GLOBAL WAR ON TERRORISM
The “All-Volunteer Army” evolved from the aftermaths of the Vietnam War. Difficult lessons were learned from using a conscripted army, in particular was the fact that it was very unpopular; especially with the drafted conscripts themselves but more importantly with the American people whom a majority were not in favor of a war and certainly not in favor of sending their sons and daughters to die in Vietnam. Over the next few decades the “All-Volunteer Army” in both the active and reserve components, grew and developed into the premier fighting force that we have seen in “Desert Storm” and “Enduring Freedom”.
The “All-Volunteer Army” was not adeptly designed to conduct long periods of combat. It’s restructuring made it almost impossible to conduct a major war without mobilizing it’s reserve forces. The Department of Defense remembered the lessons learned from Vietnam in regards to public support and the subtle solution was to integrate the Active Army and the National Guard by using national guard units to complete divisions as “round–out brigades”. This was less expensive in peace time, but if there was a major war it would secure the hometown patriotism needed from the American people. With a ceiling of 785,000 soldiers the Army had grown from thirteen to eighteen divisions. Active-duty divisions with only two maneuver brigades; the third divisional, or round-out, brigade would come from the National Guard. Operation Desert Shield/Storm was the real test for the “All-Volunteer Army” and the United States sent the best-prepared force that had ever deployed.
Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) began in March 2003, U.S. forces invaded Iraq in with the intention of withdrawing after hostilities had ended just as they did in Desert Storm. Major combat operations ended by 1 May 2003, but the planned withdrawal never took place because an insurgent operation developed due to increased sectarian violence. To meet this new threat, the U.S. military started rotating units. The end result was an increased use of reserve forces due to the frequency of deployments. Executive Order 13223 dated 14 September 2001 authorized support of the attacks of September 11 became known as Operation Noble Eagle, operations in Afghanistan became known as Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and operations in Iraq became known as Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). The Global War On Terrorism (GWOT) began as a fight against the terrorist that attacked the United States on September 11, 2001 but soon encompassed the invasion and occupation of Iraq as well as organization of the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) which is a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) led organization consisting of 36 NATO nations, 9 partnered nations and 2 non-aligned countries. In October 2002, the United States established Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) to combat terrorism in the region and is headquartered at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti.
On the morning of February 15, 2003 the 158th Field Artillery (MLRS) received alert notification to prepare to deploy as the second wave of the initial OIF push and the battalion mobilized at its armories on March 15. The battalion traveled to Oklahoma State Military Headquarters in Oklahoma City to undergo Soldier Readiness Processing (SRP) operations on 16 through 17 March. The advance party moved to the Mobilization Station at Fort Sill, Oklahoma on March 17 followed by the complete battalion on March 18. Operation Iraqi Freedom began the last week of March 2003 and the battalion was scheduled to load ships on 9 April at the port of Beaumont, Texas. That day came and went and the news that coalition forces had seized Baghdad effectively stood down the 158th Field Artillery. Demobilization of the battalion started May 12 and ran onto May 27 where the units returned back to its armories.
**********POST 911/September 11, 2001**********
This history of the 1st Battalion, 158th Field Artillery of the Oklahoma Army National Guard, and the 2nd Detachment of the 1120th Maintenance Company, during OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM details the structure of the units and an outline of the challenges and triumphs of the soldiers. Preceding and concurrent to this period in the unit’s history, Oklahoma fielded numerous elements, from individuals to battalion-size formations, to support America’s Global War on Terrorism and to secure the Homeland from all enemies, foreign and domestic. The battalion eagerly prepared for a combat role as American and Coalition forces built combat power in the Central Command (CENTCOM) Area of Responsibility. Besides pure lethal firepower, 1-158 FA brings to the fight an incredibly high percentage of combat veterans, men who had served with the unit in DESERT SHIELD and STORM, and veterans drawn from the Regular Army’s operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, and other missions.
1-158 Field Artillery (FA) comprises three hundred seventy two soldiers, eighteen Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS capable Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS), and two components of the Army Battlefield Command Systems (ABCS): the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data Systems (AFATDS) and Force Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2). Detachment 2 consists of twenty-five soldiers who provide direct support maintenance to the battalion.
