The Montana Air National Guard’s 219th RED HORSE Squadron spent most of August at Camp Guernsey Joint Training Center upgrading the tactical air strip in the North Training Area.
North Dakota’s Alpha team topped the standings in the overall team events at the National Guard’s Marksmanship Advisory Council (MAC) Region VI Combat Marksmanship Training Sustainment Exercise, hosted by the Wyoming National Guard at Camp Guernsey Joint Training Center Aug. 17-19.
The NoDak team, comprised of Senior Master Sgt. Wade Swenson, Senior Airman Gavin “Lil” Rook, Sgt. Tyler Goldade and Sgt. Brendan Dean scored 916 points to top South Dakota’s Alpha team of Staff Sgt. Nicholas Dooley, Maj. Justin Aylward, Sgt. 1st Class Clint Sandness and Sgt. Eric Grage who scored 892 points during the weekend for a second-place finish.
Wyoming finished third in the team standings. The Alpha team of Staff Sgt. Brody Staman, Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Edwards, Master Sgt. Glenn Worley and 1st Sgt. Timothy Smith earned 841 points.
The three-day competition pitted National Guard soldiers and airmen from Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Alaska and Idaho in shoulder-to-shoulder competition with service-issued rifles and pistols in a range of matches that involved a variety of physical challenges and varied distances.
Wyoming’s A team took first in the Covering Fire competition, topping second-place South Dakota A, and third-place North Dakota A.
Worley placed first in the 100-500 Zero Special match followed by Wyoming teammate Smith and South Dakota’s Staff Sgt. Jory Rogers.
North Dakota’s Goldade took home the Combat Rifle Individual Aggregate Champion title with 714 points. He was followed by Worley in second and Idaho’s Staff Sgt. Adam Witte. Goldade also won the Close Quarter Battle, followed by Worley in second and Wyoming’s Spc. Bradley Holloway in third.
The Reflexive Fire crown went to Goldade, followed by Senior Airman Rook and Witte. “Lil” Rook topped the individual Combat Pistol standings over Alaska’s Master Sgt. Neal Waltman and Senior Master Sgt. Brian Rook, also of North Dakota.
Like airman Rook, another new shooter had a great Wyoming weekend—Alaska’s Pfc. Dalton Dorn won the Novice Individual Grand Aggregate championship, Individual Novice Combat Pistol, Novice Reflexive Fire, Novice 100-500 Zero Special and took third in the Excellence in Competition behind airman Rook and Idaho’s Master Sgt. Robert Earley, who placed second. Dorn was also named the top pistol shooter in the Novice EIC followed by Spc. Brandin Wendland of North Dakota and Master Sgt. James Seigneur of Alaska.
Senior Airman Rook earned the Individual Open Grand Aggregate Championship followed by Goldade and Witte. Both Senior Airman Rook and Pfc. Dorn were on top-three teams in the Gen. George Patton Combat Pistol Exercise. Alaska’s Alpha team of Dorn, Master Sgt. James Seigneur, Master Sgt. Neal Waltman and Staff Sgt. Brian Felts took first place with 623 points, followed by North Dakota’s A team with 617 and South Dakota’s Alpha team with a score of 567.
Wyoming has hosted the Region VI competition all but one year since 1997 and did not get any takers when an invitation to host in 2019 was offered by Master Sgt. Morgan Jenkins, Wyoming state marksmanship coordinator and match director. So, it looks like Camp Guernsey will be the place to see some of the Guard’s best hard-charging shooters again next year.
As the nation and Wyoming commemorate the 100th anniversary of World War I, it’s fitting that a group of soldiers and horses celebrating the history of U.S. Army field artillery – a primary mission for the Wyoming Army National Guard – should visit Cheyenne for a number of Cheyenne Frontier Days performances.
Fort Sill’s Field Artillery Half Section, a mounted unit that recreates the World War I era use of horse artillery and light batteries of horse-drawn field guns, rolled into town to thrill audiences at the rodeo, a wild west show, a parade and demonstrations at F.E. Warren Air Force Base’s Fort D.A. Russell Days.
The unit consists of a six-horse team and accompanying mounts and a model 1897 French 75mm field gun. The group, formed in 1963, is called a half section because a full section consisted of two half sections, one for the cannon team, and one to pull a caisson with the ammunition.
During their full routine, the horsemen and gunners ride around the arena, halt to unhitch the cannon, quickly load the ammunition, and fire a round before hitching it back to the limber. Once secured, the two gunners hop into their seats first, then the middle soldier, or wheel man, leaps between them before the team gallops off, drawing huge applause from the assembled crowds.
