GRAYLING, Mich. - Soldiers of the Michigan Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 119th Field Artillery Regiment, with support from Soldiers with B Company, 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation Regiment and 3rd Battalion, 238th Aviation Regiment, successfully conducted cold weather training at Camp Grayling Joint Military Training Center, Mich., recently.
The two-day mission, challenged by extreme sub-zero temperatures, included the slingloading and live fire of 12 M-777 155mm howitzers. The weapons were slingloaded underneath CH-47 Chinook helicopters and transported to their firing positions while the gun crews were then transported to the firing point in UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters.
"When we planned for this, we planned for 20 to 30 degree temps," said Army Lt. Col. Scott Meyers, commander of 1st Bn, 119th FA Regt.. "Our first day up here, it was 30 degrees below zero so we ended up doing more arctic-type training."
Early morning day one, the low temperatures took their toll on equipment but the mission pressed on.
"The vehicles and equipment - it's been hard on them," said Meyers. "We've learned what works in 30 below and what does not."
With the frigid temperatures, machinery that was expected to work, didn't.
"We went through a couple dozen batteries for vehicles," said Meyers. "Getting them to start in the morning was very difficult and tires were going flat. We had two 2,500 gallon diesel tankers completely gel up and freeze so we had to bring them into a warming bay so we could draw the fuel the next day."
The Soldiers of the battalion pressed on despite the arctic conditions.
"They've overcome and, today, all vehicles are running," said Meyers. "Mechanics were up until 2300, 11 p.m., last night fixing everything and it's working today so there's a lot of motivation to make this weekend work."
Despite the cold weather, members of the unit found the challenges helped them gel a bit more in accomplishing their mission.
"It was definitely cold, but it was a lot of fun and something new for the battalion," said Army 1st Lt. Adam Stephens, executive officer of Battery A, 1st Bn., 119th FA Regt. "Sometimes it's good to challenge yourself and overcoming adversity brings the unit together to achieve the mission."
Stephens served as liaison to the flight crews to ensure Soldier safety and the landing times of the Blackhawk and Chinook helicopters.
"We had zero cold weather injuries," said Meyers. "Thirty below zero standing under 140 mile per hour winds underneath a Chinook that's lifting up a howitzer, that's certainly a challenge."
There were several 'firsts' for the unit's cold weather operation. For many in the battalion, those firsts included slingload operations and simply flying in a helicopter, said Meyers.
During the two-day operation, 36 aircraft missions with the howitzers were executed seamlessly and external evaluators overseeing the unit commented that the Soldiers performed as if they had many years of experience, said Meyers.
And while the temperature was low during the mission, Soldier morale remained high.
"The Soldiers' motivation is high and the Army equipment has kept them warm," said Meyers. "We even had four (re-)enlistments today. We had Soldiers say, 'We would like to re-enlist. This was one of the most awesome things we've ever done.'"
More than 100 Soldiers from the battalion and the aviation units that supported them earned cold weather operation training certifications and learned a variety of adaptive techniques.
The battalion will be conducting other slingload missions throughout this year and the cold weather operation is slated to be conducted again in 2015.