News: Scout observers lead way for 12th Marines fire support
Story by Staff Sgt. Marc Ayalin
CAMP FUJI, Japan — While indirect fire support from artillery, mortars, naval gunfire or aircraft can significantly shape the battlefield, the power of their effectiveness often lies in the hands of Marine artillery scout observers and forward observers.
As part of Artillery Relocation Training Exercise 09-03, Marine scout observers from Echo Battery, 2nd Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force negotiated the grassy hills of the North Fuji Maneuver Area to practice and develop their trade, Nov. 2-11. The exercise also included members of 3rd Battalion, 12th Marines and the regimental headquarters.
The scout observers' goal during the exercise was to meet the training requirements of acquiring a target within one minute and calling in fire missions accurate to within 200 meters, according to Lance Cpl. Michael Ryan, a scout observer for the battery and a Modesto, Calif. native.
In the fire support community, a scout observer's tools of the trade are as basic as a map, compass, protractor, radio and a range finder. Using these tools, and dressed up in ghillie suits to camouflage themselves along the hills and draws of the range, they called in fire missions on simulated targets increasing accuracy, proficiency and an ability to support infantry maneuver.
"The paramount goal is to provide the most accurate and timely fires possible in support of ground forces," said Lt. Col. Sean Wester, commanding officer, 3rd Bn., 12th Marines.
Throughout the exercise, scout observers practiced observation techniques and provided target location information to the regiment's forward observers and fire direction center, which processes firing data for the gun line using state-of-the-art computer systems. While the scout observer job is solely an enlisted designation, many fire support team officers would agree that their job would be anything but easy without a scout observer's skill.
"The scout observers are the eyes of the battery," said 2nd Lt. Aaron W. Meek, forward observer, Echo Battery 2nd Battalion, 12th Marines. "Without them, the artillery unit loses power, range, and the ability to shape the battlefield."
While indirect fire is known to change the tide of battle, the scout observer's role is essential to the success of target acquisition and accuracy, added Meek, a Plano Ill., native.
According to Pfc. Travis English, a scout observer with the battery, a scout observer earns the military occupational specialty of 0861 after completing the five-week Marine Artillery Scout Observer Course, at Ft. Sill, Okla., and the Fire Support Man Course at the Expeditionary Warfare Training Group Pacific in Coronado, Calif.
While attending the courses, Marines practice advanced land navigation and learn how to use the tools needed for target location. Those tools include the M2 compass and the Vector 21 Laser Rangefinder, which determines a target's distance and elevation from the observer's position.
The battery, which arrived in Okinawa, Japan this October, is currently deployed with 12th Marines under the recently reestablished Unit Deployment Program.