Washington Grays get Their new Guns

Story and photos by Sgt. 1st Class Peter Towse, 42nd Infantry Division

Lieutenant Colonel Mike Hoblin, commander of the 1st Battalion, 258th Field Artillery christens an M-119 howitzer belonging to Battery B during live fire training at the Fort Drum artillery range Sept. 16-19, before sending the first round downrange. This weekend drill was the battalion’s first live fire exercise with its new 105 millimeter guns.

FORT DRUM - Soldiers of 1st Battalion, 258th Field Artillery launched rounds downrange here with 16 new M119A2 howitzers during a live fire exercise Sept. 16-19. The event marked the unit’s ownership of the newly assigned howitzers after five years of borrowing artillery “tubes” from other artillery units in order to train.

The battalion reorganized as a towed artillery battalion in 2005 to support an infantry brigade. Prior to that, the 258th was equipped with M109 self-propelled howitzers and supported an armored brigade. Following the unit reorganization, the battalion borrowed M102 howitzers of Vietnam War vintage when they went to the field. “Every time we fired, we had to borrow cannons from another unit,” said Command Sgt. Major Christopher Parker, the battalion Command Sgt. Major.

“The Soldiers love the new guns...These men are artillerymen and they love to shoot and it is important to them to have their own equipment and not have to rely on another unit.” The new tubes were christened by Lt. Col. Michael Hoblin, commander, just after successfully sending the first round down range. “The transition to the new guns went very well,” Hoblin said. “The battalion’s ability to become certified after such a long period of time without having guns is really a testament to the non-commissioned officer leadership and to the firing batteries.”

The 258th traveled to Michigan and Florida earlier this year to certify gun crews on the new M119 howitzers. They were trained by instructors from Fort Sill, Oklahoma prior to receiving their own. “Now, each gun chief has been assigned a cannon and it will always be their cannon,” Parker said. “It’s more personal.”

The 258th is part of the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and is the only artillery unit in the New York Army National Guard. With a possible deployment to Afghanistan, the 258th will set their sites on preparation training.

“This is very exciting to get a new gun,” said Sgt. Joseph Shields, the gun chief for gun seven, Battery A. “We were prepared to get them. This weapon is more accurate and makes it easier on the chief and crew. Battery A is very excited to field these new weapons and we will train as hard as we can...we do not know what the future brings, but we promise that we will be ready, " he added.

“This is the first time this battalion, in recent history, has had 16 guns and 16 certified crews on these weapon systems,” Hoblin said. “Without their dedication and expertise, this would have been a very difficult enterprise.”