Military News

Friday, May 22, 2015

Hitting the mark: forward observer doesn’t quit

by Airman 1st Class Kyle Johnson
JBER Public Affairs

5/22/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- I am an American Soldier.

I am a warrior and a member of a team.

The Soldier's Creed is a commitment every Soldier makes. They memorize it, recite it regularly, and strive to embody it every day.

Spc. Matt Miclean, a forward observer assigned to the Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 2nd Battalion, 377th Parachute Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Battalion is no different.

Like many before him, his acceptance of this creed has been tested, and will continue to be tested.

Before enlisting, Miclean earned a bachelor's degree in business management while working 30 hours a week at a supermarket.

Then, to create more opportunities in the future, he joined the Army, enlisting as a forward observer.

Shortly after graduating from training, Miclean was offered the opportunity to go to airborne school. Since FOs frequently jump into a mission, airborne qualification allows him to operate in a wider spectrum of missions.

"I had no desire to go airborne, but I had the chance to do it," Miclean said. "I know people I went to basic and [advanced individual training] with who would have jumped on it if they got the chance; I didn't want to waste that opportunity."

In retrospect, Miclean said, he's glad he stepped up.

"If I had the chance to do it all over again," he said. "I would."

He'd need that hindsight to drive him up the next step in his military career, the biggest obstacle he's overcome in his life so far -Ranger school.

Ranger school consists of three phases in which trainees learn to lead platoon- and squad-level missions in a variety of different terrains.

Miclean's supervisor said Ranger school is one of the most difficult courses the Army has to offer.

The teams are put together without regard for rank, so as a junior enlisted Soldier, Miclean found himself filling officer-level roles, like platoon leader - and leading personnel who significantly outranked him in experience and pay grade.

"It was definitely a big change for me," Miclean said.

Meals were scarce, and exercise was plentiful.

"The lack of food and the lack of sleep takes its toll," Miclean said. "I was so skinny, you could see every one of my ribs all the way up."

Trainees are only given the bare minimum of nourishment possible during the course. But the purpose of this limitation is not anything physical.

"There's the physical part, getting smoked for hours and hours, but the mental stress, that's the worst part." Miclean said.

The course is just over 60 days long, but many find it takes longer. The recycle system is just one tool the instructors use to test mental fortitude.

There are points throughout the school where the teams vote for the most productive members of the team, and those who are ranked lower are recycled.

The whole time, he knew he could just give up at any time, make all the hardship go away.

"I stayed down there for almost six months," Miclean said with a thick voice. "I wanted to quit several times, but I didn't. I couldn't come back here saying I quit.

"Everybody back here was my motivation; I couldn't come back here saying I quit."

By persevering, he learned more about himself.

In basic, Miclean supported his fellow Soldiers to accomplish the mission together.

In jump school, he relied on the riggers who packed his parachute.

In Ranger school, he supported his exhausted platoon, and relied on their support to complete the mission.

Now, he's the bridge between the infantry downrange and the artillery support that could save their lives.

Forward Observer
"If we have infantry in a combat zone taking contact, and they want some relief," Miclean said, "That's what we do."

An Army artillery gun line can provide support to operations more than 15 miles away. With that kind of distance, cannoneers don't identify and locate the target; the FO at an observation post several miles away does.

The FOs set up camp at the observation post with the fire support officer, fire support noncommissioned officer and radio telephone operator.

The FO uses a grid system 17 times more precise than a regular compass to relay precise firing data to the fire direction center through the radio telephone operator.

Down by the gun line, the FDC decides whether or not they are going to fire, and relays the coordinates to the Soldiers at the gun line, who pull the proverbial trigger, Miclean said.

It may sound complicated, but it works much the same as the human body.

The FO is the eyes, then relays information to the FDC - the brain - who then tells the gun line, the muscle, to fire the weapons.

If corrections need to be made, the FO adjusts the coordinates and the process starts over again.

However, the goal is to not need to make adjustments - to hit the target on the first round.

"You want to have first-round effects on the target," said Sgt. Gregory Gatewood, also HHB, 2/377th PFAR, and Miclean's supervisor.

To accomplish this, the Soldiers take the guns out to a safe location and fire practice rounds before going on a mission. The FO uses the information from these practice shots to accurately determine how the guns will behave when it really counts.

This process is called 'registering the guns.'

"If you register the guns correctly, then you use that information in the mission location," Miclean said. "It's just a different target location."

Even though artillery is used chiefly for suppressing an area, rather than hitting a specific element, precision is still very important.

A large part of what FOs do is battle tracking, a term used to describe being aware of everything going on in the area.

"We maintain [knowledge of] friendly positions on the battlefield at all times, so we always know where to safely put ordnance," Gatewood said. "Whether it's infantry, other forward observers or civilians, you have to be aware of anyone that could be affected by rounds at all times."

With advances in technology, artillery is much more than hunks of lead propelled by raw explosive power.

There are rounds guided by global positioning satellites, laser-guided rounds, rounds that simply light an area up like a big flashlight, and rounds that do the same on the infrared spectrum.

"It's fun to get out on the hill," Miclean said. "Watch rounds come in and blow some stuff up."

While the FDC is the one deciding what to use and how, each round has a different trajectory, and the target might not be in the same place every time.

Miclean accounts for all this and needs the discernment to consistently provide accurate instructions to his team so they can accomplish their mission, together.

I will never leave a fallen comrade.

I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills.

I am an American Soldier.

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