By Staff Sgt. Mark A. Moore II, 2nd Brigade Combat Team JournalistFebruary 19, 2015
FORT POLK, La. -- Nestled in the northern-most area of the Joint Readiness Training Center is Peason Ridge. Its sandy soil emblazoned with scorched stubble of once-dense undergrowth is speckled with expelled small-arms casings, signal flare tubes and smoke grenades.
In the distance, smoldering embers send serpentine ribbons of smoke wafting through thick coniferous branches that stretch across the depthless Louisiana sky.
The chalky aroma of burnt pine looms around sparsely placed concrete bunkers, earthen fortifications and mock villages that display visible signs of combat.
Concealed in this post-apocalyptic scene lies a sleeping giant whose gate keepers are hardened by combat and bonded through training.
Artillerymen of 2nd Battalion, 15th Field Artillery Regiment patiently stand ready to rouse the beast and protect their infantry brethren who navigate this unwelcome landscape.
Receiving the call to arms, they jolt the beast from slumber and rain down a bombardment of
105 mm and 155 mm howitzer rounds, suppressing the enemies' advance during a live-fire exercise Feb. 8.
Achieving these results required flawless communication between the three elements that make up an artillery section: the forward observers, fire direction center and gun line.
"The forward observers are truly the eyes of artillery," said Capt. Bill Lessner, C Battery commander. "They are the ones who actually have eyes on the target; they are the ones who initiate the call for fire."
Embedded with infantry units, the forward observers scout ahead of the main element to gather information on enemy targets and relay that data to the fire direction center.
"The fire direction center is what we refer to as the 'brains,'" Lessner said. "They're the ones who take the data that is sent to them from the forward observers and calculate it."
First Lt. Aaron Duckery, B Battery fire direction coordinator, explained that there are many complexities involved in safely sending a mission to the gun line.
"When you're talking about shooting up to 11,500 meters away, you have to look at not only the wind speed at your position, but wind speed at two or three kilometers above your position as the round flies," he said.
He added that air pressure and density, altitude between targets, location of howitzers to enemy troops and propellant temperature also must be considered before accurate fires can be achieved.
Fortunately, Duckery and his team can reference precomputed charts to aid them in their calculations.
"Instead of Kentucky wind-aging something, they have come up with multiple manuals called tubular firing tables to find the correct data to shoot accurately for those ranges," he said.
Once the coordinates are verified, they are sent to the muscle of the artillery world -- the gun line personnel who fire the mission.
The gun line is composed of four to five artillerymen. Team members must work in unison to send rounds down range -- a task that requires proficiency and teamwork.
"Every person on my gun has a specific job," said Staff Sgt. John Vogt, B Battery section chief. "I have a No. 1 man responsible for the breach, I have an ammunition team chief who supervises the management of ammo and I have a round runner who brings me the rounds."
Once Vogt confirms the data entered into the cannon's sighting scope is accurate, he gives the command to fire, dispatching high-explosive carnage down range.
The entire process from observer to rounds on target takes only a few moments, and firing the cannon takes only a few seconds.
"We are getting back to a traditional artillery role," Lessner said. "You are seeing a lot of improvements in our basic skills. What I mean by that is (establishing) gun line positions and the speed and accuracy of processing data to provide accurate and timely fire.
"The goal is to provide first-round fire for effects all the time, which means first round (fired) always lands where you want it to land," he added.