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WACO — Whether it’s the air conditioner or an engine that breaks down, the crew of the 1063rd Support Maintenance Company can fix it.

The Montana Army National Guard company has a mobile maintenance shop called the Forward Repair System, complete with its own diesel generator, air compressor, tools and a 5-ton crane.

“When we got these I went, ‘Holy cow!’” said First Sgt. Jerry Brown. “You pull up with that and you’re pretty well set up to do what you need to do.”

The company had two of the units set up in a cow pasture southeast of Pompeys Pillar on Friday as the members assembled to take their weapons qualification test on an improvised firing range.

“We’re turning government dollars into smoke and noise,” one soldier joked.

Typically, a maintenance company isn’t going to need to discharge their weapons. But if their convoy is attacked, the soldiers have to be prepared to fight back. To that end, they gather first at a 25 meter range to zero in their M16 and Squad Automatic Weapon’s sights. Once they had placed five out of six shots within a 2-by-1.5-inch black square on a paper target, they advanced to the larger range.

From a built-up dirt berm, the soldiers had to fire 20 rounds from a prone-supported position, 10 from a prone-unsupported position and 10 while kneeling. Then they were required to don their protective NBC (nuclear, biological chemical) mask and shoot two more 10 round magazines.

The hard part is that the plastic targets are battery operated and pop up at different distances and for different lengths of time. The closer targets at 50 meters, called Fast Freddies, only pop up for four seconds, the farther targets at 300 meters stay up for 10 seconds. To qualify, soldiers must hit a minimum of 23 out of 40 targets.

“I got a 26,” said Lt. Cathleen Dobson, 34, of Helena. “You don’t have to put that in.”

Dobson had problems with her rifle jamming, which added to the pressure. When it jammed, she had to drop the rifle’s magazine and clear the chamber before loading and shooting again.

“It’s always a little bit of a pressure,” she said. “But it’s fun.”

To qualify the company’s 150 soldiers, Cmdr. Jaylynn Parcel said there were 30,000 rounds of 5.6x45mm ammunition on hand. Friday night they would take turns shooting with their night vision gear and on Saturday they’d practice laying down suppressive fire, getting used to shooting next to each other. They’ll also rehearse how to react to an attack on a convoy or the detonation of an improvised-explosive device.

The company is made up of members from Billings, Dillon and Harlowton. Having an opportunity to shoot near Billings, rather than drive all the way to Helena’s Fort Harrison range, saves the soldiers lots of traveling time, Parcel noted.

“This is one of the few times that we all get together,” said Lt. Parker Taylor.

Brown noted that Montanans are well suited for a maintenance company, noting that a lot of the soldiers have farm and ranch backgrounds where they’ve learned how to fix things.

The weekend will mark the end of Parcel’s tenure as commander of the company. The 31-year-old Helena resident grew up in Fairfield knowing that some day she’d be in a situation like this, although she did it with a twist. The other members of her family were in the Air National Guard.

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Montana Untamed Editor

Montana Untamed editor for the Billings Gazette.