FORT SILL, Okla., May 14, 2020 -- Fifty-eight Advanced Individual Training Soldiers of Class No. 20/21-20 were working to learn target locations early in their 10-week school to become Joint Fires Support specialists (13F) May 4, at Fort Sill.
Though school was back in earnest, the trainees wore face masks, practiced social distancing, and made use of disinfectant gel before entering the classroom.
Looking at the studious Soldiers, 1st Sgt. Etamar Adrabi, B Battery, 1st Battalion, 78th Field Artillery first sergeant, called them the legacy of the battalion’s cadre.
“We turn out a couple thousand every year sending them forth into the force trained and capable to be a skill level one 13 Fox,” he said. “We have a pretty rigorous and challenging curriculum here for 10 weeks and four days. They learn everything from initializing a radio all the way to calling in live rounds.”
As for the battlefield job they are training up to do, Adrabi said the young Soldiers may call in support from 60-, 80-, or 120-mm mortars through towed and mechanized artillery to controlling rotary wing aircraft.
“Once they become (Joint Fires Observer) qualified, there’s a plethora of assets these Soldiers can find themselves controlling,” he said.
Staff Sgt. Edgar Garcia, an eight-year veteran from San Diego, was their instructor with the day’s lesson focused on teaching target location using terrain association. From that they would establish a grid point of that target.
“So we’ll give them a scenario such as, at this direction and distance there’s an enemy
vehicle on a hill, and the Soldiers have to use this information to find the target,” he said. “They will give us a six-digit grid from that location.”
Given that 13-Foxes fulfill a prominent role on the battlefield, Garcia said the trainees learn their craft in a building blocks style.
“We start with the minimum, such as how to navigate the land using their maps,” he said. “Having learned how to read and use a map, Soldiers can then find targets using those same skills. Then we teach them how to use the equipment to call for fire on that target.”
Having employed these skills in a real-world application, Garcia said the training works.
“I had a really good NCO and it just became like instinct. All the training I did in this schoolhouse, then in Alaska, I didn’t think twice I knew exactly what to do and how to do it,” he said.
Early on in learning these precise skills, Garcia said the Soldiers in their first calls for fires will be “way off,” to the tune of 2,000 to 3,000 meters from the target.
“But the more they do it, they will keep getting closer until they meet the distance that is optimal. Once they do it and see that vehicle get destroyed, that confidence gets built,” he said.
Garcia said the schoolhouse uses a computer simulator that trainees can do all their calls for fire on.
“You do that and watch it on a computer and it’s like, cool. But it’s another thing being outdoors and actually seeing that live round hit the target and see the explosion – it’s real, this works!” he said.
Kyle, Texas, native Pvt. Haley Stanford, said she appreciates the training and that it feels good serving her country.
“I like the fact not a lot of females do this job,” she said.
In addition to the academics, Stanford enjoys the required running and core strengthening exercises. As for her place on a battlefield, out front directing assets on targets, Stanford said of her duties, “It feels pretty powerful, I’m not going to lie.”
Her classmate, Pvt. Kyon Walker, is a Western Shoshone-Paiute Tribes Indian from Duck Valley Indian Reservation, which is tucked up against border of Idaho at Owyhee, Nevada. Walker said he’s enjoying how the Army has expanded his viewpoint beyond the small town he grew up in.
“This is a great experience. I’ve got to meet a lot of new people and do things I never thought I’d get to do,” he said.
As for his schooling, he said he’s gained a good grasp of terrain association and map overlay skills he will need to become a forward observer.
Clear across the United States, Pvt. Ryan Murphy from North Conway, New Hampshire, responded to an impulse that arrived early in life.
“I wanted to join the Army since I was 5 years old when I dreamed of being a Soldier,” said Murphy, whose family includes many who served.
He’s adapted well to Army life bonding with his classmates.
“I wouldn’t trade these guys for anything; I trust every single one of these guys with my back,” he said.
He said he’s enjoying the training and learning how to use maps and radio systems correctly along with how to terrain associate and find points on maps.
Being in an MOS where E-5 and E-6 numbers are down, Sgt. 1st Class Clint Davis, said Soldiers who graduate AIT might find themselves in a forward observer role usually occupied by an E-5 Soldier.
“These guys will have to grow up pretty quick, but they’ll get a lot of mentorship from the NCOs they do have,” said the senior training NCO for the schoolhouse and native of Floral City, Florida.
Sgt. Shawn Yokoi may be the exception as he’s already grown up. At age 43, the Soldier from San Antonio began his military career on active duty then left the service for a while. But, he rejoined, first in the Texas Army National Guard as an Apache helicopter avionics maintainer and now as an aspiring 13F.
“I like that I can be a force multiplier on the battlefield and play a vital role out there,” he said.
In regard to how he relates to his younger classmates, Yokoi is helping them learn about Army life.
“I think of them as my kids, because my children are their age,” he said. “But, I try to be a mentor to them whenever I can and get them focused on their military future.”