4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division
First Lt. Erik Solenberger (left), a fire support officer, and Sgt. Jerame Burns, a fire support noncommissioned officer, both with Company B, 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division pause to review a map of the location of their observation post during a fire support team certification Feb. 22 on a training range here. The OP occupation was the final task in the week-long certification. Photo by Spc. Kimberly Hackbarth
02.25.2011 Story by Spc. Kimberly Hackbarth JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - With only four seconds left to finish his mission, the only thing on Sgt. Bradley Metz's mind was, "I hope I don't bust time."
Soldiers from Metz’s battalion, 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, and three other 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division units each spent a week earning their fire support team (FiST) certification Feb. 7 through March 11 at several training centers and ranges here.
During each week, soldiers proved their knowledge of fire support systems and other skills by passing a written exam, completing a simulated call for fire, and overcoming the dense Pacific Northwest vegetation during a land navigation course and an observation post occupation.
For Metz, the last task he needed to pass the call for fire portion of the certification was to request an immediate smoke mission, one used to cover the movement of troops, in under 25 seconds.
“The certification is to basically retest us on job knowledge,” said Metz’s grader, Staff Sgt. Dustin Millett, a fire support non-commissioned officer with Company A, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, who went through the certification the previous week.
Using various tools, including laser range finders, target designation and night observation devices for determining target locations, FiST soldiers serve as liaisons between artillery or air support and ground units.
“To do a call for fire is a practice thing,” explained Millet, a Dalles, Ore., native. “It's one of those skills that if you don't use it, you lose it.”
To pass the land navigation test, Soldiers had to locate four out of five points scattered in the woods of the training area in five hours using a map, protractor and compass.
“For a forward observer, we must be able to know where we are, and part of the test is we must be able to self-locate within 100 meters,” Millett said. “If we know where we're at, we can give a proper direction to our target and be just as precise when we do our call for fire.”
The task itself, however, proved to be harder than many of the FiST Soldiers expected.
“The vegetation on (JBLM) is insanely thick and everything’s wet, so when you’re trying to climb over downed trees you’re slipping everywhere and trying to keep track of where you’re going … it really makes it hard,” said Metz, an Attica, N.Y., native.
Land navigation wasn’t the only time the soldiers got tangled in the woods.
During a 3.5-mile foot march to their observation posts, soldiers trudged through thick foliage to avoid being seen by any notional enemies in the area.
Once they reached their OP, each group of soldiers secured an area and began drawing terrain sketches and using MK VII laser range finders to figure out the distance of their simulated target.
The certification ended once the soldiers completed every required task during the OP occupation, demonstrating their proficiency in the subject matter covered throughout the week.
The graders for the FiST soldiers conducted an after-action review discussing what went wrong and what went right throughout the day.
By the end of each week, the soldiers had mud-covered boots, stained uniforms -- and a certification, showing that when they are needed, they are ready and able to do their jobs.
“You’ve got to go over this stuff every day to make sure you stay on top of it, so when you get a call … you have to be able to say ‘OK, not a problem,’” concluded Metz.