By Sgt Jonathan ShawSeptember 8, 2011
Most combat veterans understand the importance of using supporting assets to accomplish their mission. But knowing when and how to integrate those assets into maneuver operations effectively are two different things.
This is what company commanders, their platoon leaders, and attached forward observers from the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team spent two weeks learning in the classroom and the field Aug. 8 -19.
The first week of training involved the paratroopers attending classes on basic fire support and integration of fire support into maneuver operations, followed by training in a virtual battlefield simulator, said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Dana Dennis, the brigade targeting officer for 1BCT.
On the second week, they took those skills and put them to use in the field during a live-fire, walk-and-shoot exercise where they learned to call for fire from F-18 jets, 60mm and 81mm mortar fire, and 105mm and 155mm artillery fire.
Commanders and their fire support staff were required to maneuver more than two kilometers while dealing with different scenarios encountered along the way, which is why the exercise is called a walk-and-shoot, said Dennis.
"Each iteration has specific scenario-based events that we want our maneuver fire teams to react to," he said.
The idea behind a walk-and-shoot is that fires should always be integrated with maneuvers, said Maj. Hugh Sollom, the fire support officer for 1BCT. Fire support assets need to be able to support maneuver plans in order to accomplish the mission.
If a fires plan is based on a primary observer and that observer takes enemy contact, he may not be able to see the target, said Sollom, a former enlisted cannon crewmember. That forces the soldiers to think.
"How can I best observe the target? Can I use aerial assets that are at my disposal? Do I need to try to find an observer that can move to a position of advantage to observe the rounds?" asked Sollom. "The reality is that there are going to be times when they need to think through how they can best accomplish their objective," he said.
Support assets are very important, especially to light infantry such as the 82nd Airborne Division, said Sollom. If those assets are not available at the time and place of their choosing, they may receive casualties that a heavy infantry unit might not due to the larger arsenal directly at their disposal.
Light units depend on their mortar, artillery and air assets to support their troops in an expeditious manner, and the ability to integrate those assets into maneuvers is key in making that happen, added Sollom.
The training differed greatly from previous walk-and-shoots, said Sgt. 1st Class Zachary Moon, the fire support NCO for 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, one of 1BCT's two infantry battalions. Not only was this training much more planned out, but it also allowed the companies to inject their own plan.
Instead of being told what to do and how the lane was going to be executed, the commanders, with the help of their fire support staff, were able to make their own plan, said Moon. Their FSOs and FSNCOs then helped them integrate that fires plan into their maneuvers plan.
It is very important that we do training like this, said Dennis, because the focus of operations overseas has been counterinsurgency for so long that a lot of the fires and maneuvers teams haven't really had that synergy that they have in the past when the focus was on full spectrum operations.
The new design provided much better training for the commanders and their fires support personnel, said Moon. Since they were able to plan it from the ground up instead of just being told what to do, there was a greater sense of ownership, which equates to a much greater understanding and learning.
From the classes, to the simulation, to the field, there has been a huge improvement, said Dennis. The soldiers worked at this for quite a while, and you could see that in how they performed.
Great improvement has been seen in communications, functionality of plans, applying the plans, maneuvering and understanding the commander's intent, said Moon. Even the fire support soldiers learned a great deal during the exercise since for most of them it was their first time in their particular role.
"There are a lot of brand new lieutenants with the maneuver, and FSOs and FSNCOs, so this is good because they're all learning a lot," said Moon.
"I see a lot of motivated young fire supporters and platoon leaders that are really focused on honing their skills in the trade that they have chosen," said Sollom. "We have a lot of young fire supporters that I have seen grow exponentially in the past two weeks."
The exercise been a highly-effective training opportunity for these paratroopers, said Sollom. It has also instilled the confidence in them that their supporting assets can expeditiously provide close support and destroy the enemy when it's needed.