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Air Weapons Team Trains Ground-force Leaders

By Army Spc. Maurice A. Galloway
Special to American Forces Press Service

CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE BASRA, Iraq, Dec. 3, 2009 – The adage “Send in the cavalry” once referred to soldiers on horseback, riding to the aid of embattled comrades. Today, that same call for backup can be made a lot quicker and with much more devastating effect through the Army’s joint operations.

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A soldier tries to guide an air weapons team to a target verbally, without marking the target, during training near Contingency Operating Base Basra, Iraq, Nov. 20, 2009. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Maurice A. Galloway

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Twelve soldiers from 1st Battalion, 377th Field Artillery Regiment, and 1st Battalion, 130th Aviation Regiment, Task Force Panther, teamed up to conduct an air-support live-fire exercise at a detonation range near here.

The training provided leaders with the opportunity to gain experience and increase their proficiency in calling for fire during close-combat scenarios.

After days of orchestrating the layout, boundaries and procedures of the exercise, the trainers familiarized the ground soldiers with the different steps involved in the call-for-fire process.

“The hardest part of the training for me was being able to determine the distance of each of our projected targets from such a long distance away,” said Army 1st Lt. Mike S. Robinson, an infantry officer with Bravo Company, 177th Armored Cavalry. “You have to take into account that there are two perspectives: what we see from the ground and what the air-support team sees.”

From their positions on the ground, soldiers used their choice of techniques taught during the training to direct two AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopters to hostile ground targets and have them deliver an air strike. Some soldiers used the compass method, shooting an azimuth to gain the distance and direction of their target, while others tackled the difficult task of navigating the air strike verbally, without any target marking.

“This event gave our platoon leaders an opportunity to see what the Apache is capable of doing for us if we ever need more firepower,” said Army Lt. Col. James W. MacGregor, commander of 1st Battalion, 377th Field Artillery Regiment. “They are routinely coordinating operations with the air weapons team during their patrols, not only as a secondary source of firepower, but also to expand their field of view.”

A lot of different factors come in to play when trying to acquire a target, he explained, so communication is important.

“The two teams have to constantly talk,” MacGregor said. “The platoon leader has to identify his target and help the pilot see what he is looking at. Both may be looking at the same thing, but from a much different perspective.”

When multiple targets are near each other, it makes target identification all the more difficult. One strategy is to have troops on the ground use small-arms fire to mark their target.

“My objective was to identify the target for air support, using the 240 Bravo light machine gun,” said Army Pfc. Ian D. Favro, a gunner with 1st Battalion, 377th Field Artillery Regiment. “I basically shot rounds in short, controlled increments just short of their intended target to knock dust into the air so that the [air weapons team] could properly identify their objective and destroy it.”

With all of the objectives destroyed and each of the platoon leaders getting the opportunity to become more familiar with calling for fire, the event definitely was a success, MacGregor said.

“This experience offered our platoon leaders a chance to talk to the pilots and gain insight on their perspective from both a fixed- and rotary-wing standpoint,” he said.

“All in all, this was a great professional development experience for these young leaders.”

(Army Spc. Maurice A. Galloway serves with the 17th Fires Brigade public affairs office.)

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Multinational Corps Iraq

Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy 1st Lt. Mike S. Robinson coordinates the location of his next target with an air weapons team by using the distance and direction he received from his azimuth during training near Contingency Operating Base Basra, Iraq, Nov. 20, 2009. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Maurice A. Galloway  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageAn AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopter delivers a devastating blow to a hostile target called up by ground forces during a call-for-fire training exercise at Contingency Operating Base Basra, Iraq, Nov. 20, 2009. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Maurice A. Galloway  
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