1-111th FA gives friends, family members chance to fire howitzers

Virginia Guard Soldiers from the Hampton-based 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team invited family members and friends to observe live fire operations Aug. 11 at Fort Pickett as part of their Family Day event. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Terra C. Gatti, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

FORT PICKETT, Va. – Family members and friends of Virginia Guard Soldiers from the Hampton-based 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team observed live fire operations and participated in the firing of the unit’s howitzers Aug. 11 at Fort Pickett as part of Family Day. Family Day is an event hosted by the unit biennially and aims to give family members a first-hand glace into the military lives of their Soldiers.

“This gives us an opportunity during one of our regularly scheduled live fire events to have families come down and it gives them a chance to see what their loved ones do on a drill weekend,” explained Capt. Brooks Rembert, Battery B commander.

Many of the artillerymen had spent time over their years of military service explaining to their family members what their drill weekends encompassed. “It’s kind of hard to explain to them what our drill weekend is like,” said Staff Sgt. Scott Mayhew, Jr., a gun chief in Battery B. “It’s just something you want to share with your family.”

Upon arriving at Firing Point 13A, where the live fire exercise was taking place, friends and family members received a synopsis of the day’s scheduled events from the unit commander, Lt. Col. John T. Winkler. Winkler provided an update on the status of the unit to the family members and explained that all individuals over the age of 12 wishing to pull a lanyard to fire one of the howitzers would have the opportunity to do so.

Before the spouses, siblings, children, parents and friends of the artillerymen had the chance to pull a lanyard themselves, Battery A and Battery B displayed their field artillery capabilities as they fired rounds of 105mm munitions down range. Family members and friends then stepped up to take their turn firing the massive weapons system.

“It was really awesome – definitely an adrenaline rush,” said Meghan Pankau, wife of 1st Lt. Kyle Pankau, executive officer for Battery B, who had three family members pull lanyards. He said the opportunity for his family members to fire the howitzers “gives them perspective” and shows them “a live version of what I actually go through out here.”

“It looked like people were pretty excited,” Rembert said. “I think the kids had a good kick out of being able to pull the lanyard and getting a chance to see what their dads or big brothers do. Some of the parents looked like they were excited about it as well.”

Mayhew’s family had seen him fire howitzers at various events, including Old Dominion University football games and military history events at Jamestown, and have experienced times when he’s been away for state active duty, but they never had the chance to see him fire live ammunition or visit him in a field environment. Mayhew said he hoped his family gained “a little bit of appreciation for what we do,” and hoped that the opportunity for them to “see what we do as our war time mission, to see that we’re proficiently trained and we know what we’re doing if we have to go overseas,” would give the family confidence in the unit’s ability to perform its mission successfully in the event of a deployment.

Kassy Mayhew, Staff Sgt. Mayhew’s wife, hoped their children would leave with a better idea of what dad’s weekends away were like. “I’d like them to have an appreciation for what all of these guys do, not just my husband, but what all these guys do,” she said. “I think that having them come out here and having them actually see what they do is good for them.”

At the end of the day, after firing howitzers and enjoying lunch prepared in a U.S. Army field kitchen, the family members left the Soldiers to their training.

“I hope they gained a better appreciation for what their family members go through, but I also hope they get an appreciation for the sort of capabilities that we bring to a war fight,” said Rembert.

To view photos from the event, visit: