By Master Sgt. Vincent Donaldson
Oklahoma National Guard Public Affairs
OKLA. CITY —
Shot over... Shot out. Splash... Splash out. Explosions sound out on a distant hill, with smoke signatures rising, realistically viewed from a wall-sized window display of a hilly foreign battleground. The explosions aren’t real this time.
Air Force Tech Sgt. Larry Mansell of Yukon, and a member of 146th Air Support Operations Squadron, Oklahoma Air National Guard, reports the battle damage assessment, “Three vehicles neutralized and burning.”
Mansell is the Air Force Joint Tactical Air Controller or JTAC, overseeing the Joint Fires Observers training.
The Soldiers are taught to coordinate air strikes from Air Force, Navy and Army aircraft. “These Soldiers are extensions of Air Force JTACs,” Mansell said. “Once they have completed this training, they will be able to provide targeting data for aircraft that are working in direct support of Soldiers on the ground.”
“There are not enough Air Force JTACs to go around, however the Army has a lot of artillery forward observers (FO),” Mansell said. “If the FOs completes the required training they can become JFOs and will have the ability to direct both traditional artillery and air-to-ground strikes.”
Adding stress to the JTAC’s job is the natural spread of units into platoon or squad size elements across a battlefield. “Avoiding fratricide is our first priority. One digit off in a coordinate could mean disaster. Thus, time is taken checking and rechecking targeting data, which delays time to the target,” Mansell said.
In addition to coordinating unit mortar and artillery fire, Joint Fire Observers are able to provide timely and accurate targeting data to the JTAC along with quick and accurate verification of friendly forces on the ground.
“We are the JTAC’s eyes and ears for targeting data necessary to give that bomb release authority,” said Cpl. Austin Marvin from Yukon, a member of Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 179th Infantry, 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Oklahoma Army National Guard who was participating in the training.
“We are right there on the battlefield with the infantrymen. But we don’t give the final order to the aircraft to send rounds downrange. It’s our job to coordinate each fire mission so there are no mistakes,” Marvin said.
Soldiers who graduate from the JFO course are not done with training. Joint fires observers have a revolving training door to keep their proficiency. “Every six months they have to recertify on seven tasks. Included in these tasks are terminal guidance, where a laser is used to target munitions, call for fires, close air support events with and without the JTAC, an AC-130 gunship and close combat attack with Army helicopters,” Mansell said.
The JFO sustainment training was recently completed at the 189th Regional Training Institute in Oklahoma City. Hundreds of Soldiers from across the country train at the Oklahoma facility every year to maintain the skills they may need in combat.