NEWS | Feb. 9, 2018

Challenging the Norm to Maximize Certifications

By Capt. Jacob Godfrey and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Glenn Butler G3 Fires, 25th Infantry Division

SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, HAWAII -- Recently, the 25th Infantry Division Artillery (DIVARTY) maximized a traditionally standard certification event by leveraging lessons learned from the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) and by integrating the Army Associated Units Program.

More than 120 Soldiers, including Soldiers from the 1-151st Infantry Regiment, 76th Brigade Combat Team, Indiana National Guard, competed in the 25th Infantry Division "Best FiST," from Jan. 5-11 in the East Range Training Area at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. The Best Fire Support Team (FiST) competition and certification included a fire support equipment layout, a 12-mile ruck march, a land navigation lane, a written test on the tactical employment of fire support assets, observation post occupation, and calling for fire with VBS3 simulation equipment.

Additionally, each team participated in a battalion-level fire support rehearsal. "The approach that we took this year was to incorporate lessons learned from the JRTC at Fort Polk, Louisiana, into the Best FiST," said Lt. Col. Loreto Borce Jr., deputy fire support coordinator, 25th ID. "We wanted this training event to inspire professionals and give them honest feedback, so they knew what they need to work on. While at JRTC, I observed that the fire support rehearsal is one of the key catalysts for growth of artillerymen and staffs. It forces them to communicate detailed integration in a clear and concise manner."

The fire support officers and their teams briefed the commanders from the 2nd Battalion, 11th Field Artillery Regiment; the 3rd Battalion, 7th Field Artillery Regiment; and the 25th Inf. Div. Artillery commander, on the detailed integration of the fire support plans they composed in support of a maneuver element. The 25th DIVARTY commander additionally leveraged the senior 131A Targeting Officers in the division as Observer-Controller-Trainers (OC/T) to provide specialized feedback to each team. Junior leaders got direct feedback from the senior Artillerymen in the 25th Inf. Div. on their respective plans and their ability to provide shared understanding across a staff.

The ability to provide shared understanding of planning considerations such as observation plans to not only their team members, but to a maneuver commander and staffs is essential. The addition of the battalion-level fire support rehearsals provided this developmental opportunity.

"The FiST certification was a great opportunity to reverse Fire Support trends that have atrophied over time and increase the overall lethality of fire supporters from both active and National Guard Soldiers," said Col. Matthew Stader, 25th DIVARTY commander.

In addition to the competition, the opportunity to integrate with 1-151 Inf. Reg., was an invaluable training opportunity that the certification afforded both 1-151 Inf. Reg. and the 25th ID. The Indiana National Guard regiment is partnered with 2nd BCT, 25th Inf. Div., as part of the Army Associated Units Program. The program pairs a National Guard or Reserve unit with an Active-duty counterpart for organization, training, and deployments.

"The training opportunities we have been given as a battalion FiST section because of our participation in the Army Associated Units Program have been tremendous" explained 1st Lt. Justin Emmett, Fire Support Officer, 1-151 Inf. Reg. "I feel that because of this training and our partnership with 2nd BDE that there has been more planning considerations for integration of Fires at all levels, from the platoons all the way up to the battalion, than ever before."

SSG Brian Crague, Forward Observer, Battery C, 1-151 Inf. Reg. noted that "the certification was an excellent training opportunity to help us identify strengths and weaknesses within our Company Fire Support Teams so that we can tailor our upcoming training plan to mitigate them."

After a grueling week of competition, Maj. Gen. Ronald P. Clark, commanding general, 25th Inf. Div., recognized the top-performing Soldiers. Spc. Johnathan White, Battery C, 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, earned the individual title "Best FiST Soldier," and Sgt. Charles Laabs, Battery C, 1-27 Inf. Reg., earned the title of "Best FiST Leader."

Soldiers from Battery C. "Charlie Rock," 2nd Battalion, 35th Inf. Reg., 3rd BCT, earned the overall "Best FiST." The team included: Pvt. Reed Kennedy, Sgt. Matthew Dicristo, Sgt. Joshua Holliman, Staff Sgt. Brett Lavigne, and 1st Lt. Derek Swanson. Sgt. Matthew Dicristo, Battery C, 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Inf. Div., earned the fastest time for the 12 mile ruck march, at 2:09.13.

"We expect excellence in all we do, be it calling for fire or rucking up East Range, and we train accordingly," said Swanson. "I think our key to success during FiST certification was establishing a clear sense of Charlie Rock identity early on, so whether it be a new private with two months in the Army or a Staff Sergeant with eight years' experience, buying in is easy. It is great seeing that training pay off in an event such as the 25th Infantry Division Artillery certification."