FORT STEWART, Ga. - Training on specific job skills is vital to maintaining proficiency in a Soldier's assigned specialty. The more hands-on training, in a controlled setting, where a Soldier can train until the functions become muscle memory, the better the reactions will be in an actual combat situation where mistakes can be deadly.

For forward observers, error is intolerable.

Responsible for watching and obtaining accurate grid coordinates to effectively call for fire strikes on an enemy, being off just a hair could mean the difference between killing the enemy or hitting an innocent local.

"Once you get over there you never know the situation you are going to be in, you never know when you are going to need a piece of equipment or a certain amount of knowledge to complete your mission," explained Sgt. Dustin Parker, a forward observer with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team. "The [forward observer] certification we do here, and the months of training leading up to [a deployment] could be the deciding factor of coming home or not for any one of these guys here."

So hands-on-training in a controlled setting is imperative.

For 1HBCT forward observers, more commonly known as FISTERs, Oct. 14 marked the climax of a three-month long push to strengthen their job-specific skills.

"I am grading and testing Soldiers ability to set up a Defense Advanced GPS Receiver system in the fire support-operating mode, and then use a laser device to obtain grid coordinates so we can effectively call for fire," explained Sgt. Parker, a native of Atlanta, Ga. "It's important for them to be experts on this equipment."

The earlier training was not only focused on obtaining correct grid coordinates, but on many aspects they may come across in a combat situation.

"[The training covered] every aspect of our job; digital equipment, individual calling for fire, land navigation, advanced call for fire, different methods of target location, all the technical aspects of our job," Sgt. Parker said. "Our job is a lot more mental than physical, so we are just trying to push all this information into these guys' brains, and hopefully it will stick."

For newer Soldiers, the final testing was nerve-wracking.

"Being timed was the most stressful part," said Pfc. Christian Carter, a forward observer with HHC,1HBCT, and a native of Portland, Oregon. "It's hard because there is so many people, we don't get as much time as we would like on each piece of equipment, and I had only touched the equipment [I was testing on] once before."

But Pfc.Carter passed his certification, and hopes to continue the training and improve his skills, which he said are useful in more than just a military capacity.

"It's a very perishable skill, especially the land navigation and using this equipment, if you don't use it in a while it's easy to forget," he explained. "Land navigation is a skill that is useful not only in the Army; I feel more savvy, I never used to be able to read a map, but now I feel like my sense of direction is a little better."