DRAWSKO POMORSKIE TRAINING AREA, Poland - Soldiers from the 45th Field Artillery Brigade, Mustang, Oklahoma, recently played an integral role controlling live-fire operations as a part of Exercise Anakonda 16, a Polish-led, joint multinational exercise that took place across Poland, June 7-17, 2016.

"We were brought in specifically to perform as the force fires headquarters at the Joint Task Force level as part of Anakonda 16," said Col. Greg Lankford, commander of the 45th Field Artillery Brigade (FAB). "The 4th Infantry Division Artillery is the fires control for the Command Post Exercise portion of Anakonda, but they didn't feel they could do that and perform artillery fires control simultaneously, so we got the call."

Though understated, the "call" was significant for many reasons.

"Not only are we coordinating surface-to-surface fire, we are also coordinating air-to-ground fire and performing air defense and airspace management across a multinational, multiservice, multi-echelon environment for all fires support systems here in Poland," said Maj. Jack Vaughn, operations officer for the 45th FAB.

One of the more unique aspects of the FAB's involvement in Anakonda included its role as fire control for various platforms such as the Polish 152mm SpGH DANA artillery, as well as Active Duty 155mm Paladin and National Guard M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS).

"It's very rare for us to pull all of these components together," said Lankford. "We've never really worked with multinational elements directly in the field, especially directing live fire exercises. It's also very rare that we directly interface with the Air Force and have the ability to integrate air defense artillery radar in our operations. All of these are unique opportunities."

Vaughn echoed Lankford's assessment and added, "It's a high stress environment but it's not wartime; it's still peacetime. You get to do this live. You get to experience that stress level and do your job-what you signed up to do- all in a training environment."

To complete their mission as a part of Anakonda, Soldiers from the FAB operated under field conditions for the duration of their deployment. Despite the rain, mud and constant sound of generators, everyone agreed that the experience gained was invaluable.

"The field conditions out here are not as typical as what we are used to," said 45th Field Artillery Brigade Assistant Operations Sergeant, Sgt. 1st Class Billy Holley.  "Typically our annual training days are during the summertime back home, so we have a hot dry climate. Coming out here, it's a little bit cooler, a little bit wetter, so dealing with that is not something that we are completely accustomed to."

This year, those annual training days came right before Exercise Anaconda 16, which provided an entirely different set of challenges.

 "We had to ship the majority of our tactical operations center equipment prior to our annual training days, which made it challenging to scrape up enough equipment to function during that training," said Lankford. "We were also forced to perform strategic airlift for absolutely mission essential equipment that we needed for both our annual training and this. That's the first time a C-5 Galaxy has landed in Poland, so that definitely took some coordinating."

Other external forces such as different firing systems, new technologies and varying tactics had a role in the overall synchronization of fires.

Lankford says the setbacks are all a part of the training and its benefits.

"It's all a challenge," said Lankford. "This is why we do it and this is why we train. Overcoming those challenges is what makes us stronger."

Overall, the challenges presented by Exercise Anaconda 16 help to make future operations, training or real world, run more smoothly and efficiently, allowing fires to be on target and on time every time.

"There's absolutely no doubt in my mind, the more that we can work with our partner nations, get out on the ground with them, learn their standard operating procedures and work to refine our standard operating procedures, the better off we are going to be if we ever have to put it into action," said Vaughn.