The sweeping power and unique capabilities of the soldiers of Fort Bragg's 18th Field Artillery Regiment are gaining a lot of attention -- and they're in high demand across Joint Forces Command.
"The more we go out and do operations like Operation Inherent Resolve, the more the appetite increases," said Lt. Col. John Herrman, commander of 3rd Battalion, 321st Field Artillery Regiment. "In 2013 to 2014, I was on the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) staff and started to see the appetite in Afghanistan."
The unit, which operates the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, is tapped to deploy some time this year. Herrman said he's not sure where the unit will be sent, but he is confident the soldiers are prepared to go.
Over the past few weeks, the soldiers have lived in the dirt -- rehearsing into the day and night their abilities to strike fires, counter fires and suppress enemy air defense systems. They conducted their culminating training event Monday, after months of live-fire shooting, qualifications courses and medical training exercises.
The training was designed to gauge how quickly and efficiently soldiers working in different sections synchronized to accomplish missions. Some soldiers worked in the operations tent to gather intelligence on enemy movements to pass to rocket launchers. Other worked on the rocket system from firing points, and another group manned the ammunition holding area to resupply the rocket launchers when they called for more ammunition.
Herrman, who has completed four deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, said the HIMARS is a powerful artillery system. The range of its rockets can reach hundreds of kilometers, and hit targets within nine feet, Herrman said.
"It's very precise," he said. "It's one of the advantages of the system. The commander doesn't have to put an airplane in the air or soldiers on the ground. It's a pretty powerful system. They're in high demand across the Joint Force."
Instead of traveling to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, Herrman's unit was able to build a training exercise that would simulate missions they could encounter while deployed.
Home station training has been on the forefront as military leaders discuss ways to maintain optimal troop readiness.
Last fall, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of Fort Bragg and the 18th Airborne Corps, said it's important for soldiers to practice fundamental skills through training at home stations to achieve maximum readiness.
Rotations at combat training centers provide incredible opportunities, he said, but soldiers should not rely solely on that training experience. It is always possible they could be called to deploy without having completed exercises at a combat training center and have to deploy as they are, Townsend said.
For the soldiers of the 321st Field Artillery Regiment, the home station training has given them a laser focus on perfecting their capabilities.
The National Training Center is designed for units that support combat teams at a brigade level, Herrman said. But 18th Field Artillery shoots at a higher level, such as joint task force headquarters, so it is able to curtail its training to simulate that type of support.
In the ammunition holding area -- a manmade dirt pit nicknamed the "dustbowl" -- Capt. Jon Hicks, commander of A Battery, 3rd Battalion, 321st Field Artillery Regiment, watched soldiers as they prepared trucks to deliver ammunition to firing points for rocket launcher crews.
The rocket launchers can only carry six rockets at a time, so it's critical for the ammunition holding area to run smoothly, Hicks said. When a crew uses 40 percent of its ammunition, it must call for a re-supply.
"If (crews) wait too long, (they'll) run out of ammunition," he said. "They won't be able to support troops on the ground."
Hicks said the training has helped the soldiers realize their level of readiness. Artillery units are known for being on time, he said, and these soldiers take pride in their abilities to lay down fire quickly and accurately.
"I think soldiers in general take pride in knowing they are helping someone else," Hicks said. "They take pride in knowing they're doing their job well."