Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Wisconsin Guard artillery battalion rockets into 21st Century

By Army Staff Sgt. Brian Jopek
112th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

June 29, 2010 - With the last rocket's glare, the Wisconsin Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 121st Field Artillery gave proof last week at Fort McCoy of their Soldiers' unflagging determination to certify on the military's most advanced field artillery weapon system.

The 121st Field Artillery - with batteries in Milwaukee, Racine, Plymouth and Sussex - took full advantage of a window of opportunity to train on and fire the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS. Members of Battery A, who deployed to Iraq with the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team in 2009, were not required to take part in this year's annual training but volunteered to do so for the opportunity to certify on the HIMARS.

"They wanted to be in on the tip of the spear or the tip of training and do a live fire mission with the HIMARS at Fort McCoy," said Battery A Commander Capt. Harvey Hubbard.

According to Lt. Col. Steve Sherrod, 121st Field Artillery commander, the battalion was not scheduled to field the HIMARS for a couple of years.

"Because of deployments and active duty rotations, we were asked to move forward and take an active duty slot for fielding the system this summer," he explained. "As a lifelong artillery man, to get this new, latest cutting edge equipment is very exciting for the Soldiers and for me."

From the side, the HIMARS looks like it could be your average, everyday military issue from the Light Medium Tactical Vehicle (LMTV) family of trucks that has become prevalent in the U.S military in recent years. However, the HIMARS replaces the tracked M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System, the battalion's primary weapons system since 2003.

Staff Sgt. Kelly Shurilla of Milwaukee is a section chief on one of Battery A's HIMARS. Shurilla was in the active army for three years and has done eight years with the National Guard - all with the MLRS, with the exception of 2006, when the 121st deployed to Kuwait to perform convoy escort duties throughout Iraq.

"They made it more efficient, easier to understand and fail-safe," said Shurilla, who has taken part in at least a hundred MLRS fire missions during his career. "Everything's quicker, from the computer software to the hydraulics working the launcher itself."

Hubbard lauded the HIMARS' accuracy.

"With the right resources, we can drop a missile in the windowsill of a building," he said.

While the HIMARS has half the firepower of the MLRS, its lighter payload and wheeled chassis provide key advantages over its predecessor in speed and transportability by air in an aircraft such as the Air Force's C-130 Hercules, which is designed to operate on short grassy runways if necessary. The Hercules can land in remote areas bigger planes can't and unload a HIMARS, which then has the capability to roll into firing position in a matter of seconds.

"I really don't see any disadvantages to the HIMARS," Shurilla said.

The 121st Field Artillery's HIMARS crews are now fully trained and certified on the system following completion of the battalion's annual training, which included a two-day live fire by all three firing batteries.

Hubbard has 19 years in the artillery himself, working with everything from 105 millimeter and 8 inch howitzers to the MLRS. He said he does like the traditional artillery pieces but appreciates the addition of HIMARS to the Wisconsin Army Guard weapons inventory.

"With smaller rounds you get more bangs, but HIMARS brings the 121st into the 21st century," Hubbard said. "A lot of active duty units are dying to get this system."

Hubbard said that as Battery A personnel prepared for their deployment with the 32nd Brigade, they did not know the 121st would be getting the HIMARs. This year's fielding and live fire certification, along with a planned annual training at Camp Guernsey, Wyo. next year to train with the 115th Fires Brigade, means a lot for the Soldiers who did not have artillery missions on their latest deployment, he said.

"It's good because they can get back to the standard mission set of the artillery," Hubbard said. "This system is used in Afghanistan and the Soldiers can train to use it in a combat environment."

On the civilian side, Hubbard works for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Milwaukee and says he has the best of both worlds - he gets to serve with other veterans currently in uniform and in his day job at the VA gets to work with veterans from World War Two and later conflicts.

"It's really an honor to be out here," said Hubbard. "As a commander, I couldn't have fallen into a better deal."

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