Michigan National Guard
Story by Master Sgt. Dan Heaton
CAMP GRAYLING, Mich. -- Loud noises are a major part of what keeps two Wisconsin National Guard Soldiers coming back to northern Michigan.
“The big boom – it gets your heart pumping,” said Specialist Sharrod Harper, a member of C Battery, 1st/120th Field Artillery, a unit based in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Citizen-Soldiers spent the final 10 days of January participating in Northern Strike 21-1, also known as Winter Strike, at Camp Grayling Maneuver Center.
The Wisconsin troops were among Army National Guard, Air National Guard and Marine Corps Reserve units from a half-dozen states to participate in Winter Strike. The exercise, which capitalizes on the Michigan National Guard’s premier facilities at Camp Grayling and the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, serves as a venue for U.S. and coalition forces to receive advanced training in all weather conditions. Together, the Michigan training facilities’ combined ranges and air spaces comprise the National All-Domain Warfighting Center, which was established in 2020 to further capitalize on Michigan’s diverse training facilities and opportunities.
Sgt. Gabriel Morris of Pewaukee, Wisc., has participated in several training evolutions at Camp Grayling in both the summer months, for the larger Northern Strike exercise, as well at 2020’s inaugural Winter Strike.
“One thing about Winter Strike – there’s no sunburn,” Morris said.
A bricklayer in his civilian capacity, Morris said Winter Strike gives his team an opportunity to train in a different environment.
“I think having to train under different sets of conditions makes us a better team,” he said of his fellow soldiers in the battery.
For Winter Strike 2021, Harper was assigned as his firing team’s ammo chief. It was his job to track what type of ammunition was called for to be fired from one of the battery’s M-777 Howitzers and then to complete the paperwork to ensure all of his team’s ammunition is accounted for after their time in the field.
“I initially joined for the education benefits and to follow in family tradition,” Harper said. “I have had family that’s served in several branches of the military. But if you are going to be in field artillery, I think you have to love it when the weapon fires. That’s the big rush.”
Like Morris, Harper, who lives in Madison, Wisc., is a traditional member of the Wisconsin National Guard, serving generally one weekend per month and a few weeks of training every year. In his civilian job, he works in security at a Madison hospital.
“We’ve got a great group of Soldiers in this company and training like this is what keeps them sharp and ready for the mission,” said Staff Sgt. Michael LaDue, who served as the lead of one of the gun teams for C Company.
In addition to the Wisconsin field artillery, Winter Strike 21, training focused on synchronizing joint fires with Marine and Army rotary-wing assets, B-52 bombers from the Air Force active-duty 5th Bomb Wing in Minot, North Dakota, and the West Virginia National Guard. Air National Guard (ANG) JTACs from New Jersey’s 227th Air Support Operations Squadron (ASOS) and New York’s 274th ASOS, ANG A-10Cs from Selfridge, Michigan, and Marine Corps 2nd ANGLICO (Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company) from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, also participated.
The National All-Domain Warfighting Center is home to nearly 148,000 acres of ground maneuver area and the largest overland military operating airspace east of the Mississippi River. Michigan’s unique geography, airspace, ranges, and growing connection to the defense industry make it an ideal environment for All-Domain training and operations.