The Michigan National Guard’s Battery A, 1st Battalion, 119th Field Artillery is based in Port Huron, Michigan. The Honor Roll and Complete War History of Ingham County in the Great World War 1914-1918 published in 1920, notes the 119th Field Artillery officially began in October 1917. However, before official designation, the Honor Roll, compiled by the “State Journal” in Lansing, Mich., notes that Battery A organized March 7, 1905 and served on the Mexican border from June 1916 to March 1917 with Company E , 31st Michigan Infantry (which later became Battery B). When the two organizations returned to Lansing, Mich., Battery C was formed and the three batteries comprised 1st Battalion.
According to Alpha Battery Company Commander Capt. Richard Sands, their mission is to mobilize Soldiers and subordinate units to provide trained and deployable personnel and equipment to support the United States Army. “If called, we can provide conventional fires to destroy, neutralize or suppress the enemy. We fire the M-777 Howitzer [cannon],” said Sands. “We are also prepared to mobilize in order to support civil authorities in the event of an emergency.”
Sands has served as the battery’s commander since April 2012, and has served on numerous overseas training missions, most recently to Riga, Latvia during Operation Summer Shield XII. Latvia is Michigan’s partnership country in the Department of Defense State Partnership Program and one of the first three states selected to participate in the program when established in 1993. The first objective of the SPP was to assist the Republic of Latvia to transition to a citizen-based military. Since then, Michigan and Latvian troops have participated in many joint military exercises, and were the first within the SPP program to deploy as a joint mentor team to Afghanistan.
Since the U.S. support of the global war on terrorism began in October 2001, Battery A, 119th Field Artillery has deployed three times. The first deployment was to support Operations Enduring Freedom at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba from December 2003 to November 2004. Their mission was to support the joint task force headquarters there. The unit was broken up into several elements to assist in all aspects of internment operations at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, which included bridge missions to take detainees back to their countries.
Sgt. 1st Class William Wimbury is Battery A’s readiness non-commissioned officer and has been with the battery since 2003 and was one of approximately 40 Battery A Soldiers who deployed to Guantanamo Bay.
“We served as block sergeants and just kept an eye on the detainees,” said Wimbury. When asked how the relationship was with the detainees, he stated that they could sometimes communicate with the detainees because they are also people, but they [the block sergeants] were cautious.
In December 2004, a company-sized element from the 119th Field Artillery and a platoon-size element from Battery A arrived in Baghdad, Iraq and served at Abu Ghraib prison, providing detainee escort and security force missions in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Soldiers returned home in December 2005.
Then in 2010, Wimbury and others from Battery A deployed to Iraq and Kuwait and performed convoy security operations. No one from the battery was wounded in combat, although, the convoys they served in did encounter roadside bombs.
First Lieutenant Adam Stephens is the executive officer with Battery A, and also deployed with the battery in 2010 to Iraq. He served as a platoon leader and one of his many experiences there, one stood out.
“We were on the fire mission which is like a QRF [quick reaction force] for the convoys, but we weren’t in charge of providing security for supply trucks,” said Stephens. “We came to a stop, with four MRAPs. A little girl came walking up the truck from a mud hut and held out her hands. She went to each truck collecting things like Gatorade and snacks, so she was set with food for a while.”
In Iraq, part of the unit’s unspoken mission was community support. At home, the battery also provides community support and once a month opens up the armory for a citizen action group to pass out food to those in the local community who are struggling financially. The Battery A, 1st Battalion, 119th Soldiers train on their equipment to prepare for war if needed, but they also perform respectful ceremonial honors, such as what they did at the memorial repose ceremony for Pres. Gerald R. Ford in Grand Rapids in January 2007 and yearly at the Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center’s annual memorial and pass in review of troops.