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An M-777 howitzer section, foreground, and two M119 howitzer sections, representing the three firing batteries of the 1st Battalion, 120th Field Artillery of the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, prepare their pieces for firing during a battalion Top Gun competition at Fort McCoy, Wis., Aug. 25. Submitted photo

FORT McCOY, Wis. — Late last month, the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s only howitzer battalion sent its three best gun crews to compete for the title of “Top Gun” — the state’s best howitzer section.

The three crews represented the three batteries of the 1st Battalion, 120th Field Artillery — the Battery A “Assassins,” located in Marshfield; the Battery B “Blackhats,” located in Stevens Point; and the Battery C “Crows,” located in Oconomowoc. Each crew had been named the best howitzer section from their battery.

Batteries A and B operate the M119A3 howitzer, which fires a 105-mm round, while Battery C operates the M777A2 howitzer, which fires the larger 155-mm round. All are towed cannons which are able to be transported by helicopter.

Members of an M119 howitzer section emplace their cannon at a firing point at Fort McCoy, Wis., Aug. 25 during the 1st Battalion, 120th Field Artillery’s Top Gun competition. Crews take great care when initially emplacing the howitzer to ensure that its rounds will be on target when firing coordinates arrive. Submitted photo

To be judged the state’s best cannon crew, each howitzer section had to demonstrate its proficiency in common — and not so common — artillery tasks, including: entering the firing line and preparing the piece to fire; live-fire time standards; disassembly and reassembly of the cannon’s breech-block; a 10-question quiz; howitzer defense; position improvements; and firing live rounds without aid of digital devices. Crews were evaluated by how they met performance steps, time and safety.

“In all of my 19 years of being involved in Top Gun competitions, I have never seen all howitzer crews meet all performance measures and criteria and time standards as first-time ‘goes’,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Micheal Seefeld, the 1st Battalion, 120th Field Artillery’s senior enlisted leader. “It was hands-down the closest and most difficult competition to select a winner.”

An M119 howitzer section fires a round at a firing point at Fort McCoy, Wis., Aug. 25 during the 1st Battalion, 120th Field Artillery’s Top Gun competition. The top howitzer section from each of the battalion’s three firing batteries vied for the honor. Submitted photo

The Crows of Battery C ended the two-year run of the Battery B Blackhats to win this year’s Top Gun competition. In addition to the Top Gun trophy — which will be engraved with the names of the Battery C crew — the section will carry the battalion’s coveted Red Muzzle Cover for the next year.

“Enjoy this time and appreciate it for every moment,” said Sgt. 1st Class Bradley Hartel, a firing platoon sergeant with Battery A who last year was the chief of the Battery B howitzer section that won the battalion Top Gun award. “It will be the most rewarding time of your careers.”

Sgt. 1st Class Kent Telford, the firing platoon sergeant of this year’s Top Gun, praised the winning cannoneers.

Command Sgt. Maj. Micheal Seefeld congratulates the Battery C M777 howitzer section for winning the 1st Battalion, 120th Field Artillery’s Top Gun competition Aug. 25 at Fort McCoy, Wis. The winners receive a travelling trophy and a red muzzle cover. Submitted photo

“This section was led by great noncommissioned officers,” Telford said. “Every Soldier embodied the things we were trying to instill in our battery — violence of action, constant position improvement and survivability. They were a perfect representation of what it means to be in Charlie Battery.”

The winning crew includes Staff Sgt. Joshua Schisel, section chief; Sgt. Nicholas Reppen, gunner; Sgt. Christopher Bossert, Sgt. Nicholas Hoffman, Spc. Kevin Riveramonterrosa, Spc. Anthonay Villanueva, Spc. Anthony Strong, Spc. Joshua Williams, Cpl. Jacob Tannis, Spc. Ryan Walling, Sgt. Joshua Schutter and Sgt. Oliver Altmann.

Schisel appreciated the battalion competition, but seemed uninterested in basking in his section’s victory.

“Even though we are all on the same team at the end of the day, it is still good to have these friendly rivalries,” Schisel said. “These guys worked hard and deserved to win it. I’m very proud of them.”

Some Soldiers have been in Schisel’s section for a couple of years, while others only a couple of months.

“These guys have always been disciplined in their training,” Schisel explained. “We didn’t know we were going to be in the competition until three weeks before, so we just went out and did it like we always do.”

Seefeld said the Top Gun competition is a significant undertaking, and praised 1st Sgt. Craig Cook, the battalion’s operations sergeant, with coordinating the event. He also thanked the event’s evaluators, ammunition teams, combat medics, range operators and Headquarters personnel.

Above all, Seefeld expressed his admiration for all three gun crews.

“I have no doubts I am working with the best field artillery cannon battalion in the entire Army,” he boasted. “I would put them up against any adversary. I could not be prouder of how hard these Soldiers trained, and the camaraderie that they were able to share.”

While Top Gun is only a competition, it represents another means of establishing the unit’s readiness to fulfill the unit’s federal mission as a component of the Army’s primary combat reserve. Gun crew proficiency and the skills developed in training and competitions like these are the same skills the Soldiers rely on in a combat environment.