.
“A HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) 24-hour dry-fire operation gives the crews a chance to perfect their craft,” said 1st Lt. Elijah Lake, platoon leader for Bravo Battery. “So, they get to go out and have troubles and have situations that may happen in real life, and they get to figure out a way through that. They get to train their gunners on how to figure those issues out. And, we get to throw a lot of curve balls at them. They get really good training.”
To prepare for Golden Sparrow, the platoon conducted an operation order briefing to prepare the unit for the exercise ahead.
“For exercises like Golden Sparrow, and many of the operations that we have conducted in UAE with our partnered 79th Heavy Rocket Regiment, we would typically do [an operation order] so that the crews understand what they are doing, where they are going, and how they are getting there,” said Lake. “It ensures that everybody to the lowest level understands what’s going on, and if their chief goes down they could take over without many questions and continue the mission.”
The day of the exercise, the Soldiers moved vehicles to their grid locations based on the operation order. It wasn’t long before the first fire order came down.
“Fire mission,” said Spc. Dakota Whiteman, a fire control specialist (FCS) for Bravo Battery. The announcement of fire mission was repeated within the Fire Direction Center (FDC) by Spc. Thomas Johnston and Pfc. Raymond Jeter, also FCSs for Bravo, as the two began coordinating the fire mission with the HIMARS stationed in the field.
“During the 24-hour period, launchers will be shooting dry missions. So, the launcher and crew do everything that they would do during a live-fire up until the point of a rocket exiting the pod; and they will have full contact with the FDC,” said Lake.
The HIMARS crews receive the mission from the FDC, conduct their fire missions, and then, as part of their mission, they move to reload, said Sgt. 1st Class Roberto Morales, platoon sergeant for Bravo Battery. The process of reloading a HIMARS requires excellent coordination between the gunner, driver and crew chief.
“So, the gunner is currently holding the boom controller, and what the boom controller allows him to do is the manual rotation of the LM [launch module]. That way they can position the pod to go ahead and download it and pick up the new one,” said Morales. “The driver currently goes ahead and protects the area. The driver will have a 240B [machine gun] mounted and the drivers’ main duty is to make sure that they pull security for the area while they are actually reloading during the operation.”
While the gunner is handling the boom controller, it is the crew chief who coordinates with him or her the position of the extended pod, for downloading the spent pod and then for loading the new pod, said Morales. Another portion of the reloading process is called a ‘SNVT’, which is a Short No Voltage Test. The test ensures that no stray voltage goes through the system before they download the spent pod, and again before he hooks up the new pod.
“The safety purpose is built in so that nothing happens to the Soldiers,” said Morales. “So, that way they can get in position to be ready to fire for the next mission that comes down.”
After each completed fire mission, the crews would move their HIMARS back into position in preparation for the next one. In preparation for the extended hours and activity, sleep schedules were coordinated in the operation order.
“The sleep rest cycles work in this format because we have a platoon, which is four launchers, and during the afternoon or nighttime it [was] two launchers up at all times and the other two will be in a ‘cold’ status,” said Lake. “So, they were able to bed down and take a nap.”
Utilizing headlights and chem lights, the Soldiers worked through the darkness and through the night to continue the exercise. For Morales, the exercise is a great way to test not only the equipment but his Soldiers.
“From my aspect, they did outstanding,” Morales said. “With the issues that arose, obviously we spoke about the temperature, but they managed to maintain the fight. They worked hard to get the vehicles up and running – if they were down – in order to provide the actual proper firing support that we needed in the fire plan.”
Over 26 hours elapsed since the Soldiers had packed their vehicles and readied themselves for the exercise, before the radio message was passed for the exercise to be over. During that time frame, the Soldiers of Bravo Battery worked through issues across the board to maintain their vehicle readiness status, their own well-being and a chance for these crews to work together one last time.
“So, for us in this stage of the deployment, this is kind of our last opportunity for some training before we head back, and we do not have our equipment for a while,” said Lake. “Also, once we get back, personnel and crews split off. They go to new places and are pulled to different units. So, this is kind of our last opportunity to get good training in for these guys so they can carry it forward with them.”