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'King of Battle' reigns at Fort Bragg

September 4, 2012

By Capt. Russell Varnado

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (Sept. 4, 2012) -- The Field Artillery, in Army lingo, is known as the "King of Battle." The 82nd Airborne Division's 18th Fires Brigade (Airborne) looked to maintain their place on the throne as they took to the field last week to conduct its first Division Artillery Readiness Test in more than five years.

The brigade has consistently deployed in support of overseas contingency operations over
the last decade, but their missions have seldom been related to field artillery operations. The units have been called to perform convoy escorts, forward operating base operations, security assistance and Provincial Reconstruction Team missions in lieu of firing artillery. This has caused the training focus to be on specialties other than artillery.

Division Artillery Readiness Test, or DART, is a standardized assessment utilized in the 82nd Airborne Division's artillery units that measures competency in multiple areas. The test is compiled of field artillery, individual warrior and sustainment tasks. It is designed to establish a standard of proficiency for all artillerymen regardless of their weapon system specialty.

The 18th Fires Brigade provides the Division a strategic capability by not only serving as its senior fires unit but also providing fire support assets to the Global Response Force, or GRF. The 1st Battalion, 321st Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, and 3rd Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment, each provide firing elements capable of rapid deployment as part of the GRF package. DART plays a key role in GRF as it validates the brigade's readiness and abilities.

The brigade drew praise from Division leaders for their proficiency throughout the exercise.

"It's important that we demonstrate to our higher headquarters that we are ready and able to support any fight in whatever role they need us in; DART helps us do that," said Maj. Jason Williams, deputy commanding officer, 18th Fires Brigade.

The 18th Fires Brigade's preparation for the test began weeks ago with multiple field training exercises. B Battery, 3rd Battalion, 321st Field Artillery Regiment was the first unit to put that training to the test. The battery conducted air assault missions, live-fire exercises, convoy training, forward operation base operations and Route Clearance Patrols.

B/3-321 uses the M777A2 howitzer. It is the Army's most diverse artillery weapon system. The 155mm howitzer, weighing in at less than 10 thousand pounds, is easily maneuverable by both air and ground assets. That coupled with its digital fire control system, which increases precision and enables the use of precision guided munitions, makes it a favorite with combat commanders.

June 2012 marked the first time the entire brigade has been together at Fort Bragg since 2006. After 11 years of primarily working outside their specialty, the 18th Fires Brigade has made the return to their roots, its number one priority.

DART is part of that return as it was a key component to the prewar training calendar. For the last several years, units have relied on internal evaluators to validate their training, however, DART requires observer controllers from outside the units.

"With this being the first time we've done this in five years, I'm happy with our performance, but we still have room to improve," said Williams. "We've got a big role in the division and we have to continue to train on our core competencies to make sure when the nation calls we are ready."

The week's evaluation showed that the brigade is not only ready, but capable of upholding its responsibility to the division as well as the nation.

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