Army Reserve unit makes history

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Story by SFC Clinton Wood on 04/13/2017
FORT KNOX, Ky., -- LTG Charles D. Luckey, Chief of Army Reserve and Commanding General of the United States Army Reserve Command (USARC), stresses that America's Army Reserve is the most capable, combat-ready, and lethal federal reserve force in the history of the Nation.
The 979th Mobility Augmentation Company (MAC), 478th Engineer Battalion, 926th Engineer Brigade, 412th Theater Engineer Command (TEC), based in Lexington, Kentucky, proved his point during its training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, March 20 until April 4, 2017.
Not only did this company obtain certification on Gunnery Tables I through VI with crew-served weapons mounted to its M1113 Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs), it was certified in Engineer Qualification Tables (EQT) I-XII for the first time in U.S. Army Reserve history. USARC and the company's higher commands combined to direct that the MAC be EQT XII certified in order to attend its Combat Training Center rotation later this month at the National Training Center (NTC), Fort Irwin, California, as part of NTC Rotation 17-06.
Company commander Capt. Philip Smith described the training as a "great experience."
"It was rushed getting through the planning phase but having Soldiers who were willing to execute and stay motivated throughout all of the training was beyond phenomenal."
"Every piece of diversity we threw their way, they stepped up and they were more than willing to accomplish the mission, so making history was absolutely amazing," noted Smith, who assumed command Feb. 6.
His three platoons in three APC convoys each had to be amazed during the EQT XII qualification on the training finale April 1st. The first two platoons witnessed the launching of M58 Mine Clearing Line Charges or MICLICs with inert M68A2 line charges. The third platoon witnessed the M-136 Volcano weapons system launch training mines about 100 feet in the air. The MICLIC and Volcano launch were among the EQT XII platoon-level validations.
The 979th Mobility Augmentation Company will be task organized under the
82nd Brigade Engineer Battalion (BEB), 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, during its NTC Rotation.
On the way'
Each time, a target popped up, this was what the vehicle commander (VC) or gunner shouted to his crew as he unleashed rounds down range shaking the APC. The BEB required this live-fire certification for the platoon-level live fire-exercise at NTC.
Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Hardman, a reserve master gunner, certified the gun crews. Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 409th Regiment and 1st Bn., 410th Regt., 4th Cavalry Brigade, First Army Division East, evaluated the crews.
To say this company showed mettle in the Gunnery Tables is like saying a M2 50-caliber machine gun can expend hundreds of rounds in a few seconds.
Gunnery Table IV day and night was where the Soldiers "dug deep" to knock down targets from as far away as 1,000 meters. A variable for this challenge was that most of the gunners and vehicle commanders had not fired either the .50 caliber or a M240B machine gun from a vehicle.
Sgt. Brandon Kincaid, a vehicle commander, said having the gun mounted was a challenge. In each engagement, the scenario called for the gunner to be "incapacitated" and replaced by the VC. Shooting while donning a field protective mask also was in every engagement.
"You have your traversing and elevation mechanism (T&E), turret, and everything can move," said Kincaid, a pet store's assistant manager. "It is a whole lot more unstable than it would be on a tripod."
The gun crews' struggles with employing their weapons mounted on their APCs prompted Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Trammell, operations noncommissioned officer (NCO) for the 450th Engineer Company, 841st Engineer Battalion, 926th Engineer Brigade, TEC, and fellow company reconnaissance NCO Sgt. Joshua Stivers and another reconnaissance NCO William Furst of the Battalion's 449th Engineer Company to cease the live-fire training.
"We essentially stopped training, pulled them (the gun crews) into the classroom and conducted GST or gunnery skills testing," said Trammell, whose roles were to advise the company operations NCO on his graphical overlays and Concept of Operations per Table of Fire per gunnery table and assist Smith in certifying the company on the EQTs VIII through XII.
The GST included how to bore sight the weapons and how to zero their AN/PAS-13s or thermal weapon sights, said Trammell.
This was the first time that most of the gun crews used the AN/PAS-13.
