SYCAMORE – Anyone who has seen a Northern Illinois football game knows Alpha Battery 2/122 Field Artillery.
If the Huskies score a touchdown or win the game, members of the Illinois National Guard artillery unit fire a Howitzer cannon into the air.
"This unit is good about being involved with the community," said Capt. Dustin Cammack.
On Sunday, the artillery unit hosted its first open house at the Illinois National Guard armory at 516 E. State St. in Sycamore. The armory, a massive gray structure with an artillery cannon pointing north toward State Street, has been the home of Alpha Battery since 1973.
"This is our way to open the doors to the community," Cammack said. "People have driven past every day and seen the armory and they wonder what we do here."
To put it simply, artillery units like Alpha Battery can be broken down into three different sections – the eyes, the brains and the brawn, said Sgt. Kenneth Vasser.
The eyes are the forward observers who describe the target and its location to others. 2nd Lt. Dale Boughton certainly looked the part as he sat on top of a Humvee, his face covered in camouflage paint and black sunglasses.
Forward observers, Boughton said, use maps or high-tech equipment to determine the target's location. Identifying the target is important too, he added. An artillery unit will use different rounds against a group of soldiers than an armored vehicle or a sniper in a building.
The role of a forward observer is more solitary than others, but no less important, he said.
"You can clear out the bad guys," Boughton said. "You can become the saving grace for infantry if you need it."
Boughton said he is normally with the unit's fire direction center – or the brains. Soldiers like Boughton and 2nd Lt. Andrew Brewer take the forward observer's measurements and factor in things like wind speed and the rotation of the earth and translate it to firing directions.
"We take a lot of pride in how accurate we are," Brewer said.
The directors from Brewer are passed onto the "brawn" – the six to eight men who load, aim and fire the Howitzers.
In addition to learning about the artillery process, members of the public were allowed to hold different pieces of equipment, including body armor, thermal heat vision equipment and an automatic grenade launcher.
A few of the people who toured the open house were thinking about joining the military. Devin Bosch said he was interested, and drove out from Lombard to Sunday's open house. He said it seemed like the best place to get information.
"It's a good experience so far," said the 21-year-old after examining an M-4 carbine rifle. "The educational opportunities, plus the experience you get, makes it seem like a good thing at this point."
Greg Cutsinger's son Phillip was also thinking about military service. Cutsinger wanted to make sure his son had all the information before making a choice. As for Phillip, he said the open house was a great way to get extra credit in school as well as get a preview of things to come.
"I'm interested in joining, so it's enlightening to see what I could be theoretically using in the five years," Phillip Cutsinger said.