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Joint Exercise

Airmen, Soldiers work as one unit

Rapid deployment of rockets a team effort

Published: 02:20PM February 13th, 2014
Airmen, Soldiers  work as one unit

Airman 1st Class Jacob Jimenez

A 17th Fires Bde. crew fires a rocket from a HIMARS during a recent HIMARS Rapid Infiltration exercise in Schoonover, Calif.

Working together in the early morning hours of Jan. 31 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s McChord Field, Airmen and Soldiers checked on two M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems before loading them onto a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft.

The launchers would be used for the HIMARS Rapid Infiltration (HI-RAIN) joint exercise involving Airmen from the 446th Airlift Wing and Soldiers from Alpha Battery, 5th Battalion, HIMARS, 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Fires Brigade, 7th Infantry Division.

Since June 2013, 17th Fires Bde., 62nd Airlift Wing, 446th Airlift Wing and JBLM Headquarters, have planned and rehearsed the forcible entry capability of the C-17 Globemaster and HIMARS launcher as an operational and strategic strike package. To date, they have successfully completed more than nine missions.

“The relationships that were developed between the 62nd and 446th Airlift wings and 17th Fires Brigade have been instrumental in setting the conditions to do joint operations which culminated in Thunderbolt II,” said Lt. Col. Ian S. Bennett, commander, 5-3 HIMARS Bn.

For this round of HI-RAIN exercises, a C-17 transported the HIMARS units and their crews from McChord Field to Fort Hunter Liggett, Calif., to simulate a theater environment. Once arrived, crews engaged a stationary target using the HIMARS and then were quickly extracted by C-17 from the launch sites.

“We rehearsed all of this over five days of training,” said Pfc. Travis Mackay, a HIMARS crewmember. “I’m the driver on the crew, so we found a range with load-up areas and trained for both day and night situations.”

In September, 1st Battalion, 94th Field Artillery Regiment conducted similar dry-fire exercises. Crews training to deploy the HIMARS focus on proficiency in loading and unloading them quickly from a C-17.

“Simply put, I focus on getting in, starting up my panel and blowing up my target so we can (leave) out quickly,” said HIMARS gunner Sgt. Travis Armes. “Our time standard is under half an hour; we’ve been able to meet that standard.”

Loading the HIMARS launchers onto the C-17, Tech. Sgt. Lenny Dewitt, a 728th Airlift Squadron loadmaster, directed each driver as they backed the 16-ton vehicles onto the aircraft. Dewitt made sure each was placed to maintain the correct center of gravity throughout the flight. As soon as both M142 vehicles were in the aircraft, Dewitt oversaw the process of chaining them down, ensuring the chains were positioned and tightened to established standards.

Once fully loaded and secure, the C-17 took off from McChord Field and began the two-hour flight to Fort Hunter Liggett.

As the aircraft approached Hunter-Liggett, pilots established ground communication with USAF combat controllers from the 22nd Special Tactics Squadron, who cleared them for landing on a dirt runway.

The C-17 arrived at Fort Hunter Liggett and touched down on an airstrip at Schoonover Airfield, and came to a stop. With engines still running, Airmen and Soldiers hurried to unchain the HIMARS. As the aircrew lowered the rear ramp, the HIMARS crews off-loaded the launchers and headed toward designated firing points. The dirt assault airstrip is one of a small number approved by the USAF in the U.S. to handle C-17s.

The launchers were stationary for a few minutes, then disappeared, engulfed in dust and smoke as the HIMARS fired round after round at targets.

Upon completing the live fire, the artillery crews drove back to the aircraft where loadmasters prepared for their return. Within 45 minutes of landing, Airmen, Soldiers and artillery were securely back aboard the C-17 and airborne again, heading back to McChord Field.

The C-17 touched down at McChord Field, successfully completing the exercise in five hours.

“The operation demonstrated that we can deploy, fly over 700 miles in the C-17 and fire in support of 2nd (Battalion), 75th (Rangers) special operations forces. Through the phenomenal teamwork of Soldiers and Airmen we proved the concept that HIRAIN is a viable asset for employment,” Bennett said.

February marks the milestone of the most HIRAIN missions completed in one month since 17th Fires Brigade began supporting Joint Forces training.