Big things come from small beginnings. That’s true in the Cowboy State, where simple requests for training resulted in the busiest month in its 80-year history for Camp Guernsey Joint Training Center.
In addressing special accommodations for the large numbers, Capt. Joshua Marshall, the camp’s range control officer, said “To host any unit, we have to look to scale our level of support, full-time 24-hour manning for seven days, which we only do during large operations.” This time, hosting a unit counted as two large operations.
Marshall said, “This is the most people we have had in Camp Guernsey (ever), which makes it the busiest June in the history of Camp Guernsey.” On any given day during June, the average number of personnel on the ground in Guernsey was more than 2,300 troops.
The 142nd Field Artillery Brigade, based in Arkansas – complete with units from two other states – arrived first for Operation Western Strike, June 1 -22.
The four battalions from the South Dakota National Guard, which included aviators, engineers, military police, and logisticians, arrived on June 15 for Golden Coyote, overlapping with the presence of elements from the 142nd.
South Dakota camped in the South Range, for small arms training, according to Marshall’s right-hand, Sgt. 1st Class Doug Fenton, who was emphatic about range control’s responsibility: “We facilitate the missions of our customers to train their soldiers, because if we don’t do our job, people get hurt or killed.”
That same feel translated to the firing missions on the North Training Area, where Staff Sgt. Levi Jones, Sgt. 1st Class Todd Ernst and Spc. Lance Pierce, soldiers with infantry roots, took advantage of the cross-training opportunity. The trio dealt with the 142nd and its subordinate units from across Arkansas, Alabama and Tennessee.
Jones, a range safety inspector and North Training Area NCO in charge, mentored his less experienced counterparts on managing the range. Jones learned on the job too: two years ago in 2016 when the 65th Field Artillery Brigade, based in Utah, showed up in Guernsey.
“It was a much faster pace,” Jones said about the large-scale maneuvers back then. “These guys,” he said referring to the 142nd, “plan more, and were slightly less aggressive (than Utah), but, oh, they’re extremely accurate.
“We need more E-6 and above to run safety and deal with a million and one possible errors. We’re pulling more double-duty than anywhere else does. Here, our E-4s make command-level decisions.”
The young specialist, Pierce, interjected, saying, “I’d rather tell you no, than to have people get killed.”
While getting their heads wrapped around the technical and practical aspects of running the range, Ernst and Pierce, along with Jones and other range inspectors, also interacted with the units pointing large guns, artillery pieces which included the M777 howitzer; the Paladin, a self-propelled gun; the Multiple Launch Rocket System; and the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, at various targets.
During Western Strike, the 142nd units camped around the North Training Area, about 51,000 acres, more than half of Camp Guernsey’s 78,000 acres, setting up firing missions while countering the opposition force from the 29th Infantry Division.
“We don’t have a set fires area,” Jones said, a format unique to the Army except for some ranges at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. He explained that for most training sites, it’s a matter of pulling up to a stake, which has a sign that shows units where and how to fire, a procedure which he says can grow complacency among units, because they know about the targets ahead of time.
“If we know our craft well enough, we can take any unit and fire anywhere, which mirrors actual combat,” Jones said.
During a typical day, Ernst said they have called out about 24 surface danger zones. “When they come here, they have to be way more careful,” Jones said. “There’s pressure on the commander of fires.” And naturally there’s de-conflicting between the units and the inspectors. “They’ve corrected us a few times. We want them to have that here,” Jones said.
Jones, as though selling a used car, albeit a reliable used car, summed up Wyoming’s unique format: “We’re really doing it the old way. We’re as fast or faster, than anyone. In artillery, they use the expression hip shoot, which means they can pull off the road anywhere, and set up fires.”
That’s what the visiting units did, in a big way—the Cowboy Way.