'Colts' certify forward observers
February 13, 2012
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- A fire support specialist, or forward observer, spends days working his way through impossible terrain to set up observation posts to protect troops and support ground missions in hostile territory.
Four Soldiers assigned to the Combat Observation and Lasing Team, "Colt" platoon, Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 1st Special Troops Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, completed the final stage of their forward observer certification process, participating in several joint live-fire missions on post, Feb. 6-10.
"The forward observer is the first guy to maneuver his way onto the battlefield, and is charged with keeping an eye out for enemy movement, accurately identifying exact enemy locations and calling for fire support in the event of attack," said Spc. William Orkies, a fire support specialist assigned to HHD.
The team of forward observers, often referred to as "Fisters," began the certification process with a written test and practical exercises, said Staff Sgt. Bernard Walla, platoon sergeant of the Colt platoon.
"After practical exercises, our forward observers began dry-fire exercises, and then supported live-fire exercises within the brigade," he said.
A forward observer must master several skills, to include land navigation and a strong knowledge of the process to call for fire, before he can begin the certification process, said Walla, a native of Staten Island, N.Y.
During certification, forward observers call their own fire missions and support a field artillery unit's certification process for a 105 mm Howitzer.
"The call for fire requires forward observers to determine the grid where they want the impact to happen and then to observe the rounds to make sure they safely land in the impact area," said Walla.
Orkies said conducting fire missions and supporting the field artillery is all part of becoming an efficient forward observer, but there are many other equally important parts to a forward observer's training.
"Land navigation is one of the most important skills we use while conducting our job on the battlefield," said Orkies. "We don't always have time to pinpoint and call an exact grid coordinate when we are communicating with the field artillery, so it's very important to be able to accurately identify terrain features and be able to associate them with our surroundings."
Orkies, a native of Lebanon, Ohio, completed the forward observer certification process in 2010, before deploying with 1st BCT to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
During his recent deployment to Afghanistan, the forward observers often had to go out into the mountains to set up temporary observation positions to provide over-watch for the Soldiers conducting missions on the ground, he said.
"A lot of the time, we were at least three clicks out from our normal area of operation, and it was our job to watch our Soldiers' backs while they were on the ground conducting missions," Orkies said. "When executing such an important job, it was essential that our skills were second nature because those men's lives were in our hands."
Walla said the entire certification process helped prepare the brigade's forward observers by enhancing their skills and giving them the confidence to execute their jobs, even when supporting other units.
"Working with the brigade's field artillery unit has helped us establish a strong working relationship with the Soldiers we will be directly supporting (during) upcoming deployments," said Walla. "The confidence we are gaining in this joint effort is invaluable to helping conduct an efficient operation once we are downrange."
Walla said future training for forward observers will include classroom instruction and familiarization exercises using new vehicles.
The forward observers of Colt platoon will also learn to shoot from un-stabilized platforms mounted to field artillery vehicles, more land navigation training, and live-fire exercises, he said.