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Soldiers watch as a Multiple Launch Rocket System crew fire a training rocket near the northeastern edge of Gyeonggi province known as "Rocket Valley" Wednesday.
Soldiers watch as a Multiple Launch Rocket System crew fire a training rocket near the northeastern edge of Gyeonggi province known as "Rocket Valley" Wednesday. (Erik Slavin / S&S)

BOAR 1 TRAINING AREA, South Korea — In the world of multiple launch rocket systems, new responsibilities are just a seat away.

Army privates in the “13 Mike” specialty start off as drivers on the three-man crew of each tracked system vehicle, which can fire up to 12 rockets in one minute. If they perform their driving and maintenance duties well, then it won’t be long until they get the opportunity to fire the weapons that lit up the sky during the 2nd Infantry Division’s 1st Battalion, 38th Field Artillery’s qualification tests this past week.

“You get the driver ready to move over one chair as soon as they’re ready for it,” Alpha Battery gunner Sgt. Steven Lucas said Wednesday. “But a good crew should be able to take each other’s place.”

The mentoring process also has benefited from supervisors who have directed, supplied or fired rockets in combat.

“[Combat experience] helps in explaining the ‘Why are we doing this’ questions,” said crew chief Staff Sgt. Carl Lewis, who served during the 2003 opening battles in Iraq. “It put a lot of things in perspective for me.”

The crews receive data from a remote fire direction command post, where soldiers plot the impact area. They must factor in terrain, weather and enemy positions. The training rockets fly about nine miles, while the real thing flies about three times farther.

The vehicle crews are backed up by soldiers like ammunition section chief Staff Sgt. Clarence Duncan III, who also served in an MLRS vehicle in Iraq during the 2003 invasion.

His experience has helped him understand how to train the same way soldiers must fight, he said.

“In the beginning [in Iraq], it was shoot first and ask questions later,” Duncan said. “Then as the rules of engagement changed, there were a lot more safety precautions and checks.”

Safety rules still were followed at the start, Duncan said, but the war tempo meant determining whether to go ahead with a mission in less than ideal circumstances.

“I saw the purpose as far as the technicality of it,” he said. “I’m definitely able to relate to [soldiers] better [that] way … the operation applies to real world missions.”

Soldiers say that battlefield knowledge, along with more frequent practice than the required biannual qualifications, has made younger soldiers better at a quicker pace.

Pvt. Nathan Walters, an MLRS driver, has already taken part in 10 rocket fires, he said.

A few soldiers say the excitement of all the smoke and fireworks wears off, but many, even among the senior enlisted, still get a childlike kick out of the seeing the rockets fly.

“Yeah, it’s still a pretty good thrill for me to watch them,” Walters said.

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