Units work together to have a blast at Northern Strike 16

Soldiers from the 1-119th Field Artillery, Charlie Battery out of Albion, Michigan, conduct routine maintenance on the M 777 155mm Howitzer prior to artillery training for Exercise Northern Strike at Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center Aug. 12, 2016. (Michigan National Guard photo by Staff Sgt.Tegan Kucera/Released)

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Story written by Staff Sgt. Tegan Kucera, 126th Press Camp

CAMP GRAYLING JOINT MANEUVER TRAINING CENTER, Mich.– No matter the year, no matter the location, the 1st Battalion, 119th Field Artillery Regiment, Michigan Army National Guard, comes to annual training with the intent of doing their jobs, blowing things up.

Whether it is the newest Soldier or a seasoned non-commissioned officer, field artillery Soldiers enjoy going to Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center to continue to refine their craft.

“I enlisted because I wanted to make stuff explode,” said Pvt. William Wheeler, a field artillery Soldier with Albion-based, Battery C, 1/119th. “I went through the classes [in Advanced Individual Training] and I really enjoyed it and learned a lot.”

Wheeler is one of several new Soldiers who are participating in their first annual training at CGJMTC during the fifth iteration of Exercise Northern Strike 16. He is seeing the end product of the battery coming together after a year of training at the unit’s home station.

“Everything is going great,” said Staff Sgt. Justin Thompson, a Battery C section chief. “The guys are motivated, nobody’s been hurt and we’ve been providing accurate and safe fire, so it’s all about the training.”

Thompson said he has been breaking the new privates into the 24-hour operations that go with annual training. For them, this means sleeping out in the field so they are always close to their weapons in order to provide day and night fire.

This year, they are firing illumination rounds as well as the high explosive rounds.

“Every year has something different to provide, but no matter what, we’re going to shoot artillery,” said Thompson.

The illumination rounds are being used to facilitate night-training missions for the 1st Battalion, 125th Infantry Regiment. Working with other units, and even other military components, during Northern Strike 16 increases the important of scheduling efforts as planners and unit leaders choreograph many different training missions into a large-scale, realistic exercise.

“In past years we’ve focused mainly on our own skills,” said 1st Lt. Thomas Wideman, Battery C’s executive officer. “This year, we are integrating into Northern Strike, and having a maneuver element on the ground adds a lot of complexity.”

Wideman noted the complexity comes in the form of the communications and observers that are necessary to ensure the safety of all personnel who take part in Northern Strike.

He said it adds to their annual training, but he didn’t want it taking away from the experience of the lower enlisted for a job that must be done by the higher ranks. He knows the value of developing the young Soldiers in his unit.

“I want to make sure the lowest level gets good training out of it,” said Wideman.

Northern Strike 16 is a National Guard Bureau-sponsored exercise uniting approximately 5,000 Army, Air Force, Marine, and Special Forces service members from 20 states and three coalition countries during the first three weeks of August 2016 at the Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center and the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, both located in northern Michigan.

The exercise strives to provide accessible, readiness-building opportunities for military units from all service branches to achieve and sustain proficiency in conducting mission command, air, sea, and ground maneuver integration, and the synchronization of fires in a joint, multinational, decisive action environment.

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