The 1-158 FA, while located primarily in Southwest Oklahoma, draws its members from across Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas. Headquartered in Lawton, Oklahoma, along with the Headquarters, Headquarters Service (HHS) Battery, known as the “Dragons,” the battalion has five other armories. Alpha Battery, known as the “Gators,” is located in Walters, Oklahoma. Bravo Battery, known as the “Buzzards,” is located in Duncan and Marlow, Oklahoma. Charlie Battery, known as the “Coyotes,” is located in Chickasha and Anadarko, Oklahoma. Detachment 2 shares an armory with HHS in Lawton.
The battalion continues a distinguished history of valor in combat. From the mud of Italy in the Second World War through the forbidding mountains of Korea, to the sands of Iraq during the Liberation of Kuwait, the 1-158 FA epitomizes the ideal of Cincinnatus, the Citizen-Soldier. The intense training on the systems and skills required to deliver lethal effects that the unit undergoes each year, the battalion approached the mission of liberating Iraq with confidence and the poise of professionals who know that there are two types of soldiers in the world: Artillerists, and targets.
COMMAND & STAFF
OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM TIMELINE
Lieutenant Colonel Allen J. Bentley took command of the battalion on June 1, 2002. His guidance to the command directed that all training, administration, and maintenance focus on going to war. The Department of the Army designated the battalion as part of the 45th Field Artillery Brigade, Oklahoma Army National Guard, with the wartime mission of reinforcing the 1st Cavalry Division.
The battalion conducted four training exercises in 2002 and 2003 to hone the core competency of Command, Control, and delivery of lethal effects. The last training exercise, taken from the ARTEP used for Annual Training, demonstrated to the Brigade and the battalion’s Active Duty evaluators the competence and commitment of the 1-158 FA.
The unit did not neglect its administrative duties. The Adjutant and Physician Assistant conducted not less than three separate operations to determine administrative and medical fitness for deployment. These actions focused the attention of the battalion, brigade, and State Area Command on shortfalls in soldiers lacking military education, or medical and dental issues.
Maintenance continued throughout the year, with the battalion setting the standard within the state for Operational Readiness. Supply personnel brought a glaring shortfall to the attention of higher: the battalion was filled to eighty-five percent of total allocation. Identifying this issue sparked the Executive Officer and his logistics experts to closely coordinate with State authorities to correct this situation.
Major Metcalfe received the Alert Notification from the 45th FA Brigade Adjutant, Major Hoskins, early morning of February 15th. He immediately notified Lieutenant Colonel Bentley, who in turn notified the staff and battery commanders. Due to the high cost of the last training exercise conducted in February 2003, the battalion could not call the full ten-percent of M-Day soldiers to augment the Active Guard personnel. Regardless of this obstacle, selected M-Day soldiers were brought onto active duty using Active Duty Special Work (ADSW).
Major Lankford directed the work on the Tactical Standing Operating Procedures (TACSOP). The purpose for completing this key task lay in the recent introduction of AFATDS and FBCB2, and that the 1st Cavalry was undergoing a concurrent upgrade in battlefield automation to improve command and control efficiencies.
A secondary task assigned by the commander to Major Lankford required him to review all the assessments of training made by the Army’s 290th FA Battalion, part of the 4th Brigade of the 75th Division (Training). The end result of this exhaustive review was the identification of the knowledge, skill-sets, and battle-drills that would require focused training after arrival at the Mobilization Station. Unfortunately, while this review was gladly received by the members of the 290th FA Battalion, not one individual at the Mobilization Station bothered to read it, use it, or incorporate it into the bland training program ushered out by DPTM.
Major Metcalfe directed the work of the Advance Party in accordance with FORSCOM Regulation 500-3-3 (RCUCH). The Logistics Officer and his team carried the lion’s share of this process to prepare the battalion for deployment onto the Mobilization Station, Fort Sill. The Adjutant and his team ensured the personnel readiness through coordination with State authorities for Soldier Readiness Processing at the State HQ in Oklahoma City.
