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Home : News
NEWS | June 23, 2020

West Virginia field artillery unit resumes normal training

By Edwin Wriston West Virginia National Guard

KINGWOOD, W.Va. – The West Virginia National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 201st Field Artillery Regiment (1-201st FA BN), became the first major unit to resume normal training cycles during the COVID-19 pandemic, conducting a Super MUTA (Multiple Unit Training Assembly) at Camp Dawson June 13-18.

Since the beginning of restricted operations in early March, regular and previously scheduled training for active duty, Reserve, and National Guard units in West Virginia and around the nation have been put on hold to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. With states now relaxing some restrictions, military units are re-engaging training to maintain readiness and prepare for future missions.

“The pandemic is not going away, but we still have missions to train for,” said Maj. Christopher Shamblin, commander of the 1-201st FA BN. “And while much of the basic military training such as suicide awareness, information assurance, etc., can be conducted virtually, our specific skills on our equipment need hands-on opportunities in order for us to maintain proficiency.”

The 201st operates the M109 A6 Paladin Self-Propelled Howitzer as their primary weapons system.

“Operational skills on the Paladin and within the artillery field in general are perishable,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Nickolas Lambruno. “Anytime that you don’t train, your skill levels degrade. You have to be on the equipment. The opportunity to come to Camp Dawson with our guns and allow Soldiers to be on the artillery for a week is a tremendous opportunity.”

The 201st conducted field artillery tables 1-5 pre-certification qualifications, preparing for live-fire qualifications in Virginia later this summer. Soldiers also completed basic warrior tasks such as land navigation, small unit tactics, communications training, and combat lifesaver first aid.

“Beginning in 2021, the 201st with be part of a ready reaction force (RRF) required to be in a rapid deployment posture,” said Shamblin. “As such, we have to achieve and maintain a heightened readiness level. This requires us to focus on building competencies and developing good muscle memory for our core mission-essential task list (METL) skills as well as all the logistical and planning skills we need to hone to support our front-line warrior mission.”

While the emphasis for training was on accomplishing METL skills, much of the planning focused on COVID-19 considerations, and how to keep Soldiers safe while complying with Department of Defense (DoD) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance.

“Our Soldiers come from all over the state,” said Lambruno. “We have individual units of the 201st in Elkins, Morgantown, Lewisburg, Fairmont, and Kingwood, who are all here at Camp Dawson training together. The last thing we want is for Soldiers to get sick here, then endanger their families and communities when they get back home.”

That meant planning for increased berthing, feeding restrictions, and ensuring adequate supplies of masks and hand sanitizer.

“Where you would normally request berthing for 300, you now have to request for 600 in order for Soldiers to maintain proper social distances while sleeping,” said Shamblin. “Water buffaloes (water tank trailers) have to be sanitized every 30 minutes for proper use, and staggered chow times and alternate feeding options are needed to keep large numbers of Soldiers from eating together.

“We also had to think through and plan for detailed courses of action for contingencies, such as active medical monitoring while in the field, if a Soldier becomes sick how to isolate that individual, etc., and how those efforts impact overall readiness and mission potential,” Shamblin said. “All this while still keeping in mind regular threats to Soldiers such as heat stress and normal operational hazards.”

Even with the extra concerns of the pandemic, settling back into regular military training is beneficial to Soldiers and families.

“Being able to be back is a great thing,” said Lambruno. “Re-engaging with our military family can provide an extra level of support and a sense of normalcy for our Soldiers, which can help reduce stress from outside world situations. It gives us the opportunity to concentrate and focus solely on the mission for a bit. We also have Soldiers who need the income that drills and time in uniform provides.”