Sgt. 1st Class Larry Melton says he has come full circle.
It has been eight years since he trained with paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division, but in the past six weeks, Sergeant Melton has found himself working with airborne-qualified forward observers who flew in from Fort Bragg, N.C., to take advantage of a U.S. Army Europe Joint Multinational Training Command-based course.
Originally an 82nd paratrooper himself, Sergeant Melton said he now serves as the JMTC Joint Fires Observer program manager at the Warrior Preparation Center in charge of training forward observers.
While it is normally the WPC’s mission to train Soldiers and Airmen based in Europe, a request to train 36 Fort Bragg-based forward observers created a new relationship between the WPC and its much larger counterpart, the U.S. Army Artillery Center and School at Fort Sill, Okla., Sergeant Melton said.
“When we got the request, we knew it was outside our normal training capacity,” he said. “We decided that we had the manpower to support this. We also wanted to establish the relationship that if Fort Sill is full, here is another schoolhouse able to train JFOs.”
The first set of 82nd paratroopers arrived at the WPC in January, where they attended classes in doctrine before applying what they learned during simulator training, Sergeant Melton said.
During one typical simulator session, students watched as a simulated cordon-and-search mission by ground troops unfolded on a wall-sized projection display.
Onscreen, as the troops searched for a high-value target, insurgents began attacking them with small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. From their overwatch position, the student observers had to pinpoint the insurgents’ location and send the data to an Air Force joint terminal attack controller, who could then relay the information to a pilot ready to attack the target.
“In a real-world situation like this, if it can’t be neutralized by any other means, close air support is needed,” said Staff Sgt. Jamie Moss, a forward observer from the 82nd’s 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry. “(During combat) I’ve never called
for an artillery strike; it was all from the air. However, there are many things I couldn’t have done before I took this course.”
While working with laser targeting systems, translating “Armyspeak” into something Air Force pilots can better use to hit their targets, Sergeant Moss said the training helped the paratroopers update their tactics and techniques for calling in close air support.
“We say ‘Roger’ a lot – something the Air Force doesn’t ever use,” Sergeant Moss said. “Other things such as target elevation, while not incredibly important in calling artillery, is a ‘make or break’ factor when calling in close air support. We also can tell the pilots we’re JFO qualified, which lets them know that we know what we’re doing on the ground.”
Sergeant Moss said JFOs are a valuable asset to today’s missions. U.S. Army Europe Command Sgt. Maj. Ralph Beam agreed.
“JFOs in the Army are important because … we integrate our air and surface assets,” said Major Beam during a visit to the training site Feb. 11.
“We have enormous capabilities here, and as the rest of the Army has found out, they can use it, too,” Major Beam said. “This shows that as far as training is concerned, the difference between (the continental U.S. and overseas duty stations) doesn’t matter any more.”