Table XVIII, a battalion-level exercise, is not new by Army standards. However, it was new to the current crop of “Glory’s Guns” troops last week.
“Table 18 is a battalion-level exercise,” said Lt. Col. Thomas Hawn, battalion commander of “Glory’s Guns,” the 1st Battalion, 41st Field Artillery, 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team. “It’s a decisive action scenario that tests me and my troops. The battalion has been deployed four times in recent years but not as field artillery. (So) we’ve spent the last year re-building our fundamentals — from the individual soldier skill sets to the section to the platoon to the battery and now to the battalion level. We train really, really hard, but sweat and really hard training saves lives when we’re deployed.”
Hawn said the last time his battalion conducted the Table XVIII field-artillery exercise was in 2002. During recent deployments, the unit’s artillerymen were used as needed to support the Army’s mission, but after U.S. forces’ invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, there was not much need for artillery support.
“You almost have a generation of soldiers who’ve never had to train to this level of mastery,” Hawn said. “We’re building confidence in our soldiers and leaders. In some ways, we’re learning how to train ourselves again.”
One of the battalion’s trainers, Staff Sgt. Cody Danser, described his platoon’s specialty as being able to deliver lethal fire on the enemy whenever and wherever it’s needed. Although he has been deployed to combat with his battalion, he has never conducted a Table XVIII live-fire.
“Table 18 is the most realistic thing you can do outside of real war,” Danser said. “Today, we’re conducting a counter-fire mission (returning fire on an enemy battery that’s firing on friendly forces). We have to be ready to return fire within 90 seconds of a fire mission.”
Danser’s platoon fired the M109 Paladin, a track-mounted 155mm Howitzer that many people mistake for a tank. Aside from the larger gun, Danser said there are two major differences between an M1 Abrams tank and a Paladin. The Paladin is not as heavily armored as a tank, and it must be stationary in order to shoot. The M1 Abrams can shoot on the move.
He also noted that the Abrams only can carry 20 105mm rounds, whereas the Paladin carries 36 155mm rounds. Another 90 rounds are available from an ammunition carrier that accompanies each platoon. He said a Paladin gun crew consists of four men: a driver, section leader, gunner and No. 1 man. There are four guns to a platoon.
Hawn said Table XVIII isn’t only about live-firing big guns. It also includes soldiers’ skill tasks, including decontamination of vehicles, equipment and personnel, and casualties.
On Wednesday, each soldier within the battalion was dressed in mission-oriented protective-posture gear, level 2, consisting of a thick outer garment and rubber boots that protect against chemical hazards. At any moment during the exercise, they could have been alerted to go to MOPP level 4, which would require wearing rubber gloves and protective masks as well. All this is worn along with the advance combat helmet and improved outer tactical vest.
“I advise the brigade commander on how we can survive in a chemical environment,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jessie Ponder, a chemical-operations specialist who was setting up decontamination lanes for the exercise. “This training is very important, because we never know what may be used against us on the battlefield.”
Ponder explained each decontamination lane, starting with the vehicle decontamination lane, one for equipment and personnel and one for casualties suffering from exposure to hazardous chemicals. Before having his soldiers move to MOPP 4 to decontaminate a Humvee, Ponder said he supervises the decontamination of equipment, but medical personnel supervised decontamination of personnel and treat casualties.