FORT HOOD — As a high-explosive round of an M777 howitzer artillery weapon disappeared into a cloud of smoke, soldiers from Fires Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment, celebrated the final step in their transition to a Stryker unit.
“It’s official,” said Lt. Col. Lynn E. Downie, senior officer for the squadron, after pulling the first round of 155 mm ammunition at Fort Hood’s Training Area 31. Although the unit was designated an artillery unit on paper in November 2011, it had yet to finalize its transition to an infantry-centric Stryker organization until the actual live-fire exercise.
“Now that it’s fired its first round, it is official,” Downie said. “It’s exhilarating.”
The exercise was the culmination of two weeks of new equipment training with the artillery weapons, which arrived at Fort Hood last month.
“It was a challenge,” Downie said. “The weapon system has a lot of requirements that a lot of these soldiers are not used to.”
The howitzer provides the capability of conducting air assaults, which will influence a battle in a different way, he said. With a weapon system weighing less than 10,000 pounds, the howitzers are not limited to ground transportation, which creates more flexibility in and around the battlefield.
During training, soldiers became familiar with the unit’s 18 M777 howitzers, learned the different parts of the equipment and understood each member’s role within the firing drill.
“It took a lot of repetition for us in order for them to know what they need to do,” said Staff Sgt. Gregory Galarneau, section chief for one of the weapons. “If they have a misfire or anything else happens, they need to know what to do (on their own).”
The squadron was the last unit within the regiment to transition to a Stryker organization and the first round was symbolic of the starting gun during a race, said Col. John Richardson, regiment commander. It was the final link to complete the conversion to a Stryker brigade.
“The team is now all together,” Richardson said. “Everybody has their equipment and we can start training as a combined arms team, which is really the power of the brigade.”
Downie was impressed by the soldiers’ ability to learn how to safely and effectively function individually and as members of the overall crew.
“These soldiers are absolutely outstanding,” he said. “They’ve gone from knowing little-to-nothing about the system, except what they can read in a book, to getting their hands on it and getting to the point where they can successfully live-fire these systems.”
The regiment will continue with advanced training, using the howitzers on a larger level. The ultimate goal is to maneuver the weapons as six platoons of three weapons each, which is what soldiers will fight with during future deployments.
“This is the start point for the rest of our training,” Downie said. “We’re going to do this a lot more.”