FORT BLISS, Texas — Members of the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 121st Field Artillery demonstrated their readiness to deploy during a July 21 live-fire exercise, culminating nearly two weeks of pre-deployment training.
Most of the more than 350 Soldiers of the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) battalion completed the majority of their pre-deployment training — individual weapons proficiency, common Soldier tasks, battlefield drills such as combat first aid and countering improvised explosives, recognizing and reporting threats, information security, cultural awareness and regional expertise — prior to arriving at Fort Bliss. This allowed the battalion to focus its 22-day training schedule on HIMARS.
“We shot 138 rockets, which is more than double what we would do in an annual training regimen,” said Maj. Dan Hendershot, the battalion’s executive officer. “And we did all of that inside of 36 hours.”
Hendershot added that temperatures during the 36-hour live fire reached 105 degrees — a good rehearsal for the austere conditions the battalion will soon experience across five nations in the Middle East during a nine-month deployment to support Operations Inherent Resolve, Spartan Shield and Freedom’s Sentinel.
Readiness was the key word as Wisconsin National Guard senior leaders visited the mobilization site. Perhaps the only thing that excited Soldiers more than demonstrating their training via a live fire exercise was their upcoming mission.
“These guys love this — it’s what they’re here to do,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Jason Grundel, the battalion’s senior enlisted leader.
Brig. Gen. Joane Mathews, Wisconsin’s deputy adjutant general for Army, emphasized the critical role that support elements — cooks, mechanics, administrative staff — play in keeping the mission going. She said as a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter pilot, she relied heavily on her crew chief and maintenance crew to ensure the aircraft could fly when needed.
“Pilots get all the attention, but it’s those maintainers that make it happen,” Mathews said, addressing the 108th Forward Support Company. The 108th is responsible for sustaining the rest of the battalion with food, water, ammunition, maintenance and other logistical support.
Command Sgt. Maj. Rafael Conde, the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s senior enlisted advisor, reminded the members of the 121st Field Artillery that Wisconsin National Guard members have recently played a role in eradicating terrorists as members of the 101st Divisional Multi-Component Unit (DMCU) played a critical role, through fire support, aiding the Iraqi Army in liberating the city of Mosul from Islamic State in 2016.
“Sometimes we have to go to the away game,” Conde said. “We have to go and take care of those individuals that want to come over here and hurt us. This is an opportunity to ensure Sept. 11, 2001 doesn’t happen again.”
Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general, praised the unit’s dedication to the mission.
“You’re going overseas to a tough part of the world because our nation needs the Army to perform a mission,” Dunbar said. “The Army has absolute confidence in you, or they wouldn’t give you this type of mission and this kind of training. And I have full confidence in you.”
Dunbar invoked the history of the Wisconsin National Guard as he awarded several Soldiers challenge coins for exceptional service during their training at Fort Bliss. Dunbar’s coin is emblazoned with the original flag Wisconsin volunteers carried into battle during the Civil War, predating the state’s official flag.
The 121st is approaching its 101st birthday, having been officially established Sept. 19, 1917 at Camp MacArthur, Texas as the 121st Field Artillery Regiment, part of the 32nd Division preparing to head to Europe to join the fight during World War I. The battalion also mobilized with the division for World War II and again in 1961 for the Berlin Crisis. The 121st Field Artillery battalion last deployed in 2006 to escort military supply convoys throughout Iraq, and parts of the battalion deployed to Iraq in 2009 with the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team. Battery B deployed to Afghanistan in 2013, becoming the first National Guard HIMARS unit to conduct combat fire support missions in Afghanistan. Battery A deployed to Afghanistan in 2014 for the same fire support mission. Both batteries received accolades for their mission performance.
Several Wisconsin National Guard units are presently deployed around the globe, fulfilling their role as America’s primary combat reserve. Detachment 1, Company B, 248th Aviation is nearing the end of its Middle East deployment providing aviation maintenance support as part of Operation Spartan Shield. The 112th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment is providing public affairs support to Joint Task Force Guantanamo in Cuba. The 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade — the parent unit of the 121st Field Artillery — has a Military Engagement Team deployed throughout the Middle East building relationships with allied nations there.