By Mitch Meador, Lawton ConstitutionMarch 2, 2012
FORT SILL, OKLA. -- Marines from the U.S. Marine Corps Expeditionary Warfare School, Quantico, Va., are gaining valuable experience going through the Joint Fires and Effects Trainer System (JFETS) in Jared Monti Hall at Fort Sill, Okla. Feb. 26 -- March 2.
The 40-week EWS course is the equivalent of the Army's Captains' Career Course. It's considered a company-grade, captain's level, professional military education school.
The course is a mix of all the occupational specialties, mostly captains but with a few majors, plus representatives of the Navy and Air Force as well as some international officers, according to USMC Maj. Jarrod Stoutenborough, a Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTAF) instructor.
Although there are 240 in the course, instructors mainly brought those in combat arms and a few logistics officers as well. A total of 150 are here for two weeks. Their first week will be spent in the JFETS simulators, and the second will be out in the field calling in fires from Paladin howitzers and Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRSs), according to Stoutenborough.
Stoutenborough said he brought artillery officers from the school here a couple of years ago, visited the JFETS, and wondered, "Why are we not using this more?"
So last year the Marines' Expeditionary Warfare Course went through JFETS for the first time, but that was only a small group. This year they returned in force to a newer, more modern facility.
"We come here because it provides us with world class simulation. Our goal is to put each and every one of these captains in a decision making environment, and you can't find a better spot to do that. We can break them down into fire support teams and fire support coordination centers -- agencies that these captains have been exposed to in the past -- and face them with a real, live, thinking enemy, so to speak," Stoutenborough said.
The Marines fight scenarios inside the Mission Simulations Center, and each one turns out differently based on the decisions they make.
"That's what we love about the place. You don't have to expend live ammo to do it, and you can tailor it to suit your needs as well. There's a huge amount of flexibility involved," he said.
Stoutenborough said the Fort Sill Marine Corps Detachment was instrumental in coordinating the visit.
The Mission Simulations Center was dedicated to the first field artilleryman to receive the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War when it opened last August. It greatly expands the simulations and training opportunities first developed in Fort Sill's ISee-O Hall.
Tom Waters, director of the Mission Sims Center, said it supports both Field Artillery and Air Defense Artillery Schools' Captains' Career Courses and Basic Officer Leader Courses with a variety of learning tools.
"A single round of 105mm ammunition costs over a thousand dollars. A round of 155mm is actually less money, but, still, it's about $450-500 every time you fire a round. When I was in training back in the Sixties, typically it took about 18 rounds of artillery for every student to fire a single mission," Waters said.
So, $18,000 per student per mission. There were 5,000 officer candidates in residence at that time, so the cost was astronomical.
At JFETS, students get a realistic training experience thanks to the computer animation and Hollywood-style special effects created by the industrial arm of the University of Southern California, the Institute for Creative Technologies. In the old days, said Waters, if a student couldn't get the mission accomplished, the instructor would sit him down and another student would complete the mission or start it over. JFETS is more forgiving. A student gets more time if he or she needs it to figure out how to accomplish a task. Since there are no live rounds, the only expense is a little bit of electricity, Waters said.
The Close Air Support Module can actually be used to certify Joint Tactical Air Controllers (JTACs), he noted.
Waters said one of the Urban Terrain Modules can actually be broken down and transported on a truck to be set up at another Army post, but so far it hasn't been -- and if Fort Sill draws many more groups like the Marine Expeditionary Warfare students, it won't go anywhere because "we'll need it here."
The Expeditionary Warfare Course assumes captains have mastered their tactical craft and their occupational specialties. It concentrates on building MAGTAF officers by teaching the captains to understand all the components -- air, logistics, command.
"The school is structured basically into four major divisions," Stoutenborough said.
The first is the warfighting division, which familiarizes students with the Marine Corps planning process from the strategic to the tactical levels. The next is MAGTAF operations, where students build plans and tactical details. The third is expeditionary operations, focusing on amphibious routes, the bread and butter of the Corps. The fourth division is intertwined throughout the school, and that is professional development -- the integration of leadership from ethics to current events.
The Marines visiting Fort Sill have completed expeditionary ops and in what's called Combined Arms Occupational Field Expansion Course. Many of them will go on to Twenty-nine Palms, Calif., for follow-on training, and then the whole class will meet at Quantico for two weeks of Marine issues before they graduate.