FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — For the first time in years, Army and Marine artillerymen have come together on Fort Bragg, and their presence is being felt across the region.
The 82nd Airborne Division's 18th Fires Brigade and the 10th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division from Camp Lejeune completed four days of joint training Monday.
The exercise was the culmination of months of training between the two units, but just part of the artillery training that has rattled houses across the Fort Bragg region this month.
The Marines, who regularly come to Fort Bragg to fire their howitzers, are on post through March 29. Meanwhile, the 18th Fires Brigade has been participating in other training exercises on Fort Bragg involving other 82nd Airborne Division brigades.
They've fired both howitzers and HIMARS — High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems.
Add in the sounds of a North Carolina National Guard tank unit, and the booms have been felt as far away as Sampson and Johnston counties.
Some have complained about the noise, which sounds like thunder, while others have defended it.
"Let them do their thing, that's the sound of freedom," said one comment on Twitter.
"Even though Fort Bragg noise doesn't let me sleep, I'm not complainin' because those troops are training to save our lives," said another tweet.
Officials said the joint training is possibly the first of its kind since the 1990s and could become more common again.
The Marine artillery comes to Fort Bragg at least twice a year, said Marine Col. Brad Hall, commander of the 10th Marine Regiment.
Hall and the commander of the 18th Fires Brigade, Col. Robert Morschauser, said planning for the exercise began last year after the two men discussed the possibility of training together during a conference at Fort Sill, Okla.
Brig. Gen. Charles Flynn, deputy commanding general for operations for the 82nd Airborne Division, said he was delighted to see the joint training resume on Fort Bragg.
"With the demands of war, it was difficult to keep up," he said. "But it's really, really important for the development of our leaders."
Flynn said the training helped each side understand the other's capabilities and showed troops new ways of operating.
"At the end of the day, they could find themselves working together," Flynn said, referring to the similar roles shared by the 82nd Airborne Division and the Marine Corps as expeditionary forces.
Hall and Morschauser said the training prepares their troops for future missions.
"This is how we're going to fight," Morschauser said. "From now on, we're always going to fight jointly."
Hall said the training has had a few hiccups but nothing that's unexpected in any exercise.
"Mayhem has been out here all week," he said. "We're getting a pretty good workout. I think we've done well."
The training has been beneficial for both units in other ways, too. For the 10th Marine Regiment, training with soldiers helps fill in gaps from Marine personnel cuts, which led to the deactivation of the regiment's general support battalion and will claim another Marine battalion from the unit later this year.
On the Army side, the joint training is helping the 18th Fires Brigade keep up with budget cuts caused by sequestration.
The brigade's training budget for March was slashed by more than 50 percent, officials said. The unit has maximized its budget by cutting down on the scope of the training and partnering with the Marines wherever possible.
The Marines training budget, Hall said, has yet to be affected by sequestration.
So what was originally a 14-day exercise for the 18th Fires Brigade that would have cost about $140,000 was reduced to a four-day exercise costing about $37,000.
"We're cutting significant money," Morschauser said. "We couldn't do 14 days, but we can still get four quality days of training."
It's money well spent by the Marines, Hall said.
"Coming up here is absolutely critical to us," Hall said. "It's been a great experience. It's the best training venue on the East Coast."