Marines train at Sill to manage battlefield
March 15, 2012
FORT SILL, Okla.-- Marines from the Expeditionary Warfare School in Quantico, Va. came to Fort Sill for two weeks of training on how to direct fires on the enemy Feb. 26 - March 10.
"We are here to train Marine officers in acquiring targets and making decisions about what assets they want to use to engage targets," said Marine Maj. Jarrod Stoutenborough, Marine Air-Ground Task Force operations head. "Every one of these officers are training to be MAGTF officers. So they have to know all things about MAGTF and the artillery and aircraft they will work with. Not every Marine unit is used to working with aircraft."
More than 150 students and 15 instructors spent the first week of their time at Fort Sill working in the simulators of the Joint Fires and Effects Training System facility. The group included 18 international officers, one Army Soldier and one Navy medical planner.
Stoutenborough believes the simulator helps prepare Soldiers for their work in the field.
"We can throw more challenging problems at them in the simulators. The goal is to make the training harder than the real deal," Stoutenborough said.
Marine Maj. Marcus Mainz, an instructor at the Expeditionary Warfare School, believes the simulators give his officers some real advantages.
"On one hand we don't have to waste the time of the artillery battery if we don't know how to call for fire. If we didn't know the basics, we would be wasting their time," he said. "And, the simulator also allows me to stress students beyond the point they are ready for, put them in a "losing situation" and see what they do. I can overwhelm them in a simulator, and it doesn't cost anybody their lives.
He said the simulators give the Marines the chance to do things that they can't do anywhere else.
"The JFETS simulators at Fort Sill are world-class," he said.
Once the simulator and classroom training were completed, it was time to test their training in real-world scenarios. That meant getting out on windswept Andrews Hill on Fort Sill's West Range to bring together what Stoutenborough called "the eyes, the muscle and the brain."
Eyes on the battlefield
"Our officers here on this ridge are the "eyes" of the operation, the fire support team, and they have a picture of what the battlefield looks like," said Stoutenborough. "They are the ones that are trained to call in the fires assets, "the muscle." The "muscle' can involve artillery, both rotary and fixed-wing aircraft and mortars. Fire support teams are taught to use more than one asset to achieve the mission while keeping those assets from being conflicted.
He emphasized that in battle there can be artillery fire or rotary-and-fixed wing aircraft, fast-movers that can barely be seen, coming through a battlefield. The fire support team has to know how to use all of those assets and keep track of them. "You certainly don't want to shoot on top of friendlies. They have to make sure that the fires are de-conflicted there," Stoutenborough added.
Mainz explained that the modern U.S. military is a joint force, no longer just Army, Marines, Navy or Air Force. So the training that the Marine officers were doing was part of the Combined Arms Occupational Field Expansion Course. That involved bringing forces from all services together in one battlespace, for maximum coordination.
To reinforce that idea, the artillery fires for the training was provided by 2nd Battalion, 5th Field Artillery from Fort Sill, firing M109A6 Paladin 155 mm howitzers.
"It's an Army unit working with a Marine Corps unit. So that's where we're getting the "jointness" in, and that's good because we Marines talk a little bit differently. We always say that the Marine Corps has sailor-like talk but infantry-like standards. So getting that type of coordination is good for us." Mainz said.
Additional combat assets were provided for the training by Air National Guard F-16s from Tulsa and Marine Aviation FA-18s out of Naval Air Station-Fort Worth, Texas. Some of the students sat on top of the hill, huddled over maps and laser target designators, while others peered through binoculars, trying to see the simulated enemy in the valley below. Once targets were discovered, the forward observer would give the information to the spotter on the laser designator. This device determines range and direction information, which can be called out to officers looking at the maps. They in turn make decisions as to what fires assets they can use for the strike. The team on the ridge includes a forward air controller, who is in contact with air assets in the area on a separate radio net.
Hitting the target
Once they know what assets are available and can be brought to bear on the target, they contact the Fire Support Control Center that manages the battlefield, in this case, from Forward Operating Base Mow-Way.
"They are tracking the entire battlefield. They have a view of the bigger picture, so to speak, and may know that there are actually other forward observations posts that are looking down on the same target that we are, in that same valley, but from a different direction. So they can de-conflict the battlefield and keep our forces from being hurt," Stoutenborough said.
"Working with the Army Paladin firing battery, and also working with Marine and Air Force aviation is a great experience. It brings all those different assets together to accomplish our goal," said Marine Capt. Zach Lehman, Expeditionary Warfare School student. "As Marines we pride ourselves in our knowledge of fire support. That means every Marine is already a rifleman, and we're trying to take that over to fires support as well. This training provides them insight into how a Marine fire support team and a fire support coordination center works on the battlefield."
After this training is completed, each MAGTF officer will go back and join their regular unit. It may be in infantry or artillery units, or potentially an armor unit. They will be fully trained to direct fires using all of the assets available to them.
Lehman believed the two weeks of training were valuable.
"The most unique thing we did was the simulator training. The JFETS are world-class simulators, and you don't really get much better than that," Lehman said, "It's good to get live fire repetitions going. You can't beat realism of dealing with actual aircraft and firing batteries. There's nothing that keeps you honest like high explosives."
"This is an extension of the simulators we trained on last week. This is clearly more difficult, because you don't have weather in the simulator. Out here on the ridge the officers have to contend with the weather, which was very windy," Stoutenborough said. "I'm sure we'll come back to Fort Sill in the future."