Howitzers are not new to Fort Carson, Colorado, however a retired French-designed pre-World War II howitzer is. The 168th Regional Training Institute of Excellence, Colorado Army National Guard, at Fort Carson, is set to receive an M1917 155mm Howitzer in August.
The howitzer belonged to the 168th Field Artillery Regiment before it went through a reorganization to become a training center, according to Cadet Bradley Vander Veen, 2nd General Support Aviation Battalion 135th Regiment and temporary assistant curator for the 168th RTI’s historical gallery display.
Although the M1917 wasn’t used in World War I by the 168th FA in Europe in 1918, 168th Soldiers fired the cannon during the 1930s and early 1940s. The 168th replaced their M1917s with new American-designed M1 155 millimeter “Long Toms” before deploying to the South Pacific during the second World War.
“The M1917 was on display for years at Camp George West, (and upon) discovering its history with the 168th, the Colorado Army National Guard decided to refurbish it and move it back to the rightful unit here at (the RTI),” Vander Veen said.
Because the cannon was simply in storage in Golden, Colorado, leaders decided it was time to make better use of its placement.
Vander Veen said he believes that the piece will educate those who come through and see the cannon, connecting and educating Soldiers along the way.
The CONG has been working with the 4th Infantry Division museum at Fort Carson to build the unit’s history, assist with accountability, and ensure pieces are conserved properly.
“One of the things we’ve been trying to do is work with the Colorado National Guard to really stand up their historical program because National Guard units have this wealth of history behind them,” Joseph Berg, director, 4th ID museum, said. “Some of the National Guard units go all the way back to the Revolutionary War, as volunteer and militia units, and have histories that date to the founding of the nation.”
Because Berg manages the historical preservation for the 4th ID museum, he said that he and his team are able to bring their expertise to assist the National Guard. He added that, likely due to resources, time, and personnel constraints, National Guard units have had challenges capturing their history.
“It’s a beneficial relationship both ways, because we get to learn from all the National Guard’s artifacts,” Berg said.
Michael Cline, curator, 4th ID museum, said he agreed and believes that showcasing the “units changes, their mission set, and recognizing that heritages shows how woven into the fabric it is — that the Guard is an integral part of the defense of the nation and an important part, not just during times of war.”
Displaying the history and connecting the combat field artillery unit and how it became a training unit is important, Cline said. It’s imperative to show the different facets of the unit, he said.
Although the RTI came into being a few years ago as a schoolhouse, the historical significance of the transition of the unit is important in showing its lineage, having come from a FA unit, which many people may not know, Vander Veen said.
Berg said that the cannon’s movement to Fort Carson is an opportunity to expand Soldiers’ knowledge and show that lineage.
“It’s really exciting for me because it is expanding historical education at Fort Carson,” Berg said. “Not only do National Guard Soldiers train here at the RTI, but also active-duty Soldiers come here to train. So these are our first steps as we begin to integrate … Army history is a tool we use to take civilians and turn them into Soldiers with a history, with a past, with a sense of purpose. As we begin to build our training programs together, I think we are going to get synergistic effects between the regular Army and the National Guard, in terms of our ability to educate Soldiers about their past and where they came from.”
What separates a Soldier from a civilian is understanding the history and the sense of tradition and a proud heritage within a unit, Berg said.
The history is the “experience” of a unit and shows where a unit comes from, creating the esprit de corps that Soldiers hold onto and can look back on, he said. Knowing various pieces of history, units can reference past leaders and past battles to help push forward.
“This is an integrated facility and a very important facility for Fort Carson, and anyone who goes through here that we can improve (their knowledge) and make a more professional Soldier is a win for the entire team.”
Learn from past
The RTI has assisted with isolating U.S. Army Active Duty and activated CONG service members exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 or quarantining them if they have been exposed to the virus in order to contain it. The facility is located outside of the living and work areas of Soldiers, Civilians and Family members at Fort Carson.
At this moment in history, coping with a global pandemic, Berg said that the Army has been here before.
“There are so many lessons learned and valuable, painful lessons that can be gleaned from that history,” Berg said. “Disease has been the biggest killer on the battlefield all the way up to World War II … so the Army has always been front and center in epidemiology, in current events when it comes to public health and trying to secure the nation against illness.”
Overtime, lessons need to be revisited so they are not forgotten.
“I think now more than ever, we need to look to historians and people that have experience,” he said.
Having a historical perspective helps to inform future decisions, he added.
Presence of the Howitzer
Vander Veen expressed the importance of the conversations to come due to the cannon being at the RTI. He said Soldiers from all Army components are sure to ask questions and spark conversations, which will lead to furthering education.
For example, the M1917 Howitzer is an analog cannon or manual cannon that progressed and became a digital weapon, with more accuracy after World War II.
“After the first Gulf War, the Army designated the 4th Infantry Division to do nothing but test emerging digital technologies for the 1990s,” Berg said.
Not only was the Army’s equipment progressing; its Soldiers were, too. The FA Soldiers operating the analog cannons had to attend schools and continue their education to move forward, Vander Veen said.
According to Vander Veen, because history teaches people to learn from the past and make improvements, the Army was able to move to digital cannons, which are accurate within five meters within one grid square (1,000 kilometers).
Vander Veen said even now, equipment is being updated and that’s the importance of history; and with history repeating itself, it becomes educational, and assets can be developed from knowing the past.
This is just one example of the importance of the historical program, Cline said.
“An important part of the historical program is preserving material culture and integrating those things into training that are actually used by different units,” he said.