Camp Ripley hosts South Dakota Guard unit firing M2701S supersonic rockets

By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer

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Morrison County residents may have noticed loud noise coming from the direction of Camp Ripley during the past two weeks. Some of those booms came from a South Dakota Guard unit doing their annual training.

South Dakota National Guard’s First Battalion, 147th Field Artillery (1-147th) hosted other guard members and community members at a practice launch of the M270A1 Friday, July 27.

The M270A1 is a multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) which, in a combat situation, allows the soldiers to quickly move into place, shoot and move away fast. Major John Donovan, Visitors Bureau chief, said, “It’s called ‘shoot and scoot.’”

This missile launch system does not replace cannon artillery but was designed to complement it. The MLRS, mounted on a tracked vehicle, delivers a large volume of firepower in a short time. All rockets on a vehicle can be fired in under a minute and the launcher redeployed before their position can be calculated.

The system was developed jointly by the United States, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. It was first used during Operation Desert Storm.

When fired, the rockets move at supersonic speed, requiring all observers to wear ear plugs. “The rocket leaves the firing tube at surprising speed — 600 miles per hour,” said Donovan.

All observers were provided with ear plugs as protection against the sonic booms.

Three Morrison County commissioners observed the practice launching of the M270A1 multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) at Camp Ripley, July 27. Taking advantage of the unique opportunity were (from left): Commissioners Duane Johnson, Rich Collins and Jeff Schilling.

Sergeant First Class Neal Stratman of Sioux Falls explained that the launchers were firing inert rounds that did not explode on the other end. “The range is up to 35 miles, but these were fired at a reduced range of five to 10 miles,” he said.

The equipment was hauled to Camp Ripley in convoy from South Dakota. These MLRS are used for practice and not taken on deployments.

Stratman is a full-time member of the Guard who helped line up the training schedule prior to being at Camp Ripley. “We use gunnery tables from the gunnery department at Fort Sill, Okla. to practice crew drills at a reduced range in a controlled environment,” said Stratman.

The 1-147th has been deployed to Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan and in 2011, helped contain Missouri River flooding in Pierre, S.D.

This exercise was open to dignitaries including Guard soldiers’ employers from both the South Dakota communities where the units are based and local communities.

“Most soldiers never get to see stuff like this,” said Camp Ripley’s Command Sergeant Major Daniel Smith. “For the last 10 years, a good percentage of Guard units have been training for other than their ‘real-world’ missions.”

Some of the observers were members of the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) from South Dakota and from Morrison County. ESGR is a nationwide organization which promotes employer support of service members by recognizing outstanding employer support, resolving potential conflicts between employers and their service members; and acting as the employers’ principal advocate within the Department of Defense (DoD).

Many observers were ESGR participant employers from South Dakota who arrived via a C130 transport plane. Called a “boss lift,” the program is authorized by the DoD to allow employers to see what their employees do while training.

One local participant was new Little Falls School Superintendent Stephen Jones. ”

Area members of the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) program were invited to watch the MLRS launch. Participants from Little Falls included Coborn’s General Manager Greg Zylka, left, and Little Falls School District Superintendent Stephen Jones.

The day was a wonderful introduction for me to Camp Ripley — a great opportunity to see the impact it has on our local communities,” said Jones. “I was definitely impressed with its importance and vitality not only in Morrison County but certainly in Central Minnesota.”

Little Falls School District 482 and Coborn’s recently received awards for signing an agreement to be ESGR employers.

Coborn’s General Manager Greg Zylka found the launch exciting. “It was an honor to experience that while surrounded by men and women who are committed to protecting our country and our freedom,” he said. “It’s very humbling to be recognized by the ESGR and the Adjutant General of South Dakota for supporting the troops. As an employer, it’s the least we can do for those who are sacrificing so much.”