Witnessing Live Fire on Fort Bliss
By Ricky J. Carrasco
On March 31, 2011, the 4/27th Field Artillery Battalion invited members of the community to see a live fire exercise on McGregor Range at Fort Bliss. Employees from Sierra Providence East Medical Center and Socorro Independent School District, as well as soldier’s spouses, were invited to witness and participate in the field exercise. Various field artillery pieces like the M777 Howitzer and the new M109 Paladin vehicles were on display.
Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Moretti, commander of the unit, which is a part 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, stated that the point of this day is to introduce the corporate partners and school district to his soldiers and their on-going training mission. “The whole purpose of these exercises is to keep going, keep training, keep preparing for battle readiness. We do training like this day and night, in heat and cold, day after day. In fact, many of these soldiers have not slept in 36 hours. We have to train (as if) we were getting ready to go Force Con. This week, we are preparing for evaluations, where many of these soldiers will get promoted to the next level.”
PFC. Brian Reynolds, driver for one of the M777 teams, was one such soldier awaiting promotion. After a year and a half in the military, he was looking forward to being promoted to “Specialist”. Reynolds, an Iowa native and a proud member of 3rd Sec, 1st platoon, Bravo Battery, 4th Battalion, said he was happy that his wife came out to see what he does. “It’s good because when I get home dog-tired, she’ll now know why. We’ll be out here, sometimes for days, shooting, repairing, preparing in the hot El Paso desert. For a normal day, this truck would be completely loaded with rounds, that we’ll take all day firing.” The M777 A-2 towed Howitzer uses 155 mm high explosive rounds with a point detonating (impact) fuse.
Sgt Gilson, from another M777 team explained that, in the field, the Howitzer cannon can be used as a defense deterrent. “We’re on the back line and we can protect the front line.” When asked why he continues to put in all the work to perfecting this kind of exercise, Gilson, a 4 year veteran, “It’s fun, it’s an adrenaline rush.”
That adrenaline rush was almost too much for many of the civilian observers, including this reporter. Over 50 rounds were shot over the course of an hour and a half and I jumped at every single detonation. When we arrived to the camp in the middle of the Oro Grande desert, there were 4 Howitzers and 3 Paladin vehicles (along with groups of artillery support, maintenance, radar and other support vehicles) pointed at the mountain range around 8 miles away. Staff Sergeant Figueroa explained that they would be using “1/4 loads” instead of the full loads used in combat. As it was, the detonations were deafening at a distance of 50 yards away and with ear protection and Kevlar battle helmets. I was struck by the fact that none of the soldiers going about their duties around the camp even flinched at any explosion. “You get used to it after doing it so long, in training and on the battle field.”
I was not the only one who left the exercise impressed. Jim Althoff, head football coach at El Dorado High School, came away with incredible respect for the soldiers who work day in and day out in the desert. “I see the discipline and respect in each of the soldiers. I noticed the confidence in the way even that the soldiers walk. I see the discipline that they have to use in every step of the process of what they do. I also see the negative feelings that some people may have against the Armed Forces, but I don’t understand it. These are intelligent, courteous, well-spoken men and women that are serving here. They deserve our respect. “
For myself, I was happy to attend this exercise. It goes to the transparency of the American Armed Forces. The simple act of being able to see these men and women going about their duties and being able to see the awesome firepower at their hands is something simply unheard of in many modern countries around the world. The act of a civilian loading and firing one of these weapons is fantasy for most of the world’s population (I myself loaded and fired a round in the M777.)
In one civilian observer’s words, “Thank God they (the soldiers) do what they do, because I couldn’t. Thank God they do what they do because it allows me to do what I do.”