View Full Version : Marines Train to Unleash Combined Fires

09-11-09, 10:16 AM
Marines Train to Unleash Combined Fires
II Marine Expeditionary Force Public Affairs
Story by Lance Cpl. Brian Jones
Date: 09.11.2009
Posted: 09.11.2009 08:10

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. – As the dust from repeated mortar and artillery strikes finally began to settle, all eyes turned skyward as an F/A-18 Hornet roared into sight. On the ground, the Marines huddled over maps, radios and laser guidance equipment as they vectored the approaching aircraft into attack position from which it would unleash precision weapons against targets on a live-fire range aboard Camp Lejeune, N.C.

These men, officers and staff non-commissioned officers attending the Tactical Air Control Party course taught by Expeditionary Warfare Training Group, Atlantic, repeated this scene time and again Aug. 25, 2009 as they practiced their new skills as forward air controllers and joint terminal air controllers

The role of FACs and JTACs is to communicate with forward observers on the ground and aircraft above to employ ordnance properly on enemy targets in support of Marines on the ground. To achieve these designations, the Marines must complete an exhaustive training regimen.

After completing three weeks of classroom academics and simulator training, the TACP students went to the ranges aboard Camp Lejeune for a week-long combined, live-fire exercise that culminated in coordinating airstrikes with actual aircraft.

Enlisted Marines of 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, teamed together with the TACP students at an observation post to control and call in fires, as joint fires observers. A JFO's primary job is target location, while controlling surface-to-surface suppressive fires on enemy air defense in support of a JTAC or FAC who is controlling an aircraft set to strike.

Throughout the exercise, the Marines utilized multiple weapon systems to include machine guns, mortars, artillery, AH-1W Super Cobra Helicopters and F/A-18 Hornets to destroy their targets. The exercise also tested the line of communication between everyone else involved.

"It makes a unit so much more capable because now they have guaranteed, qualified Marines that can conduct and coordinate fires," said Cpl. Christopher C. Ahrens, an observer with 1/6, commenting about the capability. "You learn how to use all assets and when it comes time to use it you're proficient at it."

Some of the 1/6 Marines qualified as observers during the exercise, who attend a separate school from JTACs and FACs.

"The JFO course is a new concept [for the Marine Corps]. It's going to be a huge asset, especially to units out in Afghanistan who are operating so far away from each other," said Sgt. Daniel R. Lightfoot, a platoon sergeant and new graduate from the JFO program with 1/6. "Any certified JFO really needs to understand that this is a very serious business because you are responsible for giving a JTAC accurate targeting information so you can get that bird in."

Lightfoot stressed communication is key for everyone coordinating such missions to avoid the loss of friendly and innocent lives.

"If your targeting information is off and you're dropping a 500-pound bomb and miss by 100 meters here or there it could mean life or death for not only your Marines but other U.S. forces and civilians," said Lightfoot.

Cpl. Christopher C. Ahrens, a JFO with 1/6, said even though the job may not be a Marine's responsibility, every Marine should strive to learn how to call in fire, because any Marine could find themselves in a situation where they would need the school.

"It's a skill set that every Marine should know how to do," said Ahrens. "Just like qualifying on a rifle, you should have to qualify on calling in for fire."

Ahrens went on to add that he enjoys his new secondary job as a JFO.

"I love it," said Ahrens. "I hope I can use this in the future. It would be a good asset. Every Marine or squad leader should be JFO-qualified; every Marine should know how to 'call for fire' and I think every platoon sergeant and platoon commander should be a JTAC."

The exercise included international support with Polish and Ukrainian students, as well as a British Royal Marine instructor.

"Their participation was all in support of ongoing NATO efforts in Afghanistan and overall standardization of close air support procedures across the coalition," said Lt. Col. Adam C. Tharp, the fires training department head with Expeditionary Warfare Training Group, Atlantic.

Upon graduating the course, the majority of the officers will receive orders to units aboard Camp Lejeune and will make use of their skills in Afghanistan or Iraq, said Tharp.

Such exercises prepare these Marines for upcoming combat deployments. The capabilities of such combined fires are useful as both defensive and offensive operations needed to aid all levels of units to maneuver and conduct operations.

For more information on the II Marine Expeditionary Force, visit the unit's web site at www.iimefpublic.usmc.mil.