‘Pathfinders’ fire through ‘Top Gun’ competition, personnel changes
Spc. Brandon A. Bednarek,
4th BCT, 1st AD Public Affairs:
DOÑA ANA, N.M. – The 2nd Battalion, 29th Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, tested its artillerymen last week as they competed for the title of “Top Gun” during a live-fire exercise here.
The competition tested four Paladin crews from A and B batteries on their physical fitness ability, artillery skills proficiency and section live-fire exercises.
Among the four crews and with the help of the battalion’s forward observers, 400 high-explosive rounds were fired as they received evaluations on low- and high-angle fires, priority target engagement and immediate suppression techniques, said Cpt. Patrick J. Vickery, the battalion’s operations officer.
Coming out on top with a combined score of 929 out of 1,000 points, was Staff Sgt. Chris Rodgers, Sgt. Elstin Miramontes, Spc. Brandon Lambert and Spc. Kevin Milton of B Battery.
“Their performance was outstanding,” said Rodgers, the crew’s chief. “You always want to be the best, especially field artillery. You want to be the best chief with the best and fastest gun.”
“The Top Gun competition is a great example of the collective, NCO-led training that the ‘Highlander’ Brigade can conduct while the majority of its leaders are deployed to Afghanistan,” said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Merenkov, the brigade’s rear-detachment commander.
For the last few months, both the battalion and the brigade have dealt with the majority of its Soldiers deploying to Afghanistan or being reassigned through intra-post transfers.
“A typical heavy fires battalion has 16 guns with eight [crews] per battery,” Vickery said. “We knew that once the battalion was down to a little over 100 people, we needed two crews per battery in order to maintain firing capabilities.”
The reduction of Soldiers, however, has not slowed down or compromised the degree in which training is conducted, he continued. In fact, it has allowed the battalion to guarantee the quality and effectiveness of crewmembers, as well as the training they receive.
Rodgers and his crew represent the battalion’s successes during the personnel challenges, earning his near-perfect score with a crew who has only worked together for approximately a month, he said.
“The intent is to cross-train Soldiers at the lowest level to be proficient and capable of performing tasks at any skill level,” said Vickery.
The training conducted during rear detachment will also establish systems that will set the standard and help integrate incoming and returning personnel following the unit’s deployment, he said.
“As we move forward, we’re going to focus on building the systems,” said Vickery. “It’s really a testament to the noncommissioned officers here that they can do the troop-to-tasks, daily duties and brigade tasks, all while carrying out a live-fire.”
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