CAMP RIPLEY -- Members of Battery B, 1st Battalion, 151st Field Artillery of Minnesota's Army National Guard made its first-ever fire base almost too realistic during the unit's advanced training June 17-July 1 at Camp Ripley.
They strung 2,400 rolls of concertina wire around their 360-degree defensive position where four 155 millimeter howitzers were placed so well that the opposing force determined after two to three days of scoping the base that the only way to assault it would be at the main gate.
Lt. Col. Wayne Hayes, battalion commander, said normally a battery will just move and shoot during its training.
"We worked on defending the rear area as a scenario for our (advanced training)," he said.
A Minnesota Army National Guard two-and-a-half ton truck was driven into a hole dug as deep as its box in the fire base. One of the four 155 millimeter howitzers in the 360-degree fire base is in the background.
He said these fire bases offer realistic training in case of deployments to "hot spots" around the world.
In this scenario, the soldiers were not allowed to return to retrieve forgotten items like toothbrushes despite the rear area being just a few miles away from the fire base.
"The guys can't come back," Hayes said. "There is nothing back there."
Hayes said the soldiers could request these items from supply and receive them that way.
The evening sunlight created a serene scene as one of the four howitzers was fired at the base. The gun's high explosive shell weighs 98 pounds and has a maximum range of 30,000 meters.
This fire base, where two-and-half ton trucks were driven in dug-out holes as high as their boxes, allowed the soldiers' families and friends to observe what the soldiers do during annual training during Family Day, which was held June 24.
The base resembled a huge, unfilled pie crust to visitors. The whole base was surrounded by an eight-foot high dirt embankment with several fighting positions on each side. These fighting positions (carved out rectangles in the embankment surrounded by sandbags with a support on the top) were made from the 16,000 sandbags the 134th Forward Support Battalion obtained for the battery. The 682nd Engineer Battalion also supported the battery by moving the dirt, Hayes said.
Located in each corner of the base were the 155mm howitzers. The trucks with the howitzer's shells in their boxes were dug in just behind the guns.
For one of the gun's section chiefs, Sgt. Mark Maine of rural Pequot Lakes, this was his first time training in a fire base and he loved it. He said it increased the soldiers' morale because of the realistic training.
"Everyone in the whole unit was pretty excited about the whole thing, trying it," he said.
Maine, in his first year as a section chief, grew up listening to the artillery rounds and observing the illumination rounds from his second-story bedroom window in Pequot Lakes.
"(Artillery) gives you one heckuva thrill," he said. "Being in charge of the round going down range is a lot more exciting yet."
He is in charge of a 10-member section and has the final say. The procedure is as follows: The No. 1 man loads the powder bags into the gun's breech, primes the shell, hooks up the firing lanyard (rope), and waits for Maine to say "stand by, fire" and then pulls the lanyard.
One of these shells, a high explosive, weighs 98 pounds and has a maximum range of 30,000 meters.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.