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The 1/92nd Field Artillery
Association - Vietnam

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FO Lt. Hughes with ARVN counterparts

 

FORWARD OBSERVERS


Bo Prehar and William Harlan



The 1 st Battalion, 92 nd Artillery was not authorized Forward Observer (FO) teams because we were not a Direct Support (DS) unit. By doctrine, medium artillery was primarily in a General Support or Reinforcing role. But, in a counterinsurgency battlefield like Vietnam, conventional doctrine was often set aside. Our batteries performed GS, R, and DS missions in support of American, ARVN, and regional defense forces. The battalion had no choice but to form its own FO teams.

Our FO teams were two man teams instead of the traditional three because of personnel shortages and the growing demand for FO teams. Battalion operations (S-3) was responsible for coordinating and assigning artillery missions while the intelligence section (S-2) managed and assigned FO teams. It was normal to have several FO teams in the field at any given time during the height of the war. (See Fig. 1) Our FO teams performed admirably under very austere and demanding conditions.


Fig 1- Forward Observer Teams provided by the battalion, 1967-1971

William Harlan was a FO in 1970-1971. What follows are his answers to questions on what it were like to be a FO in the battalion.

Q 1-What was the procedure for becoming a FO in the battalion?

A1-I went to my First Sergeant and volunteered. Of course, he tried to talk me out of it, but he failed.

Q2-What kind FO training did you receive?

A2-My training was two weeks long consisting of classroom and live fire instruction. We had to pass a written and live fire test. When I finished, I went back to Artillery Hill and was assigned to S2. I still belonged to A Battery. I received two or three months of additional training at the battalion by going out on missions with a FO and his RTO.

Q3-How many FO teams were in the battalion?

A3-I knew of four. I do not remember having a steady RTO. One was assigned to me at the start of each mission. It was usually a PFC. I also was a PFC but after two or three months, my battery commander promoted me.

Q4-What was the makeup of the FO team?

A4-The team was a RTO and I. The ARVN and Mike Strike Force usually assigned two individuals to act as bodyguards and interpreters. We stayed close to the ground commander.

Q5-How were FO teams selected to go out on a mission?

A5-Experience was first then it was availability and mission area.

Q6-What was the average time you were in the field supporting an operation?

A6-The average time was two to four weeks. Most missions that I went on were search and destroy.

Q7-What kind of units were you supporting?

A7-I worked mainly with Vietnamese troops. I was the FO on several 1/92 convoy resupplies to firebases and in my last month in country, I was the FO with a US engineer unit building a road to LZ Lonely. Part of my duties there were to teach ARVN guys how to adjust artillery. That is how I ended up at the Siege of Phu Nhon in 1971.

Q8-How were FO teams treated by the units they supported?

A8-I was treated very well. I remember once when I was sick with malaria they carried all my gear and even me for a couple of days till I could get a medevac. I felt safest with the Mike Strike forces.

Q9-How were FO teams treated by the battalion?

A9-We were treated very good.

Q10-Did FO team members return to their batteries when missions were completed?

A10-I was encouraged to spend time on the firebases to get to know the guys on the guns. I could go to any firebase I wanted as long as I cleared with the Captain in S-2. I spent a lot of time in Plei Mrong and Weigt Davis as I did a lot of missions there.

Q11-How did calls for fire originate?

A11-They originated from the leaders in charge of ground operations. Defensive targets were the fire missions I requested most. I also called a lot of contact missions and a few missions to destroy bunkers, tunnels, and food caches.

Q12-What flexibility did you have in controlling artillery fire?

A12-I had pretty much complete control over adjusting fire. Once in awhile, the ground commander would grab my map and point out where he wanted rounds. Sometimes there would be an Air Observer (AO) in the area and I would ask him for help as the jungle was just too thick to see through. I would pop smoke and let the AO adjust the rounds.

Q13- What equipment did you take with you?

A13-I traveled pretty light; a hard lesson learned. I was lucky enough to get LRP rations (dehydrated food) which were lighter to carry. The things that I would take were a hammock, poncho, extra socks, ammo and more ammo, a few grenades, malaria pills, maps, and whiz wheel. The RTO carried the FM 25 radio.

Q14-How responsive was the artillery?

A14-When I had radio contact, the response time was fantastic. Those guys were the best and it did not matter who or where they were. They were just the best! I cannot say enough about that.

Q15-How effective/accurate was the artillery you employed?

Q15-Once I was able to get the rounds on the target, the effect of 155mm rounds was awesome. A fire fight in the jungle in my experience was pretty much over as soon as I got rounds on Charlie. Most fire fights I was in were against 20 to 30 of the enemy. The artillery ran them off pretty fast.

Q16-What was your preferred type of artillery round?

A16-I always adjusted with white phosphorous (WP). Good ole high explosive (HE) rounds with a short delay were my pick.

Q17-How often did you use the 1/92 batteries vs. other artillery units?

A17-There were only a couple of times I adjusted other units like the 8 and 175mm. Once I adjusted ARVN 105mm but it was not good.

Q18-Did you adjust any mortar rounds?

A18-I never adjusted mortars.

Q19-Did you use close air support?

A19-Used the Air Force C-47 mini guns (Puff the Magic Dragon/Spooky) a few times.



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