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Soldiers with Battery B, 1st Battalion, 33rd Field Artillery, fire live rounds during a Multiple Launch Rocket System raid in conjunction with a Battery External Evaluation in the Czech Republic.
Soldiers with Battery B, 1st Battalion, 33rd Field Artillery, fire live rounds during a Multiple Launch Rocket System raid in conjunction with a Battery External Evaluation in the Czech Republic. (U.S. Army photo)

BAMBERG, Germany — A new training area provided new opportunities to soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 33rd Field Artillery Regiment.

The unit, which normally holds exercises at the Grafenwöhr Training Area in Germany, began training April 30 in Czech Republic. The exercise, which ends Wednesday, involved about two weeks of preparatory training before the soldiers got the opportunity for some live-fire exercises, according to Lt. Col. Michael Miklos, 1st Battalion commander.

The exercise at the Hradiste complex allowed the unit to expand its training, Miklos said.

“With the live fire on [Saturday], we were able to mass the entire battalion,” Miklos said. “That’s something that we just can’t do at Grafenwöhr. We were able to measure all parts of the battalion at once.”

Also, about 500 soldiers used 19 firing positions, compared to the three positions normally available at Grafenwöhr, said Maj. Kevin Hudie, battalion operations officer.

“We had six platoons firing simultaneously, with a battalion front that was [about 7 miles] wide,” Hudie said. “This was a great training event, and required a lot of coordination with the Czech army and range safety officials.”

For many of the soldiers, it was the first chance to take part in such training. The last battalion-level evaluation was in January 2002. Because many of the unit’s soldiers had arrived recently, they had never taken part in an evaluation, even at Grafenwöhr, Miklos said.

“Our soldiers were skilled on their missions, but we did some refresher training leading up to the live fire,” said Sgt. Harrison Johnson, a fire direction chief for Battery C, 1st Battalion, 33rd Field Artillery Regiment.

Even for those who have trained at Grafenwöhr, the experience at Hradiste offered some challenges.

“We’ve been to Grafenwöhr hundreds of times,” said Command Sgt. Maj. James Campbell, battalion command sergeant major. “The land there is very familiar. [At Hradiste], if your map skills were weak, you were in trouble.”

The unfamiliar terrain meant Multiple Launch Rocket System crews had to depend more on their maps and skills than on familiar Grafenwöhr landmarks.

The new terrain also brought added safety measures, said Staff Sgt. Pordone Robinson, an MLRS section chief for 1st Battalion.

“The terrain is new to us, so you have to be very careful maneuvering at night,” Robinson said. “We really stressed driving safely and slowly and obeying the commands of the chief.”

Even getting to Czech Republic required soldiers to be more thorough.

“At Grafenwöhr, it’s too easy to head back to Bamberg if we realized we left something behind,” said Sgt. 1st Class Pete Pulli, battalion operations sergeant. “We had to be very thorough in preparing to move out to Hradiste. Crossing the border to go back for something was not an option.”

The exercise winds down this week, and the soldiers who spent several months in Macedonia and Kosovo last year and spent January-April doing contingency operations in support of the war on terrorism are ready to come home.

“We completed the mission; we did what we were supposed to do,” Robinson said.

“We’ve identified Hradiste as our premiere MLRS training area, and are looking at coming back here,” Miklos said.

“But now, we’re looking forward to coming home.”

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