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New York Army Guard aviators and artillerymen team up for joint training at Fort Drum

By Eric Durr and Pfc. Andrew Valenza | New York National Guard | June 19, 2017

FORT DRUM, N.Y. – It was hard to tell which was louder: the boom from the cannons or the roar of the downdraft from helicopter rotors, as New York Army National Guard artillery and aviation Soldiers teamed up for air assault artillery raid training here Jun 8-9.

The training scenario called for the artillerymen of the 1st Battalion, 258th Field Artillery to be airlifted forward with their cannons and ammunition by the UH-60s of the 3rd Battalion 142nd Aviation. Once back on the ground the artilleryman would fire on a critical target, call in the helicopters, hook their guns back up and be airlifted back out.

This field artillery air assault is a critical task for his battalion, which provides fire support for the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, said Lt. Col. Peter Mehling, the commander of the 258th.

"It gives the maneuver commander the ability to strike a high-value target using speed, surprise and precision that is beyond the normal range of his indirect fire assets," Mehling said.

The air assault artillery raid is an integral part of the howitzer firing requirements his Soldiers need to conduct annually, he added.

This year the battalion's Alpha Battery, based in New Windsor, New York, fielded four M119A2 howitzers to conduct live fire training as part of the air assault drill, while Bravo Battery, located in the Bronx, had two gun crews go through the exercise in a dry fire status.

The mission kicked off as the Black Hawks airlifted in an advance party which had 20 minutes to secure the area and mark gun locations.

While this was going on, the rest of the battery's Soldiers were preparing the M119A2s howitzers for sling-loading under the UH-60s and then hooking them up to the hovering helicopters.

Flying with 2.3 tons of cannon hanging underneath a helicopter is tricky, so it's always good for his aircrews to get a chance to practice the task, said Lt. Col. Kevin Ferreira, the commander of the 142nd Aviation.

"With an external load the handling capabilities and the flight characteristics of the aircraft change a little bit so, it's a thought process…it's a good decision making process for all the air crews that are participating," he explained.

Two Soldiers from the 258th stood on each cannon as the Blackhawks came in over top of them. The downdraft from a helicopter can range from 70 to 115 miles per hour, so it was a challenge for the Soldiers to hook on correctly as dirt and dust flew around them.

On board the UH-60s, crew chiefs sitting in the doorway of the helicopters helped guide the pilots in to hook onto the guns.

The 142nd Aviation is a good unit to work with for this training, said Capt. Eric Emerling, the Alpha Battery commander.

"They're very user friendly," he said. "We keep in contact with them on the radio and they've been very adaptive if we have an issue on the ground. They're willing to work with us, give us more time or adapt as we need it so it's pretty good."

Next stop was the landing zone where the advance party had prepared a location for all four guns in the section.

When all guns were in place each howitzer fired four rounds on the target.

The M119A2 can fire a 105 millimeter shell filled with 4.6 pounds of high explosive, 8.6 miles downrange. A seven-member gun crew can fire three rounds a minute.

Along with exercising the gun crews, the air assault exercise is important because it gives the battalion Soldiers who are air assault qualified a chance to use the skills they learned in the Air Assault Course, Mehling said. These Soldiers don't often get a chance to use this training, so any time they can it is a plus.

"The success of this training was largely due to the knowledge, experience, and leadership of these personnel," he emphasized.

The air assault artillery raid is also the kind of training his Soldiers love to do, Mehling said.

"Executing challenging training, with rigorously evaluated standards is the reason many cite when they re-enlist," Mehling said.

Overall the mission went well, Mehling said. Both batteries met the standards of the raid and the standards for the field artillery firing tables. They inserted their howitzers, computed accurate firing date, delivered the rounds on target and exfiltrated people and guns within the time standards.

"The fire mission itself went very well," Emerling said. "We got word that there were good effects on the target from the observers."

"In the field artillery it is very easy to measure success," Mehling said, "either you hit the target or you don't."