The Eyes of Field Artillery

Story and photo by Sgt. First Class Peter Towse, 42nd Infantry Division

Staff Sergeant Onix Lugo, platoon sergeant for the target acquisition section, Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 258th Field Artillery Battalion, calculates fire data for fire support during a live fire exercise at Fort Drum, Sept. 16-19.
FORT DRUM – Soldiers of the target acquisition section, or forward observers, are regularly among the first to the fight. Here at Fort Drum, members of the target acquisition section of the 1-258th Field Artillery practiced their skills in locating targets and relaying their location to the new howitzers and crews during live fire training Sept. 16-19.

Whether in battle or in training, these two to three man teams make their way inside enemy territory, keeping themselves concealed, and keep an eye on the enemy’s activity.

Once a target is located, these observers, using only a compass, map and pen, send map coordinates and calculations directly to the battery fire direction center and call for fire.

“We are the eyes of the field artillery,” said Staff Sgt. Onix Lugo, platoon sergeant for the target acquisition section, Headquarters Battery, 1-258 Field Artillery Battalion. “Without the eyes, the guns will not know where to shoot.”

The data the forward observers send back to the battery fire direction center can often mean the difference between victory and defeat for the maneuver forces the artillery crews support in the field.

“We can be as forward as the unit needs us to be,” Lugo said. “We go to the mountaintops and the hillsides to observe enemy locations and activities and report back to our gun batteries.”

Working in seclusion, far from friendly support, the observers have the daunting task of staying just out of reach of the enemy, but at the same time, always within visual range of the military force that is continually seeking them out.

“We use high-powered binoculars to find the enemy and a laser range finder that will give the distance, direction and a 10-digit grid coordinate of any target that we acquire,” Lugo said. “This is extremely helpful when we need fast results.”

Once the calculations are given to the gun batteries, the observers sit patiently for the highly anticipated sound of the Army’s “King of Battle” letting loose the rain of steel and high explosives on the target below.

“It is an exciting moment when we can call back ‘steel on steel,’” Lugo said. “That is our way of saying direct hit and the enemy is destroyed. It is an awesome feeling!”