FORT RIPLEY, Minn. (WCCO) — Seven miles down range is a target they can’t even see. Yet with all the precision of an Olympic sports team, soldiers with the Minnesota National Guard’s 151st Field Artillery Battalion are deadly accurate.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to focus on our artillery skills,” said Lt. Col. Brian Pfarr.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan used units like this more for combat security or military police than the role they were designed for. Finally, the 151st is getting back to its main role — landing 100-pound rounds on conventional enemy targets, up to 15 miles away.

“It makes quite a boom when it goes off,” Lt. Col. Pfarr adds.

Standing about 30 feet away from the M777 Howitzer when it fires a shot is an experience like none other. The ground shakes with the concussive force.

Lt. Col. Pfarr commands the unit and says training such as this is crucial to help get his soldiers back to their true mission.

“We’ll take the entire battalion out for a 10-day field artillery exercise and focus on being artillerymen again,” Lt. Col. Pfarr said.

In the summertime, Camp Ripley’s military population swells by 10 times – with more than 10,000 National Guard troops from across Minnesota and the entire nation training on the camp’s vast and wooded grounds. Camp Ripley has more than 53,000 contiguous acres in central Minnesota and measures 20 miles long by 5 miles wide.

“They love coming up here because they get the chance to do these skills they just can’t do at their home stations,” Maj. John Donovan said.

The training helps soldiers prep for a mission they may never get, but keep sharp the skills they can’t afford to lose.

“Everyone has a precise spot they need to be at a precise time,” Lt. Col. Pfarr adds.

Bill Hudson