CALL FOR FIRE

This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri July 11th 2018. If you would like to see the current articles as they are published, you may subscribe to The Belle Banner by calling 573-859-3328, or email tcnpub3@gmail.com, or mail to The Belle Banner, PO Box 711, Belle, MO 65013. Subscription rates are; Maries, Osage, and Gasconade County = $23.55 per year, elsewhere in Missouri = $26.77, outside Missouri = $27.00, and foreign countries = $40.00.
When an infantry lieutenant in Afghanistan looks out of his platoon’s night defensive position, at first light, lifts his binoculars and sees about 300 Taliban spread out across the side of the mountain and moving in his direction, he yells “CALL FOR FIRE”! This is about what he means and to whom he is talking.
I’ve written about 20 or so of the about 150 jobs in the Army. Some of those army jobs are also well paying civilian jobs, especially in the medical field. Most of the jobs, associated with the Army’s primary mission of winning in combat, do not translate to civilian jobs. Some soldiers will love a particular job while others will hate it, we are all different. However, in literally every survey conducted in the Army over the past 50 years, soldiers in combat related jobs are happier than those in support jobs. Overall, combat units have higher morale than support units, and the more elite the unit the higher the morale. The 82nd Airborne Division is the pinnacle of the United States military preparedness, subject to be called, on a moments’ notice, to run into their unit, draw gear, weapons and ammunition, get on a plane and jump into combat, and because of that mission to always be ready, they train and they train and they train. They work their butts off. The 82nd Airborne Division also has the highest morale of any combat division in the Army or the Marines.
The soldier the lieutenant is yelling for is his Platoon Forward Observer (FO), who with the FO’s radio operator form the Platoon FIST team (Fire Support Team). Army MOS (military occupational specialty) 13F Fire Support Specialist. This is the first Army job I have researched recently where I found no negative comments. Absolutely every active and former soldier who commented loved the job. Big guns that rain bombs down on the enemy do not move with the infantry. They are too big, heavy and cumbersome, and their ammunition is a logistical problem, it is also big. That is called indirect fire, because it is rarely ever fired within sight of a target. An infantry company has a few 60mm (millimeter) mortars which have a max range of maybe a mile, are often fired in sight of the target and are slightly larger than a hand grenade. At battalion level there are 81mm mortars with a range of about three miles, and 120mm mortars with a range of about 6 miles and packs a big punch. The artillery has the big guns. It has 105mm Howitzers with a standard range of about 8 miles and can reach out to 10 or 12 miles. It also has 155mm Howitzers with a range of about 25 miles and a very big punch. Artillery sets up in a secure location well to the rear of the combat area where it can be easily resupplied. Forward observers are assigned to the Artillery but attached to and move with the Infantry and tell the big guns what to shoot and how. The FO’s can see the target, they are the eyes for the artillery, mortars, helicopter gunships, tactical Air Force fighter planes, and naval gunfire from ships off shore. In the past FO’s have carried big loads, consisting of radios, binoculars, maps, compasses and range finders. It took a lot of clandestine foot travel to get in position to see the target, which many times placed them very close to enemy activity.
All grunts learn to call for fire, in case there are no FO’s around, but what the infantryman learns is elementary compared to the knowledge and capabilities of a trained and experienced forward observer. Any infantryman with a radio can call for indirect fire support. He gives the mortars or artillery Fire Direction Center (FDC) a map grid coordinate or a known map location, the FDC plots the position and give the gun crews settings for the guns. A spotter round is fired, if it is not on target the soldier calling for fire says “Adjust fire” right, left, up, down and how far. When a round lands on target he commands “Fire for Effect”, at that time each mortar or artillery piece will fire a salvo of a set number of rounds. If the observer wants more, he commands “Repeat” and another salvo is fired.
