Ain’t Released Me Yet
Memoirs of a REMF
Copyright© 2016 by Robert B. Martin, IV
All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without express written permission from the copyright owner, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review or scholarly journal. I have attempted to recreate events, locales, and conversations from my memories of them.
Field Artillery Training
“Artillery adds dignity to what would otherwise be an ugly brawl.”..............Frederick the Great
The morning after graduation I climbed into an Army bus bound for Fort Sill, Oklahoma and another eight weeks of training. This time it would be Advanced Individual Training for Fire Direction Control in preparation for Artillery OCS. As the bus traveled southwest over the four hundred and seventy miles, I watched the seasons change from the miserably cold late winter of Fort Leonard Wood to the warm early spring of Oklahoma. Maybe my luck would improve along with the weather.
Fort Sill was the home of the Army’s Field Artillery School. I was assigned to an “OCS Prep” training battery (a battery is what a company-sized unit is called in the artillery). It was Battery D, 7th Training Battalion, USATC-FA (US Army Training Center - Field Artillery). We just called it D-7 for short. The battery was composed of about one hundred men who who were scheduled to attend Field Artillery Officer Candidate School after AIT. The OCS Prep AIT training would be operated much like OCS, but hopefully not as bad as BCT had been. We even felt somewhat human now. We were officer candidates now and were called “candidates” instead of “trainees.”
The two-story barracks building was chopped up into four-man cubicles running down each side of the barracks and separated by a common area in the center. Everything in these personal spaces had a specific place, just like in BCT. And, as in BCT, we had to purchase duplicates of our toiletries. Of course, they weren't the same brands as we used in BCT. One set for display and the other set to use. Each coat hanger in our clothing locker had exactly the same space between it and the ones to either side, plus the hangers and clothing on them were all required to face the same direction. Bunks were all made the same way as in BCT with boots and shoes aligned beneath them. We were being prepared for OCS and failure to comply with the display instructions would usually result in the contents of your foot and clothing lockers strewn from one end of the barracks to the other while you were in class.
The barracks had one room in which the display rules did not apply. It was called the “magic room.” In this room we were allowed to keep things that were forbidden by the display rules. It was like a luggage room. Most of us kept our personal items in suitcases in the “magic room.”
We got up in the morning, went to breakfast, and then attended classes until around 1600 hours (4:00 PM). After class we had free time to relax, study, or write letters before dinner. Then it was off to the mess hall for dinner. Eating meals in the mess hall was nothing like it was in BCT. It was much more civilized. After all, we were supposed to be officers and gentlemen someday. When dinner was finished we often sat at picnic tables under the cottonwood trees behind the PX and enjoyed the pleasant spring weather with quart bottles of 3.2% Coors beer. It was all such a huge difference from BCT.
At AIT I trained in Fire Direction Control (FDC) and my MOS (Military Occupation Specialty) would be 13E20, Fire Direction Control Specialist. I learned about howitzers, powder charges, HE (High Explosive), “Bee Hive” rounds, WP (“Willie Pete”, or white phosphorus), kill radius, azimuth, elevation, trajectory, radians, fuzes (that’s how the Army spells it), air bursts, time on target, FADAC (Field Artillery Digital Analog Computer), “gooks in the open,” “fire for effect,” adjust, and weather. The school was one of the hardest in the Army. It required a working knowledge of algebra, trigonometry, slide rules, and the use of log tables in computing firing solutions for the guns (howitzers, or cannon). We learned how to use firing tables and “slip sticks” (slide-rules) in performing the complex calculations. It was routine for the instructor to pose questions requiring a Yes-No or True-False answer. He would then ask “Check or hold, class?” In artillery-speak, check meant yes, or true, and hold meant no, or false. The class was expected to respond loudly and in unison with the correct “Check!” or Hold!”
We were taught how to receive target information from the FOs (Forward Observers) who called the Fire Direction Control Center on the radio. The FO identified the type of target and its approximate position using map coordinates. The FDC specialist plotted the target position on his map, performed the calculations required to determine the firing solution, and then radioed the settings for the guns to the firing battery (group of howitzers, or cannon). These instructions to the firing battery also included the type of artillery projectile, size of the powder charge, and the fuze setting. An initial round was fired and the FO would estimate the number of meters up, down, left, or right needed to adjust the aim so that the next round would be on, or at least closer to, the target. Using the corrections from the FO, the FDC adjusted the firing solution, sent new settings to the guns, and another round was fired. If it still wasn’t close enough, the correction process was repeated. Once the FO notified FDC that the round was on target, FDC would tell the firing battery to “Fire for Effect.” Either a specific number of rounds would be ordered fired or the firing would continue until the FO declared the target had been destroyed.
The Army had a 200-pound “portable” computer called the M-18 FADAC (Field Artillery Digital Automatic Computer). FADAC was a transistorized, solid-state electronic digital computer whose development began in 1956. The first one entered service in 1961. The maintenance manual for this device listed over 18,000 components. Fortunately, it was the job of electronics technicians to keep it running. We were trained to use the FADAC only after we had mastered the manual process.
FADAC was the first battery fire direction computer used by the Army. It was extremely heavy and slow compared to today’s computers. An experienced FDC specialist could calculate two fire missions manually in the time it took FADAC to calculate one mission. Of course, FADAC wasn’t prone to human error, so it was used mainly as a double-check after the initial rounds were out. The troops out in the field needing artillery support did not want to wait the additional time for FADAC to work its magic.
Even though FADAC was designed for use in the field, its reputation for remaining operational under field conditions was fair at best. One FDC unit in Vietnam, when going to the field, would reportedly fill the back of a 2-1/2-ton truck with mattresses and put the FADAC in the center and hope that it would still function when they arrived at their position.
Today the only FADAC remaining in existence is located in the Fort Sill Artillery Museum. All of the others have been disposed of as hazardous waste because of the Radium that was used on the dials. So, in addition to all of the other crap to which I was exposed in the Army, I can now add radioactivity to the list.
Continued in Chapter 19, Weekends...
Continued in Chapter 19, Weekends...