HIJUDAI TRAINING AREA, Japan — Artillery fire is another tool in the tool box for infantry commanders to use when trying to seize objectives or eliminate enemy assets and equipment. At the forefront of every artillery strike is a forward observer or scout observer who identifies targets and their location to bring the “steel rain” pouring in.
“Our primary job is to provide artillery support to infantry units on the ground,” said 1st Lt. Anthony E. Schmit, forward observer with 3rd Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division. “Everything with the Marine Corps centers around providing support to the infantry and this gives the infantry the ability to pound through some of the harder objectives.”
The scout observers, who are enlisted Marines, typically get sourced out to infantry squads or platoons to provide artillery support, he said.
“In Afghanistan, forward observers and scout observers provide that edge that air support can’t provide all of the time, artillery works in rain or shine, any kind of weather,” Schmit said.
To call in a fire mission, an observer has to determine the geographical location of the target in reference to their position as well as the positions of the artillery assets. Once the location is accurately plotted on the map, the observer can call for the fire mission.
Depending on the type of target to be eliminated, the observer can request a variety of different rounds for the fire mission.
Determining target location can be done accurately with computer technology that digitally transmits information from the observers to the gun line.
To accurately locate targets, observers use the Strike Link computer system. The Strike Link is an automated platform that allows observers to locate targets with the Vector range finder binoculars. The Vector then gives observers the range and azimuths to the target and inputs the target in grid format into the Strike Link. From there the Strike Link sends the information down to the fire support command center which sends it down to the gun line.
“It’s a process that gets accurate information to the gun line so you get accurate target location,” Schmit said. “One of the five elements that we live by is knowing where the target is; this automated system makes it a lot easier.”
To maintain proficiency with this technology and calling for fire missions, forward observers and scout observers have been finely honing and refreshing their skills during the Hijudai Artillery Relocation Program Exercise.
“I just got done with a 10-month deployment in Afghanistan where the majority of my deployment was spent outside of the artillery community, so this is actually a good refresher for me,” Schmit said.
For some Marines, the ARTP exercise was their first taste conducting field exercises.
“This is my first field operation, so it’s going to allow me to see where I’m at and see what I need improvement on,” said Pfc. Anthony R. Brunke, scout observer with 3rd Bn., 12th Marines. “This training is helping me with my target location and how accurately I’m plotting the targets. It’s getting me used to seeing and adjusting the rounds to where they need to go, and just helping me get into the feel of being on the observation post.”
Schmit said he wants his Marines to walk away from the exercise with more knowledge and experience as observers.
“They said when they were going through the schoolhouse they didn’t get to do a lot of calls for fire, so this is definitely a chance for whoever is quick on the mic to get more missions out and get a little bit more experience throwing rounds downrange,” he said.
The ARTP exercise is regularly-scheduled artillery training which enables Marines to maintain their operational readiness to respond to any contingency where artillery would be required.