ZABUL, Afghanistan - The 1st Battalion 158th Field Artillery Regiment (MLRS) has a long and proud tradition as part of the Oklahoma National Guard. Its roots date back to May 20, 1927, when it was organized and federally recognized with Headquarters in Kingfisher, Okla. Over the years, many Oklahomans have answered the call to serve and become part of something larger than one's own self. For many families in Oklahoma, this calling has become a family tradition passed from father to son and brother to brother as a fraternal order of citizen soldiers.
A HIMARS from Alpha Battery, 1-158 Field Artillery, Oklahoma National Guard, from Fort Sill, located in Zabul, Afghanistan, shoots a rocket in support of Operation Brothers United on January 29, 2014. This was the first time a rocket was shot from the guard unit since Desert Storm. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Toby Cook)
On Feb. 16, 1991, launchers of Alpha Battery, 1st Bn., 158th FA Regt., fired rockets on enemy targets in support of Operation Desert Storm. Bravo Battery and Charlie Battery would soon join Alpha Battery and begin hitting enemy targets in preparation for the ground offensive. In total, 1st Bn., 158th FA Regt., OKARNG, fired 903 rockets and traveled hundreds of kilometers in support of VII Corps operations.
The OKARNG has deployed multiple times in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom since the war on terrorism began. The 1st Bn., 158th FA Regt., has had its share of those deployments, but has always had a non-standard mission verses a field artillery mission. More than two decades have passed since 1st Bn., 158th FA Regt., had a field artillery mission during deployment. On Oct. 14, 2013, Alpha Battery deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom to support Regional Command (South) in Afghanistan with a field artillery HIMARS mission.
This mission has been a long time coming for the soldiers of Alpha Battery who have served with the battalion as part of those prior deployments in support of the War of Terrorism. Sergeant First Class Vernon Defoor has been a part of the battalion in one way or another since 1984 and has deployed four times as a soldier in the Oklahoma National Guard. First Sergeant Lance Grant, Sgt. 1st Class James Brown, Staff Sgt. William Reid, and many other soldiers in Alpha Battery have grown up in 1st Bn., 158th FA Regt., and have deployed as many as three times as Oklahoma Guardsmen. Sergeants Ralph Tocco and Nathan Spencer have answered the call to serve and deploy with both the 45th Fires Brigade and the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. Specialist Jeremy Ploof is the supply specialist of Alpha Battery on his first deployment, and is the son of retired Master Sgt. Fredrick Ploof III, formerly of Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 1st Bn., 158th FA Regt., who is an Operation Desert Storm veteran as part of the battalion.
Alpha Battery had several obstacles to overcome to meet the mission requirements to be able to support Combined Task Force Duke, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, in Zabul province, Afghanistan. The battery was immediately split into three locations. Two locations in RC(S) and one location in RC(W). With men and equipment spread across Afghanistan meeting mission requirements would be difficult. First Lieutenant Christopher Lanham and Master Sgt. Earl Johnson were placed at Kandahar Airfield to run operations for the portion of the battery that would remain at KAF to perform non-standard artillery missions.
These non-standard missions are not always filled with glory and recognition, but are essential to the Army meeting mission with success. Alpha Battery completed every mission given by the command in RC(S). At KAF, Alpha Battery completed Personnel Security Detail missions, route convoy clearance, entry control point operations, and several other mission types. Specialist Joshua Tate was even recognized by Maj. Gen. Paul J. LaCamera, commander, Regional Command (South), as the Hero of the Day for his professionalism while conducting a non-standard mission.
The equipment and launchers for Alpha Battery were originally located in RC(W) at Shindand Airfield. Defoor, who was also a soldier in Alpha Battery during Desert Storm, had the task of moving all Launchers and other battery equipment to multiple locations in RC(S). First Lieutenant Bill McGill, Staff Sgt. Michael Gildow, Staff Sgt. Tommy Bryant, and many others had the over whelming task of setting up operations in a sterile building on a forward operating base with limited resources available. Within 48 hours of having launchers on the ground at FOB Apache, Alpha Battery was capable of providing HIMARS coverage in support of CTF Duke.
On Jan. 16, 2014, Launcher 4-2, 1st Fires Platoon, Alpha Battery, 1st Bn., 158th FA Regt. (HIMARS), 45th Fires Brigade, OKARNG, fired two rockets on a target in support of CTF Duke. This is not an uncommon action in Afghanistan or Iraq since the wars started more than a decade ago. The unique aspect of this fire mission is that it is the first fire mission for the battalion shot in support of a combat operation since Operation Desert Storm.
The M142 HIMARS launcher crew included gunner Spc. Joshua Hale of Chickasha, Okla., driver Staff Sgt. Steven Stanley of Carnegie, Okla., and launcher chief Sgt. Matthew Schoolfield of Ninnekah, Okla. The two Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System rockets fired on the target Jan. 16 destroyed an enemy repeater sight used to support communications by insurgents.
This mission is a mark in history for Alpha Battery. As the battery commander, I will forever remember this moment in time. However, for Hale and Schoolfield, this mission has special meaning above that of other soldiers in the battery. Hale is the son of Specialist Chad Hale, formerly of Bravo Battery. Schoolfield is the son of Sgt. Richard Schoolfield, formerly of Charlie Battery. The elder Hale and Schoolfield were both deployed as part of an M270 MLRS Launcher Battery in the battalion during Operation Desert Storm.
These two generations of men from two families from small towns in Oklahoma who chose to serve in the Oklahoma National Guard as a family tradition fired rockets in support of combat operations more than two decades apart. For these men, those small moments in time will forever be linked through the history of the Oklahoma National Guard, the 45th Fires Brigade, and the 1st Battalion, 158th Field Artillery Regiment. Unusual Efforts Expended.
U.S. Army Courtesy Story
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