Of particular concern to the command was the absence of Detachment 2, 1120th Maintenance. This unit’s parent HQ mobilized for Homeland Defense, and due to a recent re-flagging from 1045th Ordnance Detachment to Detachment 2, 1120th Maintenance Company, these fine soldiers were overlooked during the call-up for OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM.
1-158 FA mobilized at its armories on March 15, 2003. All soldiers assigned to the battalion reported for duty at 0700. The sense of purpose and of resolve contributed to high morale throughout the battalion. All soldiers received briefings from their commanders on the mission, Force Protection, and operational security.
The battalion reported to State HQ to undergo Soldier Readiness Processing operations on March 16th and 17th. Soldiers received inoculations for Anthrax and other diseases, medical and dental fitness checks. From this final filter, 1-158 FA released one hundred five soldiers to the Rear Detachment, and received eighty seven soldiers from different OKARNG units to fill the gaps. 1-158 FA integrated these Guardsmen into the ranks quickly and efficiently. Upon completion of SRP on the 17th, 1-158 FA consisted of soldiers from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, Texas, Florida, Arizona, and Pennsylvania.
Major Metcalfe lead the Advance Party onto the Mobilization Station, Fort Sill, at 1000 hours, March 17, 2003. The party conducted the initial contact and coordination with members of the 45th FA Brigade, the Oklahoma STARC, and Fort Sill’s Department of Plans, Mobilization and Training (DPTM). The outcome from this meeting was the identification of points of contact, billets and motor pool assignment, and the initial process of ordering all classes of supply.
1-158 FA reported to Fort Sill on March 18, 2003. Batteries occupied the barracks, Building 2471, and Motor Pool without incident. Staff and commanders occupied the eastern half of the second floor of Building 3416. The command and staff of the 1st Battalion, 147th Field Artillery (South Dakota Army National Guard) occupied the other half of the floor.
The great soldiers of the battalion had four essential tasks to complete in order to deploy into the CENTCOM Theater of Operations. The first task required the successful completion of an Army External Evaluation. The second major task saw the load out all vehicles and equipment on rail for sea shipment. The third task ensured medical readiness through a series of Anthrax and Smallpox inoculations. The last task trained the soldiers on generic topics required by CENTCOM.
Prior to departure to the field for the AEE, the battalion staff was subjected to a second round of training on the Military Decision-making Process (MDMP). The staff had received extensive training prior to this from the officers of the 290th FA Battalion; and in a more practical manner during Field Training Exercises held throughout 2002 and 2003. MDMP conducted in a sterile environment, that is; without input from a Corps or Divisional HQ, lends itself to the imprecation of implausibility and the wasting of time.
The Army External Evaluation demonstrated the battalion’s competence on its core functions of command, control, and delivery of lethal effects. The ten-day exercise, from March 25th to April 2nd, incorporated all of the tasks the battalion conducted successfully just twenty days previously, that is during the February field exercise. The primary tactics and Field Artillery maneuver concerning the Gordion Knot known as River Crossing were reduced to the basics of coordinated movement across a stream.
Units were attacked by soldiers posing as Opposing Force, and as Civilians and Press on the Battlefield. Other hurdles included simulated Chemical attacks. The soldiers of the 1-158 FA met each challenge with aplomb, easily completing the task above a standard set by more experienced Regular Army soldiers.
During this AEE, Detachment 2 of the 1120th Maintenance Company received its Alert and Mobilization orders. Sergeant First Class Fishgrab and his soldiers moved quickly, and joined the battalion in the field on March 27, 2003. Their presence lifted the spirits of the soldiers in the battalion. It is always good to see friends, soldiers you can count on regardless of the situation, joining you.
The culminating event for the battalion came early the morning of April 2nd, as the battalion fired one hundred sixty-two M-28 Reduced Range Practice Rockets (RRPR), including six “volley-fire” missions that sent between twenty-four to thirty-six rockets down range. Mount Scott, known as the highest peak in Southwest Oklahoma, was crowded with civilian and military spectators alike watching the fireworks from the RRPR impacting during these stunning missions. The forward observers, veterans of the fire support arena and used to seeing rounds impact, were amazed at the awe-inspiring display of firepower demonstrated with such casual ease. These missions were the first such in the history of any unit of any component in the Continental United States.