It’s astonishing that many of the young active-duty soldiers, from Fort Sill, Oklahoma, had never ridden horses before joining the team for one-year stints.
Pfc. Mark Agtarap has been with the half section for four months and was performing as a gunner for just the third time at Sunday’s exhibition at F.E. Warren. Four months ago he was directed to leave his job as an artilleryman, and join the team for a year.
The gunners perform very athletic drills that involve jumping off the bench to unhook the cannon from the litter, prepare and fire the gun, rehook it, and then jump back onto their bench with precise timing.
”The learning process is difficult,” Agtarap said. “I had to learn to ride horses. I always thought it looked easy, but there’s a lot to learn. I think we all enjoy being in the half section.”
Keeping the team trained and motivated for the last 10 years is Section Chief Gerald Stuck. He was a member of the unit from 1992 – 1993, and like the current enlistees, was working in another section at the Oklahoma post that is home to the U.S. Army Field Artillery Center of Excellence, when he got called on to join for a year.
“I have the best job in the Army. I get to go out and ride while everyone else is stuck in an office,” the retired soldier said. “I love meeting with the public and sharing the history of field artillery.”
Stuck said the team performs hundreds of times a year, generally on post for changes of command and other ceremonies, as well as community events and military holidays; usually within a 200-mile radius from the post. He said he and his team were glad to make the long drive to Wyoming to help kickoff the 122nd CFD celebration.
Sgt. Jared Nedbalek said he wants to come back to Cheyenne even if he’s not part of the half section.
“This is wonderful,” the three-month veteran of the half section said. “It’s 114 degrees in Oklahoma. I don’t want to go back home. I’ll take leave to come back up.”
Welcoming the unit to Cheyenne, was Maj. Gen. Luke Reiner, Wyoming’s adjutant general; and the Assistant Adjutant General – Army, Brig. Gen. Brian Nesvik. They hosted a barbecue at the state headquarters for the team when they arrived, and thanked them for preserving the history of the mission our state holds near and dear.
“You all represent the Army so well,” Reiner told the group before presenting each member with his challenge coin. “Wyoming is a real artillery state with so much history, and we appreciate you preserving that history.”
The half section didn’t become a permanent fixture at Fort Sill until 1970, the year after the post’s centennial celebration. The horses are selected with the guidance of old photographs and 75-year-old specifications depicting the ideal artillery mount. Original saddles and hardware were furnished by the Field Artillery Museum at Fort Sill, while the uniforms are replicas of those worn from 1918 to the 1930s.
The French cannon weighs about 6,000 pounds and the horses ride in draft so that they all pull the weight evenly. Stuck said the riderless horses are available to the gunners, “should their gun be destroyed, they can ride off.”
An Arkansas Army National Guard field artillery brigade, augmented by units from other states, is making tracks to Camp Guernsey’s North Training Area for a large-scale training exercise.
Transporting military equipment is often the duty of a specialized transportation unit, or contractors, but for Western Strike participants, it is the main focus of the brigade’s three-week training exercise, according to 1st Lt. Timothy Jones, a field artillery officer assigned to Arkansas’ 142nd Field Artillery Brigade.
He and hundreds of other artillerymen from Arkansas, Tennessee and Alabama spent most of a week at the Burlington Northern Santa Fe LLC railyard in Guernsey. There they unloaded various artillery systems, trucks, Humvees, ambulances and other vehicles from five trains, hauling 360 cars, making it the largest such operation at the facility.
Jones said the brigade is training to simulate an emergency deployment, which they haven’t done in more than two decades. A major objective for the brigade is to move its own equipment and deploy it in an unfamiliar location.
“When Operation Desert Storm happened, everyone had to move their equipment and get it shipped overseas. After that, units started falling in on equipment that was already staged in theater,” he explained. “So we’re relearning how to do this, and really at the crawl stage of the crawl, walk, run training cycle.
“Loading, staging and deploying the equipment is the main focus of this exercise. We will certify our fire tables and all that when we get out to the field, but really we can do that at any training facility, this is the important part, to be able to mobilize anywhere, anytime.”
Alabama Army National Guard Spc. Lonnie Crawford, an artilleryman with the 1/117th Field Artillery Brigade, was in the same shoes as many of the red legs working in the mud and rain in the railyard.
“I’ve never done this before,” Crawford said of his current duty and his previous one at Anniston Army Depot in Alabama, where he and his colleagues loaded the train cars bound for Wyoming. “We didn’t train for this, we just kinda learned as we went along.”
