Kentucky Guard field artillery troops conduct historic training

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Story and photos by Sgt. Bryan Ploughe, 1st Battalion, 623rd Field Artillery Unit Public Affairs Historian Representative

The 1st Battalion 623rd Field Artillery conducts a live fire exercise with their High Mobility Rocket Artillery System (HIMARS) during annual training at Fort Chaffee, Ark. July 29. The battalion fired over 70 rockets at targets more than 11 kilometers away during the exercise.

NOTE:  Each week kentuckyguard.com publishes stories by Kentucky National Guard unit public affairs historian representatives, also known as UPAHRs.  This is an additional duty taken on by a Soldier or Airmen with the intent of telling their unit’s story.  This is one such story ….

FORT CHAFFEE, Ark. – From a multi-force water crossing to a field artillery live fire exercise, the Kentucky Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion 623rd Field Artillery experienced an annual training that challenged each and every one of its Soldiers.

Before the break of daylight on July 27, nearly a hundred VIP’s boarded an Army Corps of Engineers barge on the Arkansas River. All of the guests were greeted by the deep thundering sounds of a nearby helicopter roaring outside,all part of the annual river assault exercise involving forces from the National Guard, reserves and active duty elements.

A High Mobility Rocket Artillery System (HIMARS) conducts the first river crossing exercise in 25 years as part of annual training conducted by the 1st Battalion, 623rd Field Artillery at Fort Chaffee, Ark.

The focus of the exercise was to secure both sides of the Arkansas River in order to construct a floating bridge to move the unit from the south side of the river to the north side. The task was to complete a simulated fire mission, shooting their High Mobility Rocket Artillery System (HIMARS).  After a few short hours the 22-piece section of the floating bridge that spanned over a thousand feet was completed and the 1/623rd moved north to complete their intended mission.

Col. Rondal Turner, 138th Fires Brigade Commander, was emphatic about the historic nature of this event.

“This is history in the making for the 623d,” said Turner. “The only other time that this battalion has even remotely done anything of this caliber was a stateside training mission over twenty years ago when the battalion still had the 8-inch self-propelled howitzers.”

Several High Mobility Rocket Artillery Systems (HIMARS) cross a thousand foot long, floating bridge in the first river crossing exercise in 25 years as part of annual training for the 1st Battalion, 623rd Field Artillery at Fort Chaffee, Ark.

After a day of intense and unfamiliar training with the river assault, the battalion then had to focus on occupying firing points and sending rounds down range.  The Soldiers’ flexibility was tested as they took on their field training exercise.

As the troops occupied Forward Operating Base Auburn, they quickly set up their tactical operations centers and established communications.

“The efficiency and determination was an awesome display of the abilities that our citizen Soldiers practice month after month,” said Command Sgt. Major Joey Simpson, 138th Fires Brigade.

As the temperatures quickly escalated into the mid 90s and soon approached the century mark, all operations within the FOB were up and running and fire missions were being sent out to the rocket launchers.

With all of the practice and assurance of safety and accuracy in place, the 1/623rd sent their first rounds into an impact area, just minutes after sunrise on day two.

Col. Rondal Turner, 138th Fires Brigade Commander and Command Sgt. Major Joey Simpson of the 138th Fires Brigade oversee the 1/623rd Field Artillery Battalion river crossing during their annual training at Fort Chaffee, Ark. at the beginning of August. This is the last annual training for both Turner and Simpson as they're retiring in the fall.

The 1/623rd consists of three firing batteries and a headquarters element.  Within just a few short hours the firing batteries launched 54 rockets down range and hit their targets.

Lt. Col. Jeff Hughes, the battalion’s commander, praised his Soldiers for their performance.

“It’s almost unheard of to conduct a combined arms exercise with members of both the Guard and Reserve from multiple states,” said Hughes. “Our Soldiers got the job done working with folks from across the country and did it admirably.”

The 1/623rd has a long and distinguished history to include participation in the Mexican-American War, the Civil War (both Union and Confederate service), World Wars I & II, the Korean War, Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004-2005.

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