Morgan’s Men integrate with NATO forces in European exercise

By Staff Sgt. Benjamin Crane, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

Capt. Morgan Brown, fire direction officer, shows several Polish Soldiers the equipment used by the 1st Battalion, 623rd Field Artillery Regiment during their annual training participating in Saber Strike 18 June 8, 2018. The Field Artillery Soldiers were there in support of a long-standing U. S. Army-Europe led exercise in its eight iteration that enhances readiness and interoperability with allied forces and regional partners. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Benjamin Crane)

BEMOWO PISKIE TRAINING AREA, Poland – Nearly 300 Soldiers with the Kentucky Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 623rd Field Artillery and the 203rd Forward Support Company integrated with NATO forces in a multi-national exercise, Saber Strike 18 in Poland June 3-15.

The field artillery Soldiers were there in support of the U.S. Army’s 2nd Cavalry Regiment during Saber Strike, a European exercise that takes place in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. It is a long-standing U. S. Army-Europe led exercise in its eighth iteration that enhances readiness and interoperability with allied forces and regional partners. Saber Strike included an estimated 18,000 participants from 19 allied and partner nations.

For the 1/623rd, it was a chance to show off the capabilities of their High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS). The system is mounted on the back of a truck that can be maneuvered quickly to fire at its target and then reposition to avoid enemy fire.

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Saber Strike provided an opportunity to improve the unit substantially. Starting from home station, the battalion was challenged even in scheduling unit movements not previously seen by the Soldiers of the unit or its command.

“This exercise gives us a chance do to something that we don’t usually get to do,” said Maj. Steve Mattingly, commander of the 1/623rd FA. “We get to work on our mission tasks in a deployed-like environment. This has been treated like a deployment mission from the very beginning so it gives us a chance to go through all the pains of loading equipment, putting it on a boat, and unloading it while working with an unfamiliar group and being able to establish communications with them. It has given us a lot of opportunities to exercise things we wouldn’t normally get to do.”

Getting all the battalion’s equipment to the area proved to be an incredible learning experience. There were more than 85 vehicles, containers and other pieces of equipment that needed to be shipped overseas and kept account of.

“This is a unique opportunity for our unit since this is the first time we have deployed with one hundred percent of our organic elements, said Capt. Paul Chandler, Alpha Battery commander. “Saber Strike has given our unit the ability to sharpen our skills in field artillery and create a working relationship with our allies.”

As for the opportunities for being able to do new things, this overseas annual training has given Soldiers who have never been to another country the chance to see new places and experience things they don’t normally see during drill weekend as well. For the drivers of the HIMARS, they can boast about driving from Lithuania to Poland and back again.

“I got off the plane (in Lithuania) and thought to myself ‘this looks a lot like Georgia,’” said Staff Sgt. Aaron Wallace, medic section chief. “I’ve been in for 20 years and this is the first time I’ve been to an AT outside the U.S., so it feels pretty special for me.”

The exercise finished with the Soldiers doing a live fire of their HIMARS weapons system on the last day of Saber Strike allowing media and distinguished guests to see the capabilities of a Kentucky National Guard field artillery unit.

Commonly known as “Morgan’s Men”, the Soldiers in the 1/623 can trace their unit’s lineage to an American Civil War cavalry officer, John Hunt Morgan who was known for going long distances to fight his enemies. Much like him, the Soldiers “seized the opportunity” to follow in his footsteps during this year’s annual training.