“It’s a little nerve-wracking moving your sergeant’s truck for him,” Crawford added, with a grin, “You don’t want it to fall off.”
His crew mate, and a fellow cannon crewmember, Spc. James Westbrook, said he’s feeling good about his unit’s capabilities.
“We’ve moved our stuff in the air, and on the ground and now by train; we are fully capable now to go anywhere,” he said.
Once the vehicles were moved off the train cars, they were staged nearby, and are awaiting a surge of soldiers that will be driving them to the training areas, to do with them, what they are meant to do. The main body arrived June 1.
Col. Joseph Huss, Camp Guernsey commander, visited with some of the Southern visitors in the railyard. They were unconcerned about doing a hard job they hadn’t been trained for, in less than ideal conditions. Actually, most said they were glad to get away from the heat and humidity back home.
After years of training in poor conditions at Pole Mountain, the Wyoming National Guard decided to establish a temporary training camp at Guernsey and in June of 1938, accommodated its first of 80 “summer camps” at what is now an internationally known military training facility.
The Pole Mountain Camp, between Laramie and Cheyenne, was established in 1924 as a temporary National Guard camp, but the War Department would not fund the state for permanent improvements as it was deemed unsuitable for year-round and mobilization training.
Armed with the federal regulations and a desire to train his troops in proper conditions, Wyoming Adjutant General, Col. Rhodolph L. Esmay began lobbying the state government in 1931 to find a suitable location.
Seven years later, and a year prior to construction of any permanent buildings, a deal was worked out to surrender the Pole Mountain property in exchange for about 120 acres of state-owned land at Guernsey.
The site was attractive for its lower and warmer altitude, hilly terrain, abundant water supply, ample building materials, large areas of adjacent state-owned land and its proximity to a major railroad line. The Guard leased the area for the first camp, but already had its sights set on building it into a permanent post.
Esmay reported in April 1938, that an appropriations bill, sponsored by the War Department, was before Congress asking for $500,000 to begin construction of permanent facilities at the camp.
Meanwhile, Guard troops, under the supervision of Maj. C.G. Carroll, Quartermaster Corps and United States Property and Disbursing Officer, started building temporary facilities in preparation for the June encampment, and, as reported in the May 27 Guernsey Gazette, “had reached a point they could see over the hump. The electric light line is completed and the water system is finished.”
Long before operations security became a mantra for the military, troop movements and training schedules were available for all to see in the June 10 Gazette. “Cavalry horses will arrive today. Already some of the troop horses are here and the remainder will be on the picket line tonight. Tomorrow troops will arrive from various parts of the state. The first train will arrive Saturday morning at 8 o’clock; another at 1:50 P.M. another at 3:30 and another at 4:45.”
Some reports claimed there were upwards of 7,000 troops from other states and active units that joined the 620 Wyoming National Guard troops for mock battles during the two-week training period.
Under the command of Wyoming Gov. Leslie A. Miller, and Esmay, 31 soldiers comprised the state staff and state detachment. The staff, commanded by Carroll, included a medical officer, cavalry commanders from Laramie, Sheridan, Douglas, and Cheyenne, and a judge advocate general from Lovell. Five sergeants, four corporals and 13 privates made up the enlisted corps.
The 24th Cavalry Division and 58th Cavalry Brigade rounded out the staff with four officers, led by Col. Burke Sinclair, of Laramie.
Esmay commanded the 115th Cavalry, which was broken up into three squadrons. Troop A, from Lovell, and Troop B, from Sheridan, made up the 1st Squadron. The second included Troop E, from Torrington, and Troop F, from Laramie. The third was Troop I, from Lander. Most of the troops were led by two or three commissioned officers, and a dozen or so noncommissioned officers. The troops were rounded out with an average of 40 privates.
The troops arrived on camp June 11, and bivouacked in the area between the North Platte River and what is now the main cantonment where the Simulation Center and motor pools are today.
“The Cavalry is Camped at Guernsey,” read the headline in that week’s Gazette.
“For the first time in nearly half a century, cavalry troops are again silhouetted against the skyline on the hills near Old Fort Laramie,” the writer reported. “Riding the trails and traversing the terrain where so many years ago the cavalry carved its way while the nearby hills resounded to the warring beat of tom-toms.”
Editor’s note: Thanks to the Guernsey Gazette, Wyoming State Museum, University of Wyoming and Wikipedia for the use of materials used in this story. To retain the prevailing journalistic style, quotes used from the Guernsey Gazette are kept intact, however non-compliant they may be with Associated Press style.