By Sgt. Javier AmadorOctober 11, 2012
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Fire support teams from 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (LI), completed two weeks of rigorous, technically demanding training Sept. 23 to become certified in calling for indirect fire while on combat missions in future deployments.
The training began in the classroom, where the Soldiers acted as graders for the call for fire trainer and took a vehicle threat identification test to accurately identify more than 70 different vehicles as either enemy or friendly.
They then conducted a land navigation exercise, where Soldiers were tested on calling for fire support to earn their certification.
The "Titans" spent the second week of their exercise manning observation posts and calling for live artillery rounds on targets, while providing support for 4th Battalion, 25th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, firing table certifications.
Certifications for fire support teams are normally conducted twice a year, ensuring that perishable skills that are not used consistently are kept current and readily available to the Soldiers.
Fire support teams consist of at least one commissioned artillery officer and four fire support specialists.
"It consists of a fire support officer, (fire support noncommissioned officer) who's also my team chief, fire support specialists and also (radio telephone operators)," said 1st Lt. Christopher Fought, a fire support officer with 3-71 Cavalry. "RTOs are normally paired with (forward observers)."
The forward observer team is responsible for acquiring the distance and direction of a possible target. The actual targets are normally chosen by either the FSO or the FSNCO, who then communicate with the RTO / FSO team.
Fought said forward observers, usually in the rank of specialist, are paired with a radio operator -- also a junior-enlisted Soldier. The team determines a call for fire and the target's distance and direction; the fires officer or NCO will select the final target.
Once the call for fire is placed with the fire direction center, the decision is made on the type of ammunition used and what unit will carry out the mission.
The proximity of friendly forces to enemy targets is always taken into consideration when a call for fire is made. Artillery rounds differ in their effect on a target as well as the amount of distance from the point of impact that is needed to keep friendly forces safe.
"Safety boxes" are geographic areas of varying sizes designated by the artillery unit. The area is based on the type of ammunition to be used and plotted on a map of the impact or target area.
Certain types need more area than others to ensure safety.
"When we go out there, the gun line will give us their safety boxes," Fought said. "I plot the safety boxes on our maps. I oversee the guys to ensure they shoot safe, inside the safety boxes."
With the many skills that the fire support teams have to master, they also need to be adaptable and able to operate with the different unit types in the Army.
"You have to be open-minded," said Sgt. Patrick Kuster, a fire support noncommissioned officer with 3-71 Cavalry. "We are in a (cavalry) unit, so we have to have the (cavalry) scout's skills.
"Last deployment we were with an infantry unit, so we had to be 11Bs (infantrymen)," he added. "We had to learn the different movement formations as well as working on vehicles and maintaining weapons."
Despite the critical demands for accuracy and precision that firing artillery rounds in unfamiliar terrain requires, and the requirement to be cross-trained in other Soldier skills, the job has its rewards.
"It's not necessarily the hardest thing I've ever done, but it is satisfying," Fought said.