As high-explosive artillery rounds thunder into their intended targets and Marines on the gun lines rush to reload and fire for effect, a separate group of Marines provide support and feedback required to ensure the success of the fire mission.
Forward observers located at an observer position downrange communicated with the fire direction center to ensure high-explosive rounds fired from Mike Battery's four M777A2 155 mm howitzers landed on the intended targets at the North Fuji Maneuver Area in Shizuoka prefecture, Japan, Nov. 10-19.
The forward observers located targets to shoot in the impact area for Mike Battery as part of Artillery Relocation Training Program 12-3. Mike Battery, part of 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, and currently assigned to 3rd Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, conducted 10 days of live-fire artillery training during ARTP 12-3.
"The forward observer's job is to provide data and feedback on targets to the gun positions," said Lt. j.g. Darius A. Luna, a naval gunfire liaison officer currently assigned to 3rd Bn., 12th Marines and the officer in charge of the fire support coordination center during ARTP 12-3. "It is critical to have an accurate target location to ensure that the rounds hit the intended target."
The information forward observers provide to the FDC allows the gun lines to properly employ the battery's artillery capabilities.
"Without forward observers, the gun line wouldn't get the critical feedback and adjustments needed to put rounds on a target," said Luna. "We provide visual clarification to the fire direction center and pass along any corrections needed for accurate fires."
Communication is critical between the forward observers and the FDC during firing missions.
"If we weren't able to communicate constantly with the battery's fire direction center, they could not fire," said Pfc. David E. Gray, a forward observer with 3rd Bn., 12th Marines. "Acting as the eyes on the battlefield, we have to inform (the battery) how to correct howitzer's direction and give them a description of the target."
Similar to other military occupational specialties in the Marine Corps, forward observers improve their skills through experience and training. ARTP 12-3 provides them a great opportunity to gain additional responsibilities.
"As forward observers progress in their career field and become more proficient, they can expand their ability to call for indirect fire," said Sgt. Luis A. Feliciano, the liaison chief with 3rd Bn., 12th Marines during ARTP 12-3. "The observers can become trusted to call for fire without any further approval once they prove they are ready."
ARTP 12-3 reinforced the importance of forward observers during artillery live-fire training, and the Marines benefitted greatly from the training at the base of Mount Fuji.
"Without forward observers having ‘eyes' on the target, rounds could not be adjusted if needed and firing would not be effective," said Cpl. Jordan L. Steffey, a forward observer with 3rd Bn., 12th Marines, "We are literally the eyes of the unit."
Article by Lance Cpl. Brandon C. Suhr, Combined Arms Training Center Camp Fuji