Throughout the AEE, the staff of the 1-158 FA kept its eye on the next task, the load out of all vehicles and equipment to transshipment into theater. Close coordination with the Post Unit Movement Office and the Logistics Operations Center operated by Fort Sill paid dividends when the battalion returned from their live-fire.
With Blocking, Bracing, Packing and Crating materiel on hand, and helpful Subject Matter Experts from the Post UMO at the ready, the soldiers of the 1-158 FA set to work on April 3rd. They cleaned all of their vehicles, sending vehicles broken in the AEE to the Department of Logistics Maintenance Repair Shop, while the rest loaded up.
April 7th and 8th saw the battalion and Detachment 2 undergoing the dreaded Equipment Validation Team program. All vehicles, Protective Masks and organizational NBC equipment, weapons and Night Vision Devices were inspected by Fort Sill’s EVT. Those items that mechanically failed the inspection were job-ordered to the DOL Maintenance Repair Shop. Unfortunately, the replacement parts were on back-order, in some cases equipment sat idle for up to a month after the EVT while the supply system caught up. This delay came in large part from the intransigence of authorities to believe that Operator level Preventive Maintenance Checks and Services identified mechanical shortcomings; or that the maintenance management team from the battalion accurately reported systemic shortfalls deriving from budgetary constraints.
OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM began the last week of March 2003. The 1-158 FA followed the events closely, with each success or snag lending further impetus to getting the battalion deployed. Soldiers paid close attention to the excellent trainers of the Small Arms Resource Group (SARG). Soldiers worked until all hours to ensure supplies were distributed, vehicles not in the repair shop were loaded, and that they absorbed the lessons their sergeants and Unit Advisors imparted.
Throughout the load-out period, Fort Sill personnel were quick to point out how surprised they were to see the battalion’s forward momentum carrying it so quickly through the process. At one point the Post HQ, in a semi-joking manner, declared that they, the HQ, would have to slow the battalion down. The Chief of the Movement section admitted that he had kept his people from reporting the battalion’s status to FORSCOM. April 9th was supposed to be the battalion’s day to load ships at the port of Beaumont, Texas. That day came and went while vehicles awaited repair parts.
April 16th came with mixed news. The 3rd Infantry Division, with other American and coalition forces, had seized Baghdad and effectively ended main-force combat in Iraq. The battalion was placed “on hold” until CENTCOM and FORSCOM could enact a branch plan that would decide whether the 1-158 FA would deploy into theater, assume a Homeland Defense mission, or demobilize. Soldiers began the agonizing process of continuing the process to deploy in spite of rumors otherwise.
April 21st brought news that the battalion would demobilize, after being validated by Fort Sill. The date was set at May 27, 2003. Within hours of the word coming down, soldiers began the process of clearing out of their billets and Motor Pool. Soldiers brought in from across the OKARNG and other states were processed for return, ostensibly to flesh out the 1-160th FA as it received the mission to guard four Army facilities as Homeland Defense. Detachment 2 would remain on active duty to support returning III Corps Artillery units until the 19th Maintenance Battalion was fully back to work.
Demobilization (May 12 to 27, 2003)
1-158 FA returned to its armories on May 12, 2003. Soldiers engaged in inventories and cleaning the armories. Staff handled the myriad missions of legally and correctly demobilizing the battalion, with the added futility of State Area Command pulling equipment from Detachment 2 and personnel and equipment from the battalion. Regardless of the new-found status as State resource pool, the 1-158 FA remains ready to serve the Nation and the State of Oklahoma with all the skill, knowledge, and vigor as befits the modern Cincinnatus.
