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Airmen and Soldiers give artillery a lift

May 12, 2011

By Lorin T. Smith (Joint Base Lewis-McChord Public Affairs Office)

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. -- Private 1st Class Jose Ayala watched intently the hands of Airman 1st Class Andrew Wagner, guiding him as he carefully backed the M-142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System up the ramp of the C-17 Globemaster III parked on the McChord Field flight line.

Once Ayala reached his mark within the aircraft, Wagner crossed his hands in the form of an "X." Soldiers then secured the vehicle to the aircraft with massive metal chains.

If this had been a live mission, the C-17 would have taxied toward the runway to take off to a distant land where the HIMARS was needed. Instead, the training mission provided Soldiers from A and C batteries, 5th Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Fires Brigade, the opportunity to learn how to load, secure and unload the vehicles into an airplane, at real-time speed.

The unit's intent is to go beyond familiarization and fly to Yakima Training Center next month and fire live rockets at real targets, in real time. The idea is to land the C-17, off load the rockets, fire them with the engine still hot, load the HIMARS and fly away immediately after the last one has fired.

"These vehicles are designed to be air mobile," said A Battery Commander Capt. John Poore. "That's what they were designed to do."

Conducting simulations with the Air Force for wartime scenarios like this excites these Soldiers, who are getting back to their mission sets and away from the route clearance missions they had while deployed last year.

"We are now in the training cycle preparing for future conflicts," Poore said. In future conflicts the artillerymen will take on more of an interdisciplinary role between the Army and Air Force, making coordination for airlift easier and more important.

"The Army and Air Force do really well by themselves, but speak different languages and operate differently," the commander said. "Training opportunities like this help us get our systems in order."
The unit worked on the vehicle infiltration/exfiltration drill for two days and nights in preparation for an upcoming live fire test. The Soldiers learned a lot from the C-17 loadmasters like Wagner, 7th Airlift Squadron. Wagner shared important information with Soldiers about proper securing to the aircraft, the math behind understanding necessary restraint weight and general knowledge about the aircraft. Getting the vehicle off the aircraft is easy, Wagner said, but labor-intensive, as the chains are heavy.

"It's not too difficult, not too challenging," Wagner said.

The HIMARS is considered unconventional artillery that can launch six precision-guided rockets from the back of a Medium Tactical Vehicle. Missiles leave the chamber at a speed of Mach 2. Someone standing in front of the chamber can hear it break the sound barrier, said Staff Sgt. Robert Kempner, C Battery.

"They sound really cool," Kempner said. "Serious damage occurs when the round impacts, and 12 rockets can take out an entire grid square."

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