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3rd ID crew wins first Army-wide artillery competition
3rd ID crew wins first Army-wide artillery competition
The winning cannon crew from 1/9 Field Artillery displays their medals and their M109 Paladin model after winning the Army’s first field artillery competition. Photo by Pat Donahue

By Pat Donahue, Coastal Courier.

The Army finally has crowned its best from the King of Battle – and that crew resides on Fort Stewart.

While the Army has conducted competitions among its various branches and specialties, it was only until this year that one of its oldest combat arms, field artillery, had a contest of its own. And the Army’s best M109 Paladin crew is a seven-man team from the 3rd Infantry Division’s 1/9 Field Artillery.

“It’s awesome we won, but I think being there, in general, was honor enough,” said PFC Zachary Nichols. “For it to be the first of kind and for us to be there representing 3rd ID and 1/9 Field Artillery, was awesome.”

The competition was held last month at the Army’s home for field artillery, Fort Sill, Oklahoma. For the Fort Stewart crews taking part, some of them had to pull up stakes from their deployment to eastern Europe.

The winning cannon crew traveled back from Lithuania to compete.

“It validates the training,” said Col. Shawn Bault, 3rd ID Division Artillery commander.

The win also makes the nights and days in the field and in the heat, cold and rain worth it, too, Nichols acknowledged.

“One hundred percent,” he said. “When you’re out there working and training all the time and you get put in a competition like this, you really see the hard work pays off. You start doing the little things first and once you get the little things down, the big things start to follow.

“We felt really well prepared and that’s thanks to our leadership while we were overseas.”

Not only did the 3rd ID teams have to train for the competition, they were busy training with and training up NATO allies during their deployment.

“It says everything,” Col. Bault said, “not just about them but their families. The demand, the op tempo the whole Army is under right now, it’s a tremendous credit to their work ethic and to their families.”

Three times in the last two years the division has sent troops overseas for deployments of several months, once to Korea and twice to Europe. Army officials are aware of the stress and strain the separations can place on soldiers and their families.

“We are implementing procedures and rhythms so we have a balance between the incredible warfighting and the demands the soldiers have personally,” Col. Bault said.

But when the next competition for top artillery crews comes around, there can only be a second winner. The first winner, after nearly 250 years of Army guns, is at Fort Stewart. In all, 15 organizations from across the Army sent teams to Fort Sill.

“When you look across the Army, the other branches have competitions. You have best medic, the engineers have best sapper, there is the best Ranger,” Col. Bault said. “To win the first one for best cannon crew, which is at the heart of what we do, is tremendous. It reinforces the camaraderie, the excellence dogfaced soldiers stand for and exude. Our number one priority is warfighting and reinforces how well trained our teams are.”

Being the first winning M109 crew though isn’t lost on them, as they were handed their hardware at Cashe Garden last week.

“Our names are the first ones on there,” Nichols said. “We’re kind of cemented in history. I think it’s just great for the field artillery to put on a competition like this. I think it really showcases how important field artillery is.”

Two units from 1/41 Field Artillery Battalion also placed. A three-man fire support team of forward observers finished third, and a six-soldier section was seventh in the fire direction center. In addition, 1st Sgt. Christopher Servin was honored with the Gruber Award for outstanding achievements and contributions to field artillery.

The 3rd ID’s DIVARTY units already have next year’s competition in their sights.

“In the future, our plan is to take all three,” Col. Bault said.

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