2005 Annual Training at Camp Gruber, Oklahoma
On 3 June 2005 the 158th Field Artillery Battalion (MLRS) battalion received alert orders notifying them of a possible 18 month mobilization and a likely deployment as a Security Force (SECFOR) Company. In this uncertain time Iraqi sectarian war, bombings, kidnappings, assassinations, torture and insurgency theirs was an uncertain mission. A Security Force Company is not the traditional field artillery stand-off combat role and the unit would likely perform security patrols, provide security escorts and guard main supply routes. This change of mission announcement resulted in infantry-style close-combat training at Camp Gruber, near Braggs, Oklahoma. Soldiers trained in full “battle-rattle” including body armor and Kevlar helmets, weaponry adding 35 pounds of additional weight. Soldiers trained on the M-4 carbine, 9mm pistol, M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW), M-240B machine gun and the 50 caliber machine gun as well as short range marksmanship, convoy operations and Military Occupations on Urban Terrain (MOUT) skills.
Captain Charles Neely of Bravo Battery was selected as the SECFOR Commander and 152 selected men reported to the Lawton, Oklahoma armory on August 2005 to ready for the deployment. The SECFOR company boarded onto a plane and flew to Joint Base McCord-Lewis, Washington for theater specific training. They arrived at McCord Air Force Base and were billeted in the WWII-style barracks at North Fort Lewis. Here the soldiers spent three months training to be a Security Force Company. After successful completion of multiple tasking that encompassed convoy security, detainee operations, personnel security, base security, door-to-door urban combat and patrolling for Improvised Explosive Devises (IED’s), the soldiers were given four-day passes and authorized to travel to Oklahoma to see their families. In November the SECFOR traveled to the east training center at Yakima, Washington for two weeks of final training spending their Thanksgiving there.
Simultaneously in August, 95 soldiers from the 1st Battalion 158th Field Artillery were sent to assist in Hurricane Katrina relief operations. They were part of the 2,000 national guardsmen composing Task Force Oklahoma and one of the first units to arrive in New Orleans.
The soldiers returned from Yakima in December 2005, started their journey to Camp Buehring where they spent two weeks in Kuwait climatizing and training. The training area was out in the desert away from Camp Buehring and here the company was exposed to its first experiences with the Bedouin people and for many their first glimpse of camels. In late December 2005 the SECFOR company boarded a plane bound for Logistics Support Area (LSA) Anaconda, Balad which is approximately 40 miles north of Baghdad. Mortar rounds and rockets were fired into the base on a daily basis and the soldiers dubbed it the nickname “Mortaritaville” and “LSA Bombaconda.” Here the SECFOR ran missions on Main Supply Route (MSR) Tampa and always being aware of the new threat, the Explosively Formed Penetrators (EFP) that could melt through armor. The SECFOR replaced the Kentucky Army National Guard unit that had already lost two soldiers and had over 20 injuries on these routes. Due to the numerous fatalities on MSR Tampa the odds were shifted gainst the SECFOR with even the SECFOR Commander’s convoy getting ambushed at the infamous checkpoint 59-Alpha.
After a few weeks in Balad the mission had changed and the SECFOR was sent to Baghdad where they were attached to the 49th Military Police Brigade. There were no more company-level missions which ultimately resulted in the company being split up and parceled out to different platoons. A majority of the SECFOR ended up at Camp Liberty in Baghdad with a Personnel Security Detail (PSD) and Police training mission. Others of the SECFOR headed to Camp Delta, near al Kut by the Iranian border and Camp Echo near Diwaniyah with the mission to train up the Provincial Police. Camp Delta was a coalition ran camp, the mayor’s cell was headed by a Polish officer with Polish, Ukrainians, El Salvadorans and Armenians under his auspices. Although the separated SECFOR had different missions the only common mission was staying alive.
The 142nd Infantry Regiment of the Texas Army National Guard replaced the SECFOR Company and conducted a Relief In Place-Transfer of Authority (RIP-TOA) in November 2006. The RIP is sometimes called the “left seat-right seat” and is the formal train up of the new unit so there will be a seamless transition on the day that the new unit assumes command. The TOA is the paper work bureaucracy required and the finality is normally a formal ceremony symbolizing the transfer of authority. Once this occurs there was nothing left to do but prepare for the journey to home station. The 158th Field Artillery was re-organized into a 152-man SECFOR Company, they deployed, they conducted over 1,400 missions, they logged in over 125,000, miles and returned home with 152 men. The first stop on the journey home was Camp Virginia, Kuwait where they spent Thanksgiving Day 2006 and then reaching Fort Sill, Oklahoma to a rousting welcome on 27 November 2006.
