Ohio National Guard News

Annual Training 2018: Camp Grayling

New Ohio National Guard field artillery battery hits the mark with new guns during annual training

Story and photos by Staff Sgt. Michael Carden, Ohio National Guard Public Affairs

Soldiers with Battery C, 1st Battalion, 134th Field Artillery Regiment fire the M777 howitzer during a live-fire exercise June 24, 2018, during annual training at the Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center in Grayling, Mich. Battery C is fielding new cannons, a transition for these Soldiers who are coming from the smaller M119 howitzer.

Pvt. Justin Hatfield, a cannon crew member, cleans the breach of residue in between rounds during a live-fire exercise.

Cpl. Abiel Kiflu, a cannon crew member, cleans part of a M777 howitzer breech after a live-fire exercise.

A gun crew loads a M777 howitzer in between volleys during a live-fire exercise.

Soldiers fire the M777 howitzer during a live-fire exercise.

CAMP GRAYLING JOINT MANEUVER TRAINING CENTER, Mich. (06/24/18) —“FIRE MISSION! FIRE MISSION!” The bellow of the crew chief echoes down the gun line. Crew members burst into motion, deliberate and methodical despite their speed. In under a minute, the blast of the 155 mm cannon fills the air, the explosion felt as much as heard. The rolling thunder hasn’t faded before the gun crew is already clearing the breech and readying the next shot.

A casual observer would be forgiven for thinking these crew members have been together firing these weapons for years. These members of Battery C, 1st Battalion, 134th Field Artillery Regiment are all going through their final validation exercise on the newest weapon system in the Ohio Army National Guard arsenal, the M777 Howitzer.

“It was a challenge, learning this new system,” said Staff Sgt. Jack Osborne, a section chief. “We worked hard to get our squads and sections trained up in the best way.”

The M777, or Triple 7s, is quite different from the M119 howitzer the Soldiers are transitioning from. It’s a much larger bore weapon, 155 mm vs. 105 mm. At more than 2 inches larger in diameter, it takes the weight of one shell from 35 pounds to more than 95 pounds. Size isn’t the only difference, the new gun systems have the latest in positioning and targeting systems.

“These are the smartest weapons in the inventory,” said Lt. Col. Daryl Beltz, commander of the 1-134th. “They’ve got GPS on them; they know where they are at any given time. Emplacing them is not the slower old-school way. We’re quick; we’re accurate. We are what the infantry and maneuver elements need when they contact (the enemy).”

While these are the first M777s in Ohio, this isn’t the first time some of the Soldiers have been around them.

“Many of our newer Soldiers coming into the unit have been on them,” Osborne added. “The brigade saw ahead of time that we were standing up a M777 battery, so when they (the Soldiers) were at AIT (advanced individual training) they got trained on the M777 already. So when they came to the unit, they had a lot of knowledge already.”

Though they may have been trained on the new systems at school, it was still a day of firsts.

“This AT I got to be the ‘No. 1 Man,’ which means I got to pull the string that fires the weapon,” said Pvt. 1st Class Alex Youngs, a cannon crew member. “This was the first time I wasn’t running rounds. Getting to be the reason it goes ‘boom’ is pretty exhilarating.”

In the lead up to annual training, the Soldiers drilled their tasks repeatedly to ensure that when the time came, they could perform.

“It’s muscle memory,” explained Beltz. “They’ve been rehearsing out here, each Soldier probably has done about 600 fire missions. When you execute it time and time again, you can do it in your sleep. It’s good too because with the big rounds they’re going to start to get tired, and when you get tired you could get sloppy, but they don’t. They have the discipline, and we are ready to fight tonight.”

The crew chiefs are justifiably proud of their teams, who had come together from different batteries to lead the way on the new guns.

“They are the top of the line, there is no doubt in my mind with this crew,” Osborne said. “They are highly motivated, they’ll do anything you ask of them. These guys are family, to be able to come out and shoot as safe and as proficient as we did, there is nothing like it.”

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