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HIMARS Gives Fort Bragg Extra Punch for Quick Reaction Force

M142 HIMARS

The fog hung low over Sicily Drop Zone, where several HIMARS launchers were stationed, camouflaged among the tall grass.

The relative quiet of the morning, punctuated by the patter of distant radios, would be violently shattered by the screeching of six rockets, barreling across post with trails of smoke in their wake.

"It'll knock you sideways," said Staff Sgt. Cody Lindholm, a HIMARS crew chief. "We absolutely love it."

In a display of might unusual for Fort Bragg, an entire battery of M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, commonly known by the acronym HIMARS, fired their payloads into the westernmost impact areas of the post on Tuesday.

The demonstration, by soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment, was part of a week-long training exercise by the battalion that earned the nickname "steel rain" during Desert Storm.

From across the drop zone, the rockets roared over and beyond the looming pines of Fort Bragg.

In a combat scenario, they may travel anywhere from a few miles, to nearly 200 miles to strike enemy targets, officials said.

Two batteries, Alpha and Bravo, fired Tuesday -- the first in the morning, the latter in the evening.

Alpha Battery will soon assume a role on the Global Response Force, said Lt. Col. Brandon Meno, the battalion commander.

A relatively little known capability of the nation's quick reaction force -- known mostly for the airborne capabilities provided by the 82nd Airborne Division -- the HIMARS are there to open the door for the rest of the force, Meno said.

With the potential to face modern militaries with air defense systems, a HIMARS has the firepower to destroy those systems from an intermediate staging base far from the front lines.

That will allow paratroopers to drop in and planes to land with follow-on forces.

"This is all-weather, long-range precision," Meno said. "And based on potential modern threats, it's that more important."

The training exercise drew an unusually large crowd from within Meno's battalion. Capt. Joe Fix, the Alpha Battery commander, attributed it to the rarity of the mission.

"The entire battery -- all eight launchers firing at the same time," he said. "I don't think anyone in the battalion has seen this."

"Everyone is really excited," Fix added.

The training, which also will include a digital fire exercise later in the week, is meant to improve the readiness of the HIMARS crews and prepare them for future missions, including the Global Response Force, officials said.

Fix said the HIMARS are uniquely suited to firing and moving quickly.

They can be staged far outside the reach of typical artillery, he said. Or they can be flown into remote airstrips on C-17 aircraft, fired quickly and flown away.

"We can shoot a lot farther, and we're very mobile," Fix said. "Fire and move. That would be our bread and butter."

"We are heavy weapons, but on the cusp of light," he said.

Fort Bragg's HIMARS battalions, both of which belong to the 18th Field Artillery Brigade, don't often fire their rockets on post. That happens about twice a year, officials said.

Otherwise, the units train across the country, including at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana; Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada; and locations in Texas and other states.

On Tuesday, three-soldier crews manned launchers by the names of Blarney Stone, Blast Off and Day Out. Each took turns firing training rounds roughly the width of a telephone pole.

Their instructions were passed from the battalion headquarters to battery and platoon operations centers before being relayed to the launchers themselves.

From a distance, the launchers could be seen moving into position, with crew chiefs checking the weapons from hatches in the roof of the HIMARS.

Then came the bursts of light and blink-and-you'll-miss-it rockets zipping overhead.

"That's a lot of combat power," Fix said of the display. "That's the muscle we provide."

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