By Staff Sgt. Timothy Beery
Utah Army National Guard
Spending two weeks in the blistering sun of the Utah desert is nothing new for the Soldiers of the 145th Field Artillery Battalion. Nearly every single year, the thundering booms of paladins and the rattling of heavy machine guns rock the desolate, dust-filled landscape in rhythmic fashion during the summer months. Familiarity, ease of training, and especially isolation makes Dugway a favorite for commanders as they plan their training. This year, the commanding officers of the 145th decided to shine some light on their mysterious training destination and invited members of the Utah media to embed with their gun crews and see what annual training is all about.
“We wanted to emphasize our dual role of both state and federal support,” said Maj. Chris Kroeber, executive officer with the 145th Field Artillery Battalion. “We wanted to do more than just host a live-fire event. We wanted our friends and families to see what life is like in a military training environment. We wanted to show that we train to increase our combat abilities.”
For many in the 145th, the opportunity to work with the media represented a new challenge and a change from the norms of annual training. Shining a light on the Soldiers in the unit was a priority for Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. Brett Anderson.
“You often hear people say ‘call in the National Guard’,” he said. “What I want them to see is that the Soldiers of the National Guard are their friends and neighbors. These Soldiers, most of them have their uniform hanging up in their closet, next to their business casual.”
Demonstrating the balance between Army life and summer plans was the driving force toward the decision to invite the media.
“It’s not always easy,” added Kroeber. “But we enjoy doing it and take a lot of pride in the effort it takes to plan and execute our military missions.”
The media embed was a success, as local journalists from two significant news outlets attended the event. For 36 hours, reporters toiled in the dust, endured the heat, and gained the Soldier experience. During the long hours, journalists were given the opportunity to step inside the M109 Paladin and fire long-range artillery across the training range at Dugway. They tagged along as crews honed their skills with the .50 caliber machine gun and even got the chance to partake of Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) and witness night fire operations.
For the Soldiers, this was both a culmination training event, as well as a catch-up from a year rocked by pandemic.
“We’ve been doing baby steps through the whole year, crawl, walk, run, well this is the run phase and sometimes it feels like a sprint,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Jordan.
For one reporter it was a trip down memory lane.
“I spent over 10 years in the Army as an infantryman and artilleryman,” said Thor Fiedler, a photojournalist with Fox 13 Utah. “The opportunity to come out here and tell this story is great for me, it really brings me back and reminds me how much I miss the service.”
Fiedler stayed with the gun crews for nearly the entire weekend and mentioned as he was leaving that he only got “about 30 minutes of sleep” due to the excitement and joy of being on the gun line. The enthusiasm shown by Fiedler was reciprocated and appreciated by the Soldiers.
“I think a lot of our families would say ‘they’re out there blowing stuff up, ' which I guess is kind of accurate, but there’s a lot more to it,” said Anderson.
It represents an opportunity to bring loved ones into the guns and demonstrate life on the front lines,
“For us, we also wanted to give back to the community and showcase our combat roles,” commented Kroeber.
Showcasing roles, telling stories, and sharing the experience is what this media embed was all about. Giving the media an opportunity to attend an annual training event and see the troops hone their lethality and sharpen their skills allows the community to see the level of commitment Soldiers have to their community. While they were “Redlegs” for a day, now the local media has a taste of “Always Ready, Always There.”
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