WISCONSIN RAPIDS, Wis. - The thunderous blast of a 105-mm light towed howitzer cannon and the smell of its smoke soon met with shouts and cheers from Soldiers in the Wisconsin Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 120th Field Artillery Regiment here June 18.
The last time the artillery component of the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team fired their M119-A2 howitzers was in the spring of 2005. Due to a high operations tempo, the guns have been silent for more than six years. Finally, just days shy of the official start of summer the silence was broken as the 120th took part in its first brigade-wide annual training in years.
"Some of the Soldiers have gone on two deployments since the 120th has fired the howitzers," said Army Pfc. Jonathan Strande, a cannoneer for Battery A, 1st Battalion, 120th Field Artillery. "Six years is too long. Everybody joined artillery for a reason, and we were all itching to get back on the guns."
The first shot wasn’t fired by just anyone. After winning a "top gun" competition, Army Sgt. Alan W. Sazama, a howitzer gunner for Battery A, and his team earned the honor. The contest between howitzer crews determined who would be ready to fire in the shortest amount of time, while meeting all safety measures.
The competition reflected the need to be fast and accurate, because in combat, a few moments of delay in sending cannon fire downrange can cost the lives of those calling for artillery support.
"The fastest and the safest to lay the piece won," Sazama said. To lay the piece means the cannon is properly emplaced and aligned with safety and aiming devices.
"It felt incredible to be number one," Strande said. "The competition was battalion level, with two units and 10 sections, but we were the ones able to pull together and work as a team."
"We are honored to be given the chance to do this, especially when it means so much to the unit," Sazama said.
With renewed motivation, and high spirits, the 120th continued training well after the excitement of the first firing.
"We're going to expand and build on what we're doing here," Sazama said. "The first shot was just the first step."