Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 94th Field Artillery Regiment simultaneously fired 17 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems at Grafenwöhr, Germany, on Thursday.

Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 94th Field Artillery Regiment simultaneously fired 17 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems at Grafenwöhr, Germany, on Thursday. (Seth Robson / S&S)

GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — Inactivation and transformation of two Multiple Launch Rocket System battalions will leave the 1st Battalion, 94th Field Artillery Regiment as the last MLRS unit in Europe.

By July, 1st Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment will inactivate, while 1st Battalion, 33rd Field Artillery Regiment will trade its MLRS for 105 mm artillery pieces and join the 173rd Airborne Brigade at Vicenza, Italy, according to Lt. Col. Patrick Hogan, the 1-94 commander.

The Baumholder-based 1-94 will eventually swap its tracked MLRS’s for wheeled high-mobility artillery rocket systems in order to support the 2nd Cavalry (Stryker) Brigade, which is scheduled to arrive at Vilseck this summer, he said.

Being the only MLRS unit left in Europe has its advantages. The 1st Armored Division unit was allocated more than 300 rockets, enough for all three battalions, for a gunnery session at Grafenwöhr this week, Hogan said.

With so many rockets, the battalion was able to do something it had not done since it was formed in 2000 — fire all 18 of its MLRS’s at the same time.

When the rockets fired from 17 of the launchers on Thursday (one was down with a technical glitch), it was like the Fourth of July in broad daylight as glowing rockets sent clouds of smoke trails across a snow-covered landscape.

The rockets, which have an unclassified range of more than 20 miles, disperse hundreds of bomblets over a wide area to destroy targets such as infantry, command posts and logistics sites, Hogan said.

Battery A unit commander Staff Sgt. Reuben Newton, 25, of Decatur, Ala., said it was a big challenge to get all of the MLRS’s firing together.

“There are a lot of safety checks to go through,” he said, standing in front of his MLRS, which he calls “Alabama.”

Alabama’s driver, Spc. Jose Salazar, 24, of Espanola, N.M., said it was tough moving the MLRS about in the snow at Grafenwöhr. The soldiers estimated 18 inches of snow fell while 1-94 was on the range.

Gunner, Spc. Thomas Morris, 23, of Abingdon, Md., who wants to call Alabama “Anger Management,” said he preferred shooting rockets to taking on an infantry role, which is what the unit did when it deployed to Baghdad, from November 2003 to July 2004.

“We did raids, cordon and searches, IED (improvised explosive device) sweeps and route patrols. Everything except our real job. We brought the MLRS units with us but sent them back early. I’d rather shoot rockets. It’s an adrenaline rush,” he said.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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