Fort Bliss a pioneer for Army with new division artillery format
By David Burge | El Paso (Texas) Times | Published: September 2, 2014
FORT BLISS, Texas (MCT) — Fort Bliss is leading the way on how the Army will train and fight with artillery and other fires capabilities in the future.
Earlier this summer, the 212th Fires Brigade was converted and reflagged to the 1st Armored Division Artillery, or DIVARTY for short. It is the first division artillery in the Army, but the other nine divisions will adopt the concept within the next 18 months to two years, said DIVARTY commander Col. Heyward G. Hutson III.
"We are blazing a path," said Hutson, the senior artillery officer at Fort Bliss.
During a decade-plus of war, artillery units, which require very technical skills, have seen their "core competencies" of shooting artillery rounds accurately, safely and quickly deteriorate, Hutson said.
That was caused by the necessary emphasis on small-team counter-insurgency tactics used to fight in both Iraq and Afghanistan, Hutson said.
Artillery soldiers were often called on to serve as infantry, security or do other tasks and couldn't train on their core skills, he said.
This is similar to a "surgeon not doing surgery over a 12-year period or sporadically doing surgery," Hutson said. "You will lose those perishable skills."
The new DIVARTY format is meant to help address that and was an idea pushed by former Fort Bliss and 1st Armored Division commander Lt. Gen. Sean B. MacFarland, who is now leading III Corps and Fort Hood.
With more than 2,500 soldiers, DIVARTY will be responsible for establishing standard training across the three field artillery battalions with the 1st, 2nd and 4th brigades within the 1st Armored Division and getting them to refocus on core skills, Hutson said. The 3rd Brigade has a field artillery battalion but the brigade will be deactivating next spring.
It will also keep the function it had when it was the 212th Fires Brigade, and will be able serve as the field headquarters for artillery and fires for the division and even joint and coalition forces when deployed.
To fire off a single howitzer round is an incredibly complicated and technical undertaking that can require about 30 soldiers, including crew and support personnel, Hutson said.
Artillery soldiers need to "account for winds, air temperature, air density, the rotation of the Earth under the round, the temperature of the gun powder," he said. "The exact details to shoot a round would boggle your mind. To get our soldiers retrained on that level of detail requires the focus of a division artillery."
DIVARTY has already created a "Red Book" of standard operating procedures for field artillery and all fires capabilities including attack helicopters, air and naval support, mortars, and nonlethal fires like smoke screens and night illumination. That information is being shared with other divisions, installations and soldiers and eventually these same standards will be spread across the Army, Hutson said.
"At the end of the day, we exist to serve maneuver" units, Hutson said.
Sgt. Maj. Robert O'Donnell, the division fires sergeant major, said that by establishing the same standards across the division and eventually across the Army, you can move soldiers from one unit to the next and know they have had the exact same training and meet the same standards.
A commander "knows he will get the same quality soldier no matter where he came from," O'Donnell said. "Fort Bliss right now is setting the standard for the Army."
When Hutson was a battalion commander at Fort Drum, N.Y., his soldiers served as infantry and not as artillery soldiers during a nine-month deployment to Iraq. When you factor in a six-month train-up, that was 15 months in which they were not able to do their basic artillery tasks, Hutson said.
Lt. Col. Kevin Brown commands 2nd Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team. Brown said until recently, he had howitzer crews that had gone two years without firing their big guns.
"Our branch is a little unique compared to infantry, armor, logistics and other branches," Brown said. "We are extremely technical, much like aviation is very technical. Those technical skills, we have squandered them away. They have perished over the past several years" during the recent wars.
Now that the Army is re-emphasizing training for what is called decisive action or large-scale nation-on-nation fighting, his battalion has "shot more artillery rounds in the past few months than in the last nine or 10 years," he said.
DIVARTY is a needed step to get artillery units to refocus on their skills and establish exact standards and training, Brown said.
This will, in turn, give 1st Armored Division commander Maj. Gen. Stephen M. Twitty more flexibility, Brown said. A field artillery battalion can be moved from one brigade to another and you know "they have been trained to the exact standards and can be interchangeable," Brown said. "We in theory will shoot the same way because we trained the same way."
Having a division artillery won't break up the modularity concept created with brigade combat teams in the mid-2000s, Brown said.
"It enhances it," Brown said. "It sharpens a very dull pencil and gives it back to the brigade combat team commander to soften the objective, very timely and accurately, before he commits the infantry battalions."
Staff Sgt. Benjamin Votaw, DIVARTY effects noncommissioned officer, said that now that "we've become a DIVARTY, I have learned more in the past three months about my own job than I have the whole entire time I've been in the Army."
David Burge may be reached at 546-6126.
©2014 the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas). Distributed by MCT Information Services.