Colonel Jack Ancker's distinguished military career spanned two wars and took him from Central Europe to Vietnam. Almost 40 years after his retirement, Colonel Ancker was back on the battlefield Wednesday, as a guest of Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson's 377th Parachute Field Artillery Regiment.
"It's like coming back and I get to play with the toys," said Ancker.
Fellow veteran and member of Anchorage's Military Advisory & Veterans Commission Father Norman Elliott also got to try out the cannons.
Both men operated earlier versions of these cannons during World War II. Previous Howitzer cannons were small enough to fit into a box after being dis-assemble; one modern Howitzer is a behemoth compared with those earlier models, and are more accurate.
"First off, they shoot something bigger, better and further, and hit it," said Ancker. "The first Howitzer I served on was designed in 1890."
Today's generation of Howitzers at JBER are being handled by Ancker's grandson, Captain Phillip Sakala, a 4th generation army officer. Though his grandfather has been retired for almost 40 years, his knowledge of army procedures is as fresh as ever.
"He does kind of give me some advice, because he was a commander," said Captain Sakala. "He did pick up some crew drills one of my guys messed up on. He said, when I was a lieutenant we did it like this, he said well we missed that one, we'll correct it."
The margin of error is small in the battlefield, especially at U.S. Army Alaska, which is responsible for mediating conflicts in most of the Pacific Rim. Cannons are still a very big part of the military's arsenal and Colonel Ancker's advice was well received by these artillery men who withstood sub-zero temperatures to hone their skills.
"Most of the time we sit down and talk with him he's a very charismatic individual," said Captain Sakala. "He's got some great stories, he can talk a little bit, and I think it's just the fact, when you have an old soldier, a paratrooper, it draws a crowd."
For Colonel Ancker, the chance to mingle with these young artillery men reminds him of the camaraderie of the army.
"It's like coming back and being with family."
Colonel Ancker and Father Elliott will be honored at an officer's ball held at the Anchorage Sheraton Thursday night beginning at 6:30.