Servicemember honored for honing unit’s artillery skills

Master gunner in Baumholder wins Gruber Award for planning exercise, leadership

BAUMHOLDER, GERMANY — A Baumholder master gunner received the 2008 Gruber Award, a top honor given to an individual who has helped improve the field artillery’s war-fighting contributions.

Sgt. 1st Class Fernando Pharr of the 4th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery was singled out for his efforts in honing the battalion’s artillery skills prior to deployment and then acting as a battle captain in Iraq, a job traditionally held by seasoned captains.

"This award is a real achievement for me," Pharr wrote in an e-mail. "Brigadier General Edmund L. Gruber was a gifted man and a remarkable leader within the field artillery. It brings me a great deal of pride to know that I am associated with the prestige of his legacy."

In 2007, Pharr grappled with the task of sharpening the artillery skills of his battalion, which had rusted after long deployments. Pharr persuaded leaders at all Army levels to allocate funds and space for trainers based at Fort Sill, Okla., to teach a basic non-commissioned officer course at Baumholder, not an easy task due to the large swaths of land needed to conduct any practice with the howitzers and Baumholder’s remote location.

For three weeks, 30 troops were drilled on how to place howitzers in the battlefield, set proper data for firing and synchronize efforts with the crews who load, fire and reload the weapon.

"[It’s] a special dance that takes time and practice to perfect," Pharr said.

Pharr, 36, also drilled the units on ways to fight the counterinsurgency. Because of this training, 100 percent of the battalion met all Army-related requirements for going to war.

Once in Iraq, Pharr was ordered to move several gun positions into the open, hostile terrain of the Diyala province.

"I knew we couldn’t fail," he said. "The soldiers that were maneuvering across the landscape outside of the wire needed us to be ready and able to respond to their calls."

During this time, a howitzer in Pharr’s battalion destroyed a vehicle that officials said was used by insurgents to hide roadside bombs. The bombs were buried along a vital route used by the brigade.

"On that day, we showcased to every leader the depth of our combat power and the cannon artillery’s reach capability," he said.

The Gruber Award was established in 2002 and is named for the man who, as a first lieutenant in 1908, wrote "The Caisson Song," which was later adapted into "The Army Goes Rolling Along," the Army’s official song, in the 1950s. It recognizes "outstanding individual thought and innovation that results in significant contributions to or the enhancement of the FA’s war-fighting capabilities, morale, readiness or maintenance," according to an Army news release.

Pharr, who is still deployed in Iraq, said he never expected to win the prestigious award.

"I was accomplishing my daily duty," he said. "I didn’t think I was doing anything special."

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