The Gap Filler
By Col. Bruce Holbrook
From the "Field Artilleryman" August 1971

An article about the in-country artillery school conducted by the
8th Battalion 4th Artillery on behalf of XXIV Corp

Five years of lessons learned in combat in Vietnam provide a constant source of changes to the program of instruction at Fort Sill. Even so, today there still exists a transitional gap from training conditions on the ranges of Fort Sill to the battlefields of Vietnam. Understandably, safety procedures within CONUS preclude the use of such procedures as aerial observation over the impact area, close in forward observer adjustment by sound, close in adjustment of defensive targets around friendly positions, and application of fire direction techniques that involve the use of 1CM (Improved Conventional Munitions), beehive rounds, and danger close procedures. These areas are critically important to the young officer being assigned to a combat unit. Add to these the required clearance-to-fire procedures used in Vietnam, and the need for transitional training is obvious.

In Military Region 1, the accurate determination of friendly locations and the obtaining of clearance to fire are made more complex by the numerous hamlets interspersed throughout the low lands and in the Piedmont. Emphasis on joint US and allied operations, supported by isolated fire support bases, serves to vastly complicate the clearance problem. These are but a few of the obstacles the newly arrived field artillery officer must face. For the company grade artilleryman, Vietnam becomes a challenge which, in order to be met successfully, requires that the field artilleryman supplement his formal schooling with as much instant combat experience as he can get.

XXIV Corps Artillery continues to recognize the need for building the confidence and competence of junior r leaders facing a myriad of new and unexpected situations. To close the gap between formal schooling and combat experience, corps artillery sponsors three schools for officers _ and noncommissioned officers. These schools encompass fire direction techniques, forward observer procedures, and firing battery procedures.

All schools are of one-week duration and are located at the Dong Ha Combat Base. Within artillery range of the DM7, the location emphasizes to the students, should any emphasis be needed, that they are no longer in a CONUS school situation. The schools are conducted by the 8th Battalion, 4th Artillery, under the supervision of the 108th Artillery Group.

The fire direction course, after a brief introduction, focuses on an intense and comprehensive review of fire direction procedures for the first 3 days. Attention is then turned to the Vietnam environment, with emphasis on communications networks, rules of engagement, artillery incidents and lessons learned from past incidents, fire support coordination, defensive fire planning, heavy artillery combined operations, fire clearances, the use of the situation map, organization for 24-hour operation, artillery raid techniques, target analysis, ICM restrictions and danger close procedures.

The fire direction course emphasizes techniques applicable to heavy artillery, although all types of artillery, are touched on. A high quality of instruction is insured by maximum use of ex-Field Artillery School instructors.

To date, over 100 officers have successfully completed the course. The challenge offered by the program of instruction is evidenced by the fact that not oil attendees successfully complete the course.

Eyes of the Artillery

The forward observer course provides training for the eyes of the artillery.̓ Again, a review of fundamentals initiates the course. Following this the attention focuses on the particular skills and fools required by the forward observer in Military Region 1. Instruction in this phase covers junior officer leadership, responsibilities of the FO with-in his new unit, map reading, attack of targets with multiple fire support means, safety considerations, ICM, adjustment by sound and at night, aerial observation, fire planning at company level, the use of TOE equipment, field expedients, and characteristics and capabilities of NVA weapons to include crater analysis.

In recognition of the enemy̓s ability to monitor and react to our communication, particular attention is accorded to the various means of communication. The forward observer student is imbued with the fact that success or failure of a fire mission may depend on his skillful use of available communications. The course affords the opportunity to observe these various means in operation.

During the classroom periods, observer techniques ore explained by classroom adjustments, using a remoted radio and blackboard techniques. Once thoroughly indoctrinated, the students trek to one of the northernmost fire bases for a chance to tackle combat adjustment procedures. The “new” observers fire missions on valid targets from either strongpoint A-4 on the Demilitarized Zone or at Camp J. J. Car. roll. These missions are supported by South Vietnamese light and medium artillery batteries within range and by the heavy guns of -corps artillery.

Completing the artillery team of forward observer, fire direction center and firing battery is the firing battery course, which is open to officers and non-commissioned officers.

Training for the Heavies

It is realized that new arrivals, though having just completed training at Fort Sill, are not sufficiently knowledgeable in 8-in7175-mm battery operations. The course concentrates on all aspects of the firing I battery, including direct fire techniques, maintenance, and safety procedures. The instructors for the course make every effort to quickly prepare new chiefs of section with “hands on̓ training. Two weapons, an 8-inch howitzer and a 175-mm gun, are moved into position at -Dong Ha Combat Base, where the students first learn proper maintenance and operation of the weapons -system. Live firing then becomes the order of the day as students learn to “cannoneer” in the conduct of live missions.

Though each school attempts to ease the new arrival̓s transition from a CONUS school environment to “the situation as it really is,” the tried and proven technique of examinations is not forgotten. Each day in each course the students are subjected to quizzes. Each course culminates with a final examination. Each student who receives a Certificate of Completion leaves the school knowing that the certificate has been earned. More importantly, the student̓s parent unit knows that it is receiving a replacement who is ready to step in and contribute.

The schools discussed represent one aspect of XXIV Corps Artillery̓s implementation of the corps SOP which reads: “Key personnel, such as fire direction officers, forward observers, and chiefs of sections, will be trained and tested before being permitted to perform duties without full time supervision.”

What do these schools mean to the artillery commander? He knows that his direct representative to the maneuver units, i.e., the forward observer, is trained to support and advise the ground commander.

He knows that his officers supervising technical fire direction activities are imbued with an understanding of and have the ability to apply the standards for producing accurate, timely, and safe artillery fires for the ground commander.

He knows that his firing battery executive officers and chiefs of sections are prepared to complete the work of the artillery team by placing steel where it is requested by the forward observer, directed by the fire direction center, and, most importantly, needed by the ground commander.