The current army 13F is now called a Joint Fire Support Specialist because they also communicate with the Air Force and the Navy. Forward Observers, as well as most dismounted leaders, carry a PFED (Pocket-sized Forward Entry Device). A PFED is like a super all powerful, encrypted smart phone, which can send and receive text messages, photos, GPS (Global Positioning System) locations, as well as access various mission applications. Recently added to the PFED is the Mobile Handheld Fires Application (MHFA), which combined with the GPS capability, utilizes both a laser range finder and a precision fire imagery application to generate a grid coordinate that moves digitally up the fire chain to the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System (AFATDS). AFATDS is the Army’s comprehensive fires planning system that acts as the central hub for a commander’s fire support tactical decision making. A couple years ago Forward Observers in the 82nd Airborne Division started utilizing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s). With the real time video from the UAV’s integrated into the MHFA on their PFED, the FO can see and identify precise targets.
When I was in the Army a first round hit from artillery or big mortars was a combination of skill by everyone involved and a considerable amount of luck. Now first round hits are common and expected. That has been a goal in Afghanistan, to reduce peripheral civilian casualties, because the enemy is often mixed in with civilians.
FO’s spend a considerable amount of time in the field (in the woods) which is an attraction for many, because for boonie rats life is better in the woods than in garrison. But the thing that makes this job so enjoyable for many is almost complete autonomy. When the infantry goes to the field, at Brigade Headquarters there is a Major and a Captain Fire Support Officers (FSO), plus a Sergeant First Class and two Specialists, at Battalion Headquarters there is a Captain FSO and a Sergeant First Class and two Specialists. On the ground, moving with the Company Commander, is a Lieutenant FSO with a Staff Sergeant, a Specialist, and a Private First Class (PFC) and with each 40 man rifle platoon is a Sergeant (authorized but usually actually a Specialist), and a PFC radio operator. With all the modern computerized technology, someone still has to carry a paper map, a compass and a radio. These 13F’s are assigned to the Artillery but they are not with the Artillery, they are with the Infantry which makes them pretty much on their own. As a Platoon Sergeant and as a First Sergeant I never told my FO team to pull guard duty, help load vehicles or any plain labor jobs, as long as they took care of themselves and were always available I was happy with them.
One former forward observer wrote; “It was the best experience I’ve ever had earning money. You’re the red headed step child of the infantry and the artillery. But everyone forgets how important you are until you are needed, in that moment you’re the most important thing in everyone’s life, you make the earth spin and the flowers grow.” Another said, “All good, loved every minute of it.” A retired Master Sergeant Forward Observer wrote; “There you are, on a hill top, looking at an enemy position that is within range of your artillery battalion (which is behind you) calling for fire on hat target. You are most likely communicating digitally, but there is still some type of energy being used, which creates heat, which is visible to thermal imaging devices. Once your artillery fires a few rounds, the Counter-Battery fire team will be looking for YOU, so you better be long gone after you say ‘FIRE FOR EFFECT’.”
The ASVAB requirements for 13F are a test score of 93 in the field artillery (FA) aptitude area. The subtests for this area include arithmetic reasoning (AR), coding speed (CS), mathematics knowledge (MK) and mechanical comprehension (MC). A Secret security clearance will be required. The AIT (Advanced Individual Training) is 10 weeks long at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
I have been tracking a young man, for the past six years who is a 13F. He graduated from high school June 1st 2012. That fall he started the enlistment process and left for basic training in October 2012, at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. He completed basic in December, when his mother picked him up to come home for Christmas leave. After Christmas he reported to Fort Sill for AIT and graduated in February 2013. AIT for 13F was only 8 weeks at that time. From there he went to Fort Benning, Georgia for Airborne School, graduating in March 2013. He then reported to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He is a good soldier and was promoted to Specialist after about a year. About the end of 2015, with just over three years in the Army, he was promoted to Sergeant. He went home and married his high school sweetheart in March 2016. She graduated from college in May 2016. From July 2016 to February 28th 2017 he was with his Brigade in Iraq kicking ISIS out of Mosul. Their son was born February 1st 2017. Which he was able see on a live feed. He turned 24 this past March and in May he appeared before his Brigade promotion board, so this month or next he will be a Staff Sergeant, married with a second son on the way, living in a nice new house on Fort Bragg doing something he thoroughly enjoys, in the 82nd Airborne Division..

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