Soldiers with Headquarters, Headquarters Battery, 1-129th Field Artillery, based in Maryville, set up the tactical operations center prior to the arrival of the new M777A2 howitzers on the gun line. This element provides the batteries with fire missions, directing when and where each gun will fire on a prescribed target. (Photo by Jennifer Archdekin)
By Jennifer Archdekin
FORT SILL, Okla. - Missouri's one and only field artillery unit made history at precisely 8:19 a.m. on Thursday, April 7, when the 1-129th Field Artillery, fired the inaugural round from their new M777A2 lightweight howitzers at Fort Sill, Okla.
During their two-week annual training, the Missouri Army National Guard unit gained 18 of the new weapons systems, also known as triple sevens, retiring their M198 towed howitzers they acquired in 1984. In addition to the cannons, the battalion also received 18 new M1083 five-ton trucks to tow the guns. Each of the battalion's three batteries received six new guns and trucks.
These artillerymen received 10 days of hands-on instruction for the new systems. Though some of the basics did not change drastically, there are still many variances between the two systems.
The triple seven still fires a 155 mm round, but the titanium barrel is shaved down for weight restrictions. It is now more streamlined and can be airlifted by helicopter. The M198 weighs in at eight tons, where the triple seven comes in under five tons.
The new system is more mobile, rapidly deployable, more survivable and more accurate than the aging M198. The new guns can also hit a target over 18 miles away.
Dean Young, an instructor at Fort Sill for the M777A2, said that due to the new digital shooting package, the guns are employed in a significantly faster time.
"This massively speeds up the process," said Young. "This tells them exactly where they need to be at all times, which expedites their ability to fire."
Before, it took a battery anywhere from 13-15 minutes to set up six M198s. Young said that a battery should be able to set up the new guns within five minutes, and eventually shave the time down to two-to-three minutes.
Young pointed out how impressed he was with this Missouri unit and their ability to adapt to the new system. He said their eagerness to learn things accurately and safely stood out.
"Being able to send steel down range is priority," said Young. "It's to cut and trim down our time, so troops in the battlefield can rely on us to be there to send steel to them if they are being overrun or if they needed to kill a target."
The legendary Battery D, also known as "Truman's Own" which was commanded by President Harry S. Truman during World War I, had the distinction of firing the very first round. The men from gun two added another page in their unit's history, which is located in Truman's hometown of Independence.
"I think the bigger rush is that Truman's battery is the first one to fire the triple seven from Missouri," said Young. "I think that's a bigger sticker than anything else."
Lt. Col. Terry Mast, battalion commander, addressed the gun crew as they anxiously awaited the first fire mission to come across the radio.
"After you fire, nobody can take that feeling away from you," said Mast.
For safety reasons, the 10-man team stood from a further distance than normal as Spc. Todd Ward, of Raytown, pulled the lanyard firing the earth-moving premier round. Electricity was in the air as spectators gathered near the gun. A brief silence fell upon the crowd before the command to fire was shouted by Staff Sgt. William Stewart, of Kearney. Immediately the round exited the tube and the gun recoiled producing a thunderous echo.
After the smoke cleared, Ward beamed with pride recounting his historic pull. He said he is confident on this new gun now and is looking forward to improving along with the rest of his crew.
"We have a lot to do and a lot to accomplish," said Ward. "Everybody's learning."
Upon completion of the landmark mission, Lt. Matthew Martz, Battery D commander, commended his men on their success.
"You guys had to hustle this morning," said Martz. "It was a team effort. That's one of the reasons you were selected as first gun out because of your cohesion as a team."
The 1-129th Field Artillery is headquartered in Maryville and maintains three batteries in Albany, Chillicothe and Independence.
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