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17th FIRES artillery unit trains National Guard Soldiers

Photo by Sgt. LaToya Nemes B Battery, 1-121 FA, a National Guard unit from Wisconsin, executes a live fire exercises using a High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System. The exercise set up by 5-3 FA at JBLM certified two National Guard batteries scheduled t

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DONA ANA CAMP, N.M. - Soldiers of the 5th Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Fires Brigade traveled from Joint Base Lewis-McChord to New Mexico for the 5th Armor Live Fire Support exercise to train National Guard FA batteries B, 1-121 FA from Wisconsin and E, 3-139 FA from Indiana, Jan. 4 to 8.

Along with support from 212th Fires Brigade from Fort Bliss, Texas units from Fort Carson, Colo. and Fort Riley, Kan., 5-3 FA was on a mission to certify the two batteries from the Army National Guard, scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Lieutenant Colonel Joe Hilbert, 5-3 FA commander, established the training in order to validate the two batteries' capabilities, which are replacing two other batteries he commands in Afghanistan. The training replicated Afghanistan's environment and the multiple-fire scenarios the batteries could face while deployed.

Hilbert said this was the first training exercise of its kind he had ever seen in which units traveled to support a joint training and certification mission.

"My goal as the exercise director is to ensure they are prepared for the deployment so I can look at the (elements) they are going to support and tell them these units are completely trained and ready to support the mission," Hilbert said.

In addition to the capabilities 212th Fires Bde. added, Hilbert said he was grateful his team could participate with other units in high-caliber training.

He said his team taught and learned many lessons from all the units involved in the training exercise - lessons he takes back to JBLM.

With an upcoming deployment to Afghanistan supporting a joint special operations mission, the two batteries benefited from the operational experience of the supporting units.

"When it comes to corps, there is no (one) more qualified than us," said Command Sgt. Maj. Jesus Degracia, 212th Fires Bde, commenting that 212th was the most experienced artillery brigade in its division.

Hilbert said his team built an exercise that would allow the National Guard batteries to see the same situations they will see while deployed.

"This is a pretty unique event," he said. "What makes it exciting is that you have leaders from multiple installations and multiple organizations."

As they went through each scenario, leaders worked hands-on with the training audience, answering questions and sharing each other's combat experiences.

"At the end of the day, you have to look at our left breast pocket; it says U.S. Army on the front of it," Hilbert said. "It's a team of us."

National Guard units typically train at least once a month to stay proficient in their military tasks, said Sgt. 1st Class Nicholas A. Hamilton, B Battery, 1-21 FA. Although these units are trained, sometimes their skills get rusty.

"We are making sure we are at 100 percent, ready to go overseas and support the mission," he said.

All of the units involved helped accomplish the intent of the training, while taking home new knowledge. Hilbert met his goal and the two batteries received validation from the entire 5-3 FA team.

Private First Class Kyle Rupprecht, a field artillery crewmember with B Battery, 1-121 FA, said he joined a little over a year ago and has never deployed.

I'm ready," Rupprecht said. "After so many months of training, it just becomes muscle memory."

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