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NEWS | May 31, 2024

Retiring Illinois Guard Artillery Gun Chief Fires Final Rounds

By Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy, National Guard Bureau

USTKA, Poland – When U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Terry Rutherford enlisted in 1982, the idea of taking part in a training exercise in Poland was a seemingly ludicrous one – something that would never happen. After all, the Cold War was in full swing, and Poland was an Eastern Bloc nation aligned with the Soviet Union. 

At the time, he was stationed in what was then West Germany, his unit continually training to defeat a possible Soviet foe. 

And yet, 40-plus years later, Poland is exactly where he is.

Now a gun chief with B Battery, 2nd Battalion, 123rd Field Artillery Regiment, Illinois Army National Guard, Rutherford and the rest of his battalion are training alongside Polish army units in Ustka, providing artillery support during Immediate Response, a multinational training exercise that includes more than 22,000 participants from the United States, Poland, the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom. 

The exercise is also Rutherford’s last, as he’s retiring this year, and it marks a bookend of sorts — he’s only a few hundred miles from his first training exercise 40-plus years ago while he was stationed in Freiburg, Germany. 

“I fired my first rounds in Europe and I’m going to fire my last rounds in Europe,” he said.

“It’s sort of bittersweet,” he said. “I’m not sure how to be.”

He said his current gun crew is perhaps the best he’s ever worked with. 

“I guess the hardest part is knowing it would be the last time I’m firing with this group of gentlemen,” Rutherford said.

He said the time between that first round and the final round was filled with memorable moments, such as the time his crew fired nine rounds during an eight-round fire mission. Higher unit leadership pulled him aside to answer for the extra round, which was fired based on a miscommunication. 

Added measures were put in place to ensure clearer communication, but he said he noted to the leadership team that they should really be upset with the other crews. 

“Well, we fired nine rounds in the same time it took them to fire eight,” he said, adding the other crews were running noticeably slower. 

But the most impactful and significant parts of his career, Rutherford said, were serving along the Southwest border as part of Operation Jumpstart, the 2006-2008 National Guard mission to support U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, and deploying to Iraq.

“It means a lot,” he said. “There’s a group of guys that I got to be friends with, and they’re my brothers. Those are the kind of relationships and camaraderie and brotherhood that people who have never been in the military, they don’t understand it. They’ll never understand it. But it’s what means the most.”

Rutherford’s path to the artillery began with the father of a high school friend who was the first sergeant of a Tennessee Army National Guard artillery battery. 

“It was a 109 (M109 Paladin, self-propelled howitzer) artillery unit,” he said. “That’s what I wanted to do, and we (he and his friend) joined together.”

After serving four years, he chose to leave the Army when his enlistment contract was up in 1986. Though, something nagged at him in the ensuing years. 

“It just felt like I hadn’t finished what I started,” he said.

In 2000, then in his late 30s, he enlisted in the Army National Guard. 

And now, with retirement nearing, he said he feels like he’s finished what he began in 1982.

“Watching these young guys step up shows me that maybe I’ve done something right from time to time,” he said. “I’ve watched some of these young guys since we’ve been here, how they’ve elevated what they do, and it makes you feel pretty good.”

The gun crew and unit wouldn’t be what it is today without Rutherford’s guidance and mentorship, said Spc. Austin Rodriguez, a member of Rutherford’s gun crew.
“He’s honestly been the rock and guidestone for a lot of our guys,” he said. 

For Rodriquez, Rutherford’s upcoming retirement has been the most daunting part of the exercise.

“The most challenging part for me is knowing that my chief is retiring,” he said. “I’ve been with him since I got into the unit.”

Rodriguez added that Rutherford’s retirement gives him mixed emotions.

“It’s bittersweet,” he said. “I’m happy for him to finally get some time to relax and enjoy life and just have a good time, but the amount of knowledge going out with him from our battery is going to be sorely missed.”

But Rutherford said he feels the gun crew will be just fine.

“Here, the only challenge for me is walking up that motor pool hill in the morning,” he said. “I mean, I got these guys here. My section is just, they’re just badass. Period.”

And as his retirement nears, Rutherford has one last piece of advice for his crew.

“I suggest anybody stay 20 years,” he said. “Just don’t break it up over 40 years like I did. Just do it straight through.”

But had he not done it that way, he may not have ended up back in Europe for his final training exercise. 

 “To finish where you started, that’s pretty cool,” said Rutherford. 



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