Trammell said the unfamiliarity with the AN/PAS-13 was a "major hurdle."
He credits Stivers and Furst with ensuring the crews qualified both day and night by teaching them how to employ their optics correctly. A target only stayed up for 50 seconds during the day.
Trammell went one step further. Once he and his team saw that the crews were failing to qualify on Gunnery Table IV, he decided that they would use iron sights during the day and thermal sights at night.
"We actually trained the vehicle commanders to use verbal commands to adjust off the T & E and that worked," said Trammell. "They actually started hitting targets."
This statement rang true on a dark night only lit by a slivery moon. Trammell was so determined that these crews qualify on Gunnery Table IV night fire, he climbed on each truck to assist crews in spotting targets.
With some crews, he used night vision goggles to spot the targets for the gunners and then directed them which way to aim the weapon and "walk in" the round.
Spc. Johnny Jarrett was one of the Soldiers who used the PAS-13 for the first time.
"I never felt a greater joy than looking out in a field that was pitch black and looking through a thermal scope and hitting a target at 800 meters knowing that its pitch black," said Jarrett, who installs garage door openers across central Kentucky. "When you hear kill, kill, kill, it is a relief that you got that target."
That target had to be hit three times for it to count as a hit.
Reflecting on the training, Trammell said Stivers and Furst were the reason for the Soldiers' success.
"Without those two guys behind me, we would not have made this happen," said Trammell, a former cavalry scout who has been deployed overseas more than three times.
Hardman agreed.
"After long days and some nights of PMI (Preliminary Marksmanship Instruction), zeroing and practicing fire commands. I want to thank them for their help with making sure these Soldiers got qualified," said Hardman.
Fire in the hole, fire in the hole, fire in the hole'
Seconds later, there was a boom and a gray mushroom cloud arose from a ravine.
Two Soldiers had just detonated a Bangalore Torpedo and helped the company qualify for EQT VIII. These torpedoes are used to clear obstacles or detonate unexploded ordnance.
Pvt. Jamie Johnson was one of the Soldiers who initiated a Bangalore. He and another Soldier each initiated a M81 ignitor of the torpedo. They had to push in a plunger device, turn it and then pull it.
"It was an adrenaline rush at first," said the civilian forklift driver.
He pointed out that he asked himself, "Can I breathe again?" after the shock wave.
EQT XII saw platoons of Soldiers armed with their assigned weapons definitely breathing as in exercising breath control, a marksmanship fundamental. This "react to contact" drill had the Soldiers kneeling a few feet from each other and forming a line. Once the targets appeared about 500 meters away, they unleashed a loud volley of fire.
A few hours later, the range was lit up by fire. As each MICLIC was fired, fire could be seen from each side of the rocket launcher mounted on a M200A1 2 ton trailer.
So what was it like being the Soldier who fired a MICLIC for the first time?
Spc. Cole Robinson, a heating and air conditioning worker, said despite the inert line charge, the blast was loud. He launched the MICLIC from a battened-down APC.
"You could hear the rocket as it went over the truck," said Robinson, who has been a combat engineer for eight years.
He pointed out that it took seven squeezes of a blaster machine which resembles a hand gripper exerciser to activate the charge. A minimum of 220 volts is needed to set off the charge.
"You don't know when it is going to send out the signal," said Robinson.
Sgt. Michael Welch, who witnessed the second MICLIC launch from the gunner's periscope, described it as awesome.
"It was like all of a sudden over the truck," said Welch, who jumped up and down once the APC's mortar hatch was opened after the launch.
The Volcano weapons system launch was the culminating event.
Sgt. Jordan Magolan launched it from the cab of the M977 Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck the weapons system was mounted on.
He said the launch sounded like a M203 Grenade launcher being fired.
Smith said it best as this platoon who fired the Volcano formed a half circle in front of him.
"I have nothing but pride for you all," he said. "Keep up the good work. It looked phenomenal. You got us there. If it wasn't for all your hard work, this would have been in vain.
But you all got out there and got after it and you proved we could do what people thought we couldn't do."
And made history along the way.
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