In May of 2006, President Bush requested 6,000 National Guard troops to slow the tide of illegal immigration across America’s southern border named Operation Jump Start. The intent is to use guardsmen to assist and support the Border Patrol while additional agents were trained up. In August thirty-eight guardsmen from 1st Battalion 158th Field Artillery deployed to Deming, New Mexico to help in the effort to improve security along the Mexican and U.S. border.
Beginning in 2007 new Army transformation changed the 45th Field Artillery Brigade (FAB) to the 45th Fires Brigade (FiB) and the 1st Battalion 158th Field Artillery being it’s organic shooter began it’s conversion from a MLRS to a High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) battalion. They were assigned nine tactical vehicle 5-ton trucks of the 114 vehicles built. The HIMARS can be airlifted by a variety of aircraft, it is built on a wheeled chassis, has a single six-pack of rockets, can launch the entire MLRS family of munitions. On 25 April of that year the 158th Field Artillery tested the air mobility capability of the HIMARS with the assistance of the 58th Airlift Squadron from Altus Air Force Base. In under 30 minutes hey loaded three of the launchers and two High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs) onto a pair of C-17 cargo and then flew from Fort Sill, Oklahoma, to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas and conducted a 18 rocket live fire.
The year 2008 started off with “C” Battery of the 158th Field Artillery being named the Alexander Hamilton Best Army National Guard Battery in 2007.
The award is named for Alexander Hamilton, a Revolutionary War Artilleryman and American statesman and it annually recognizes a high-performing Army National Guard battery based on specific criteria. The battery is commanded by Captain Donald A. Anderson and it’s NCO leader is First Sergeant Dennis R. Cooper.
On 17 August 2008, the 45th FiB was alerted and began its mobilization in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. On 19 August 2008 900 Guardsmen of the brigade headed to Fort Hood, Texas for mobilization training. The brigade consists of a Headquarters unit based in Enid, Oklahoma, the 1st Battalion 158th Field Artillery (HIMARS) with units in Lawton, Walters, Duncan, Marlow, Chickasha and Anadarko, Oklahoma and the 1st Battalion 271st Brigade Support Battalion (BSB) with units in Altus, Hobart, Clinton, Elk City and Weatherford, Oklahoma. The 45th FiB was task organized to conduct base camp operations and life support to approximately 70,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, and civilians. The 45th FiB was at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait and the 271st BSB at Camp Buehring, Kuwait. The 158th Field Artillery would be organized to perform force protection missions in Iraq for Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) a non-standard field artillery mission. Once at Fort Hood the Guardsmen will conduct 65 days of mission-specific training together with individual warrior task training that the brigade had conducted the prior 11 months. The training objective is to combine them and concentrate specifically on collective unit and team missions. At the conclusion of their training they will be given a four-day pass.
On 7 December 2008, the first wave of Soldiers from the 1-158th Field Artillery arrived in Camp Ramadi and replaced the 1st Bn of the 125th Infantry of the Michigan ARNG in support of the transition of security to the Iraqi people. Here they began their operations by conducting camp security, security for Logistical Package (LOGPAC) or administrative runs, Personal Security Details (PSD) for the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) and they secured the Provincial Government Center (PGC) and provided PSDs for the Provincial Police Training Team (P-PTT), and assume responsibility of the Base Defense Operations Center (BDOC). On 31 July 2009 the 158th Field Artillery cases its colors and transfers command of Camp Ramadi to Colorado ARNG’s 3rd Battalion 157th Field Artillery. In August 2009 the battalion returned to Fort Sill with a standing ovation and a introduction by Brig. Gen. Robbie Asher remarking “Despite repeated enemy attack, they never failed to safeguard the people they were assigned to protect”.
