The rata-tat-tat of a 50-caliber machine gun echoed in the hollow metal gut of the  Humvee.

Bullet casings pinged off the vehicle’s metal shell as the gunner rattled off more shots at the target.

A whistle over head signaled the mortar.


The rata-tat-tat of a 50-caliber machine gun echoed in the hollow metal gut of the  Humvee.
Bullet casings pinged off the vehicle’s metal shell as the gunner rattled off more shots at the target.
A whistle over head signaled the mortar.
Gunner down, Gunner down! His fellow guardsmen yelled as he ducked into the safety of the Humvee.
But it was too late, the gunner was hit in the head. He was dead.
On Thursday at Fort Riley, it was just an exercise. But in a few months, the Kansas National Guardsmen of the First Battalion, 161st Field Artillery will be deployed to the Horn of Africa for a mission to help secure stability in that region.
How important is the training?
“It is phenomenally important. It is a matter of life and death,” said Captain John Sherill, public affairs officers for the National Guard.
On Thursday at Fort Riley, the National Guardsmen, were participating in a live-fire exercise. Groups of guardsmen, simulated a convoy mission, during which they had to deal with IEDs and mortar rounds and engage simulated targets with live ammunition, including hostile soldiers and a truck.
In addition, the guardsmen had to deal with casualties and a disabled vehicle.
“We want to learn from our little mistakes to improve for next time,” said Capt. Will Chuber, commander on the mission.
Chuber said the 550 National Guardsmen and women from Kansas who will be in Africa do not want to engage the local populous with live arms as they did during the live-fire training exercise Thursday at Fort Riley.
Although the Horn of Africa has not experienced the violence U.S. soldiers are dealing with in the Middle East, there is a potential for terrorist activity in the region.
“We want to provide stability in the region, not what we are doing here today. ... We want to provide security to any of the surrounding countries and support military training. ... We want to deal with things in less direct ways.”
The battalion, which is headquartered in Newton, has a unit from Newton.
The battalion will deploy early this spring and be overseas for about a year.
Many of the guardsmen who will be deploying already have served overseas, including in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This will be Staff Sgt. David Coleman’s first time in Africa. Coleman lives in Topeka and works for the National Guard but is a Newton native and Newton High School grad.
He will work as a squadron leader on this mission.
He said it will be difficult to be away from friends and family, but he looks forward to the deployment and the experiences he will have in Africa.
“I think this is a unique opportunity. I will get to work with other people and use my people skills,” he said.
Coleman worked in customer service before working for the National Guard.
Sherill, whose civilian job is as a police officer in Tulsa, Okla., said it is the National Guardsmen’s civilian experiences that uniquely qualifies them for service in a mission such as this.
“They don’t want our guns, they want our heads,” he said. “They want the specific skill set the National Guard can give them.”
Chuber gave praise to his guardsmen as they debriefed.
“I think our training has been excellent. We had a bunch of guys two weeks ago who didn’t know each other, and we have come together as a team,” he said. “We know our strengths and weaknesses. I have no fears or worries about sending them out on missions.”