By Mitch MeadorMay 2, 2019
FORT SILL, Okla., May 2, 2019 -- The annual Fires Conference means as much or more to the junior officers attending as it does to their elders, mainly because they're the ones who will be putting its outcomes into practice.
1st Lt. Nicholas Nero is currently assistant executive officer for the Long-Range Precision Fires Cross Functional Team (CFT) recently established under Army Futures Command, but he's looking forward to being promoted to captain in the next two weeks. He'll go through Captains' Career Course here before taking on the challenge of his first battery command -- and who knows what that two-year assignment might entail?
"I'm down here with my boss, colonel-promotable John Rafferty, who's the director of the Long-Range Precision Fires Cross Functional Team. Basically, we're down here just to take part in the Fires Conference and just to be part of the cumulative effort going on here for the Fires Center of Excellence," Nero said.
"We're here throughout this three-day conference to gain a better understanding and communicate our efforts along with getting efforts from industry, along with the other members across the Army from the field artillery community.
"Coming back to what we're doing, the most important things are getting a better understanding from artillery and what their expectations are for the future, the lessons that we've learned from the past along with developing the artillery to make it the greatest artillery in the world," he said.
The lieutenant said he's very proud of being part of the CFT responsible for advancing the No. 1 priority for Army modernization.
"I'm coming from being a platoon leader and an executive officer in an MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket System) battery. It's a great honor to be the No. 1 priority. Especially the focus that comes with being the No. 1 priority is just a lot of the efforts that I've seen and a lot of the partners that we've communicated with.
"It really shows just how interesting it is when industry is mobilized and everybody is all together in a cumulative effort. And I think the overall product to come is great," he said. "We're the King of Battle for a reason, and we plan on staying that way."
Nero said he's been in the Army now for four years, going on five. He received his commission when he graduated from the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, N.Y., in 2015.
In an interview with reporters, Maj. Gen. Wilson A. Shoffner, commanding general of the Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill, said the participants in the 2019 Fires Conference, from students to cadre, active duty Army and Guard members to retired field artillery/air defense artillery leaders who serve as mentors, and their industry partners, because it is a partnership, come together to tackle some of the really challenging problems the military is going to have.
"Three things I'll emphasize. The first is how we're changing our training to be able to be dominant against a peer or a near-peer adversary. If we have to go to war, we want to be able to win.
"One of the things we're doing is increasing the rigor in our training. Making it harder, making it more challenging in field artillery and air defense artillery. The goal, for when somebody comes to Fort Sill, whether it's basic combat training, advanced individual training, or officer training, is when they graduate they're ready to fight, with no additional training.
"So to do that, we have to increase the rigor here at Fort Sill. We have to make it as challenging as it's going to be once they get to their units. So both the field artillery commandant and the air defense artillery commandant are working really hard to do that.
"We're also working to make sure that we survive on the modern battlefield. Sometimes we envision situations where we can't communicate with our radios, where our (GPS devices) don't work and we can't receive GPS signal, where we're essentially cut off from communication. But we still have got to operate. We still have got to fight. And for field artillery that means being able to operate all of our systems without reliance on GPS (or) some of the communications and radios that we currently have.
"We call that degraded operations. So it's everything that we've got to do to be ready to operate in those kinds of environments in the future.
"Then the third thing is changing to a culture of fitness here at Fort Sill. Now the Army's moving in that direction already. An example of that is the new Army Combat Fitness Test that is gender-neutral. It's age-neutral, and it's designed to ensure that our Soldiers are physically capable of doing the jobs we've asked them to do.
"There are three levels of it. It's got six events. It's really, really challenging. We're already doing that here at Fort Sill. The Army will implement it in October 2020. We're trying to get a head start on it here at Fort Sill so that our Soldiers are as ready as they can possibly be, and make sure that they're physically and mentally tough when they go out to those units.
"Multi-domain operations is how the Army's going to fight in the future. The central idea is that we've got to penetrate and disintegrate the enemy's anti-access, anti-denial capabilities. Fires is a key part of that. Both the field artillery systems and the air and missile defense that will be required to protect our forces.
"We know that multi-domain operations is heavily reliant on Fires and making sure Fires works. And so, multi-domain operations is different in terms of how we fight. It is offensive in nature, as opposed to some of the other models that we had that were primarily defensive.
"This also happens to be the 150th anniversary of Fort Sill's founding. We'll be celebrating our sesquicentennial through many events throughout the year. The Fires Conference is one of those. We're proud of our legacy, our partnership with Lawton and the surrounding community, and we've decided to celebrate that this week."