Following the mobilization, a rapid reorganization and train-up was required in order for the 1st Battalion 158th Field Artillery to transition back to it’s field artillery mission of providing rocket fires in support of maneuver forces. The battalion performed a live fire at Fort Sill, Oklahoma in July 2010 culminating in an 18 rocket ripple fire. The Battalion expended all 72 rockets used for training during these crew certifications at AT.
The 21st Century called for the closing of many National Guard and Army Reserve armories and relocating them in a process known as the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC). A new 45 million dollar state–of-the-art facility called a Armed Forces Reserve Center (AFRC) was constructed on Fort Sill, Oklahoma. This facility co-located Army Reserve and Oklahoma National Guard units into a single complex. This new AFRC spanned 28 acres and included four main buildings: a 125,000 square foot training center; a 25,000 square foot maintenance facility; a 48,000 square foot heated storage building; and a 4,600 square foot unheated storage building. In February 2011 the 1st Bn 158th FA had completely moved from their old armories in Lawton, Walters, Duncan, Anadarko, and Hobart, Oklahoma into the new AFRC on Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
The next few years turned out to be a high Optempo year for the Army National Guard. Captain Sean Bryant, Battery Commander of Battery “A”, 1-158 FA BN (HIMARS) was notified of it’s future deployment to Afghanistan to provide artillery support for Operation Enduring Freedom. Mandatory certifications in providing artillery support capabilities is required for deployment and all training was focused on validating the certifications. Battery “A” validated after completing weeklong training from September 23-27, 2013, at Oro Grande, New Mexico. The validation culminating with the M-142 HIMARS launcher crews firing approximately 34 rockets.
On October 14, 2013, Battery “A” deployed to Afghanistan to support the the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) by providing field artillery fires to Regional Command South (RC-South), specifically Combined Task Force (CTF) Duke, of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, in the Zabul province of Afghanistan. The battery was split into three locations, two locations in RC-S, Forward Operating Base (FOB) Apache and Kandahar Airfield (KAF) with the third location in Regional Command West (RC-West) at Shindand Airfield which are in the Zabul and Herat provinces, respectively. First Lieutenant Christopher Lanham and Master Sgt. Earl Johnson and a portion of the battery were placed at KAF to perform non-standard artillery missions.
Originally all of the equipment and launchers for Alpha Battery were located at Shindand Airfield. After the equipment and launchers were moved and positioned, First Lieutenant Bill McGill, Staff Sgt. Michael Gildow and Staff Sgt. Tommy Bryant had the over whelming task of setting up operations on a FOB with limited resources available. Within 48 hours of having launchers on the ground at FOB Apache the task was completed and “A” Battery was capable of providing HIMARS coverage in support of CTF Duke.
On January 16, 2014, “A” Batterys’ Launcher Four-Two (4-2) of the 1st Fires Platoon received a fire mission and they launched two rockets on enemy targets, destroying an enemy communications repeater sight that insurgents were using against the coalition forces, making this the first time since Desert Storm that the158th Field Artillery fired rockets in support of the GWOT. Soldiers of Battery “A”,1-158 FA BN (HIMARS) returned home July after 11 months and were replaced by their sister unit, Battery “B”,1-158 FA BN (HIMARS). Battery “A” left Afghanistan on July 1st and included a stop at Fort Bliss, Texas where they spent eight days at the Fort Bliss Joint Mobilization Station (JMS)and then an overnight bus trip to Mustang, OK.
On May 6, 2014, Battery “B”, 1-158 FA BN (HIMARS), under the command of Captain Randall F. Wright, arrived at Fort Bliss, to begin mobilization training for their upcoming deployment. This would be “B” Batterys’ final opportunity to conduct live-fire training on their core military occupational specialties before they deployed overseas. Since November female soldiers had been integrated into the all-male unit. Pfc. Makyla K. McKean and Pfc. Jerra-Amie N. Hodges both are fire direction specialist, controlling aspects of the fire missions and paving the way for females serving in combat arms.
Battery “B”, 1-158 FA BN (HIMARS) flew out of the Silas L. Copeland Arrival/Departure Air Control Group (ADACG) at the Fort Bliss Directorate of Mobilization and Deployment (DoMAD) flight line on June 16, 2014. Final destination will be in Afghanistan supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.