In 1968, the “Blue Max” moniker was given to the 2nd Battalion, 20th Field Artillery Regiment, to honor a tradition of excellence that dates back to World War I.
Thirty years later, “Blue Max” is the namesake of the regiment’s annual competition: The Blue Max Challenge.
“Even though we are a (Multi-Launch Rocket System) battalion, we had a bunch of different incarnations throughout our existence,” said Lt. Col. Ernest Karlberg, battalion commander. “In the Vietnam (War) ... we were the first aerial rocket artillery battalion, which is now attack aviation.”
The battalion, part of the 41st Fires Brigade, held the Blue Max Challenge at Fort Hood on May 20-21, a team building exercise held to honor the battalion’s lineage and test soldiers’ physical and mental abilities.
The event started with the teams setting off on a ruck march from the battalion’s area to the Black Gap rifle range where soldiers qualified with their M-16 rifles before marching another six miles to the event site.
Once at the training site, the teams were expected to complete several tasks such as rescuing a simulated downed pilot and conducting key leader engagements. Each event entailed additional implied tasks: pulling security, land navigation, calling for a medical evacuation, and going through the eight steps of troop leading procedures.
“Even though these are more infantry-type tasks, it builds teamwork and pays homage to the basic soldiering skills that have been in the battalion since it was formed,” Karlberg said.
“Being able to rely on your battle buddies, to know that when your life is on the line, that they have your back and that you have their back,” said Sgt. Kevin James, of Headquarters and Headquarters Battery.
In 1957, the battalion was assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division as the 2nd Rocket Howitzer, 20th Field Artillery, becoming the first aerial rocket artillery battalion during the Vietnam War. Blue Max soon became the radio call sign of the unit when it transformed into an aviation unit in honor of the flying aces during World War I.
The battalion started off with UH-1B and UH-1C Huey helicopters before transitioning to the AH-1G Cobra. The UH-1 helicopters carried two rocket pods mounted on either side for a total capacity of 48 rockets.
Aerial rocket artillery played a critical role throughout the Vietnam War, from some of the first major battles until the end of the war.
“Any time you get to honor those that came before you, it’s a great thing,” said Spc. Christopher Welter, a medic with Headquarters Battery. “They did great things in Vietnam so we are going to recognize it for as long as 2-20th exists.”