Army cutbacks may mean less bang for Norwich Artillery Battery


Members of the Norwich Artillery Battery train for their live fire exercises.

Members of the Norwich Artillery Battery train for their live fire exercises.                                                                         Photo by Mark Collier

Cadets in the Norwich Artillery Battery (NAB) provide the school with energy and enthusiasm at sporting events when the cannon fires. But a severe cutback in rounds they can fire is threatening to curtail their activities.

“We are at many events such as the football games, parades, and (operate the) salute gun every morning and evening; we put on St. Barbara’s Day, Junior ring, commencement, and commissioning,” said Catie Castonguay, 21, a senior psychology major from Jay, Maine, the Norwich Artillery Battery commander.

NAB puts on a show every year in December for St. Barbara’s Day. On this day, they historically have fired off close to 72-90 rounds simultaneously with a speaker that plays music.

“For St. Barbara’s Day, the NAB honors the patron saint of artillery. The story of St. Barbara is read aloud over a loudspeaker system, and a fire mission is planned in coordination with a song of the battery’s choosing.”

The celebration of St. Barbara’s Day is important for NAB because artillerymen would pray to her for safety because when gunpowder was established, it was not very safe and many men died due to accidental explosions.

Many artillerymen still honor this and pray to St. Barbara for safety.

Dec. 4 is the St. Barbara’s day demonstration and will still be held but it will be different from previous years because, “unfortunately we have had to cut down on what we could do,” said Austin Susco, 21, a senior business management major, from Southington, Conn.

The problem is that NAB has run into some roadblocks with the Army department and cutbacks in funding. NAB may not be able to fire at sporting events, or any events, due to the lack of funding for the rounds used by the cadets.

NAB is under the Army department, which means that the funding comes from the Army for the rounds and the cannons, except for the salute gun.

“The NAB has been allotted 15 rounds for the next fiscal year. This has been dramatically cut from the 210 rounds that we received last year,” said Castonguay.

NAB, though, is trying to fight this decision and is trying to find other ways to get funding to get more rounds to fire and use.

“Brigade Command doesn’t think we need more than 15 rounds for the howitzers, (but) we go through 15 rounds easily for Veterans Day, and if they gave us 15 rounds we would be done for the rest of the year after that event,” said Wesley Zhao, 19, a sophomore civil engineering major from Beach Park, Ill.

“We have not received a direct answer as to why the NAB will not be supplied with enough rounds. However, U.S. Army Cadet Command (USACC) is allotting 20 rounds nationwide for next year, and Norwich University and the NAB are receiving 15 of them,” said Evan Wise, a senior mechanical engineering major from Hingham, Mass., and the executive officer of NAB.

There is still hope and some other options being explored for NAB to continue with firing rounds off and teaching candidates to use their guns.

New candidates in the battery learn all about the equipment used in the battery and the basics of artillery, said the Battery Commander.

“However, before (the candidates) can get hands-on training, they must first learn basic skills, such as how to call for fire,” Castonguay said.

Norwich has had an artillery unit for decades, but NAB is fairly new, emerging after the previous artillery battery was closed down.

“NAB was created in 2012, after the disbandment of Norwich Independent Battery (NIB),” Susco said. “NIB was disbanded for various shady things like hazing.”

Now artillery is under the supervision of the Army ROTC department and NAB has quickly grown to be one of the most popular special units here at Norwich.

NAB is always under the supervision of the Army cadre at school to make sure NAB takes the proper safety precautions.

“Army Cadre advise whenever we have fire missions. Capt. Jones or Staff Sgt. Boyle will be there to make sure we are doing all of the safety precautions,” said Zhao. There are valid reasons for this, as became clear recently. “When we celebrated Veterans Day, we broke glass in Dewey Hall because we were too close to the building while firing,” said Zhao, referring to a window that had shattered due to the vibration from the blasts.

Once the foundation of NAB was created, new recruits had to experience months of training to become members. “The first class of redlegs (recruits) to go through candidacy was in 2012,” Susco said.

“The candidates will learn the history and how to operate the cannons or guns as well as the history of NAB itself,” said Susco. “They will also learn basic Army functions.”

“Redlegs are what we call recruits because of the Army’s tradition that artillerymen had a red stripe on their dress uniforms,” said Zhao. “Even today artillery officers have red shoulder boards and a red band on their cover.”

The requirements to try out for NAB are not stringent. “Any cadet can sign up for NAB, (but) once they enter candidacy, (that) is when it gets tough,” Susco said.

The candidacy is very mentally and physically challenging, Susco explained. Redlegs receive extensive training, to learn about “artillery and the various equipment available to the unit,” Castonguay said, adding that the Whitworth salute gun, is owned by Norwich, not the Army department.”

Redlegs get “hands-on training with the Whitworth salute gun and the three 75mm pack howitzers,” Wise said, which are focus points that redlegs will be tested on later in the year.

The final test is the “culminating event, which tests redlegs on everything they have learned,” Zhao said.

During the culminating event redlegs are physically and mentally challenged one last time.

Susco explained that during the culminating event, redlegs work together on a fire mission, disassemble and reassemble the pack howitzers, and overcome obstacles as a team

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