Arty Fire Direction center points out the enemy

29 Oct 2004 | Cpl. Enrique Saenz

Fire support is a vital lifeline for Marines in combat zone.  When a situation gets hairy, the Marines know they can call for a storm of steel rain on the enemy.  

For the reserve Marines of Mike Battery, 4th Bn., 14th Marines, their Fire Direction Center makes sense of the massive amounts of information sent to them by units requiring support.

“When you have a ‘grunt’ that’s out there and you hear the urgency in his voice when he calls in a mission, your ability to make sense of it and support the Marines in the field can mean the difference between life and death for him.  ” said Sgt. Chris Robinson, M battery FDC communications chief and Knoxville, Tenn. native. “Time and again, we’ve proved that we’ve got what it takes to support anyone.”

Although the actual process is complex, the concept for fire support is simple.

“We’re here for basic artillery support,” said Gunnery Sgt. John M. Stefan, M Battery FDC operations chief and San Antonio, Tex. native.  “If a ‘grunt’ unit goes out and needs artillery support, they call us.  We plot their position in seconds and tell the cannoneers where to fire.”

The first part of the artillery support process is receiving the call for fire.

“Comm is the life line of the battery,” said Robinson.  “This is the primary method of getting calls for fire.”

“Once we get a fire mission, everybody jumps to their position,” said Cpl. Patrick Nalu, a Mobile, Ala. Native.  “We have to calculate vast amounts of information in a short amount of time, then get it to the guns, and it all happens in seconds.”

To help them make use of all the information given to them, FDC Marines use a machine called the advanced field artillery tactical battery system (AFATBS).  AFATBS takes into consideration weather, wind, distance and other variables to determine how much propellant should be used and at what angle they should fire to let each of M Battery’s six guns find their target.

“We get a target number and a grid, input it into the machine, process the mission, then call it down to the gun line,” said Cpl. Jason Salvador, M Battery AFATBS operator and Birmingham, Ala. native.

The number of fire missions the FDC receives every day depends on the amount of ground forces engaging the enemy.

“Once we assume our post and check our equipment, we just wait for a fire mission,” said Nalu.  “Sometimes we have days where we get dozens of fire missions, other times we just watch TV or read some books and wait for one to come in.”

The Chattanooga, Tenn.-based 14th Marines are proving that reserve units are an important part of the war effort. 

They have been activated and deployed several times in support of the Global War On Terrorism, including a tour in Afghanistan and its current tour in Iraq.