Farewell to arms - guns retired
Friday, February 26 2005
1053CFB SHILO - The M-109 howitzer's final shots vibrate through onlookers' winter jackets and toss waves of nostalgia over a chosen few.
Under a clear winter sky, the First Royal Canadian Horse Artillery (1RCHA) batteries A and B fired their 12 M-109 self-propelled howitzers for the last time yesterday. Other regiment members, their families and delegates looked on during a simulated enemy attack on CFB Shilo's training grounds.
"I was pumped up. It increased our capability and ability to survive by 150 per cent," former Canadian Forces Base Shilo commander Rick Wilson recalled about the first time he shot the weapon.
"This gun still has a lot of fight in it."
The Canadian military first acquired the large guns in 1968. While he was deployed in Germany, Wilson was one of the first 1RCHA members to operate the gun, which is carried on tracks and makes it resemble a tank.
The gun requires seven to nine crew members to operate.
"We fired the first round of every gun with a very long lanyard," Wilson said, explaining the 150-foot line was a safety precaution.
But as Wilson observed the old guns often associated with the Cold War era, he felt both nostalgic and sad. The M-109s will be put in storage, and he does not feel they'll be properly replaced.
Winnipeg resident Leonard Amey was the first 1RCHA member to fire the M-109 while he was stationed in Germany. The then-sergeant was not suppose to fire first on that September day 37 years ago.
"In time, it's good for this stuff to go. Everything's done by electronics now," Amey said.
Commander Land Force Western Area Brig.-Gen. Stuart Beare was born at Shilo and returned for the ceremony. His father was the commanding officer of B Battery during the first shoot in Germany.
"Today is all about our legacy. We're just marking the passage of time," he said.
Beare's father had a competitive edge and ordered Amey to fire before the scheduled A Battery, during that first training session.
"He got into a little bit of trouble but he made history," Beare said with a chuckle.
The M-109 can hit targets up to 18 kilometres away and was designed to provide close support to the infantry and armoured forces.
But the modern world requires the military to have weapons which can be easily transported to overseas locations.
"We're looking for those systems that can push firepower where we need it, when we need it," Beare said.
"We're focusing on lighter weight and systems which provide more precision."
The army will continue to train with the 105-millimetre howitzer and 81-mm mortars, he said.
For Sgt. Paul Dolomont, who's been with the artillery for 19 years, yesterday's ceremony was like saying good-bye to an old friend.
"It's served me well over the 19 years," he said.
Still, Dolomont considers this an exciting time to be in the army.
"We've grown into a more lean and faster force," he said.
Dolomont and his crew typically spend up to three months training on the M-109 annually. This time will now be spent training with lighter firearms.
"It's going to be a quicker force, but we're not going to have the same punch."