CAMP ROBERTS, Calif. — In these hills, more than a dozen Guam Army National Guardsmen and several more new friends from the Hawaii Army National Guard watch mortar rounds drop from the sky.
They call it Hell from Above, because when the barrages hit, there’s no warning.
“Whatever’s down there, or whoever is in that area, is gonna have a bad day,” a Guamanian forward observer said.
If this is not the first, it’s definitely one of the rare times Soldiers from Guam’s 1st Battalion, 487th Field Artillery Battalion Detachment II, are using their fire support team (FIST) techniques they learned in military school. There are no mortar or artillery ranges in their Pacific island. But during this 2016 eXportable Combat Training Capability (XCTC) exercise, the oil is out to loosen the rustiness that comes from inactivity.
“They’re finally using their skills,” said Capt. Gordon Guerrero, the detachment’s officer in charge. “It’s great for us. We have guys who have been with (Guam’s 1st Battalion, 294th Infantry Regiment) for a few years but have been utilized for other assets. Now we’re out here and getting the training we need as artillery Soldiers.”
The Guamanians and Hawaiians are uniting their training, since both serve as the eyes and ears of ground units. As forward observers, they’re responsible for spotting enemy movement and coordinating indirect fire. They’re on a hilltop, and somewhere below a mortar or similar artillery unit can launch rounds at a specific location. Critical things come into play: Everyone must know artillery methods in direction of fire, and must be proficient in the use of equipment and technology.
“What we do is find locations of the enemy so we can conduct indirect fire on them,” added Capt. Gary Tani, fire support officer (FSO) of the Hawaii Army National Guard’s 1st Squadron, 299th Cavalry Regiment. “Everything that needs to be done, before we send any round, must be done correctly and safely. That’s the purpose of this training, for us to get it done without mistakes.”
This is a day and night operation, says Tani and Guerrero. They rarely come down from the chilly hill; supplies are brought to them.
The teams built a special bond, the leaders claim. They’ve worked together since the start of XCTC, and the friendship hasn’t stopped.
“It’s great working with our Pacific Islands brothers. We get to learn from each other. We build a pretty special camaraderie,” Tani said. “This is the first time we trained together under the (29th Infantry Brigade Combat Team). If we go to war, they guys are going to depend on each other. We have to trust each other.”
“Things were done differently in the beginning, but in the end we became a team,” Guerrero added. “They learned from us, we learned a lot from them. They knew we were rusty because we haven’t trained to do our skills in quite a while. But we all got on the same page.”