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Changes in works at armories across area

MONTEVIDEO -- Soldiers in the 1st Battalion, 151st Field Artillery will be equipped this year with the Army's new M777 howitzer, and their arrival means changes are coming to area armories.

Since the new guns have greater accuracy and fire much faster than the M198 howitzers they replace, the Army has decided to outfit the battalion with four guns instead of the current six, according to Lt. Col. Lowell Kruse, commander of the Minnesota National Guard battalion.

The new guns also require fewer soldiers to operate.

The reductions mean that fewer artillery soldiers are needed in the battalion, and that means changes are coming in the duties and where many soldiers will drill.

The most notable -- and emotional -- change will be in Olivia, according to Kruse. It will be changing from its traditional role as an artillery unit to a light transportation unit. The soldiers at the armory will likely be receiving the Pallet Loading System vehicles, he said.

The Olivia armory will continue in operation with approximately the same number of soldiers assigned to it. The change in mission should create some command opportunities due to the re-structuring.

The battalion's Bravo Company artillery operations will be consolidated in Madison. Olivia-based soldiers who remain with artillery will drill in Madison.

Appleton will see change too, as Charlie Company operations are consolidated in Morris and the Forward Support unit in Appleton is shifted there.

The consolidation means the Morris armory will remain in operation and as part of the 151-Field Artillery. The Morris and Ortonville armories will remain drill sites for the artillery soldiers.

The Appleton armory will remain open, and its full-time staff will continue duties there, Kruse said.

The changes mean new drill sites for many soldiers, but Kruse noted that many soldiers already live and work at sites an hour or more from their home armory.

He said the new assignments and changes will come incrementally in the weeks ahead. The F-151 expects to receive and begin training on the new M777's in June.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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