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NEWS | March 11, 2014

Michigan National Guard certifies Latvian Joint Fires Observers with 100 percent pass rate

By Army Staff Sgt. Kimberly Bratic Michigan National Guard

LANSING, Mich. - As part of the ongoing relationship through the State Partnership Program-which links National Guard units with military forces in countries throughout the world as a way strengthen ties- the Michigan National Guard and Latvian National Armed Forces celebrated success when Soldiers and Airmen with the Michigan Guard recently certified 24 Latvian soldiers with a 100 percent pass rate from a Joint Fires Observer course held in Riga, Latvia, recently.

Latvian course candidates were initially identified in December when the Latvian soldiers completed a two week selection course that prepared them for the JFO course by providing crucial information for successful learning and certification.

"We graded them on their proficiency, their general knowledge of call for fire, and also their English," said Army Capt. Richard Sands, SPP JFO program manager, assigned to Battery A, 1st Battalion, 119th Field Artillery Regiment. "We gave them some evaluations on simulators, practical exercises, and written exams. Through that, we found the 24 who were best qualified and identified them to go (through the course)."

The 10-day certification course task lists included engaging targets with ground surface-to-surface fires, engaging targets with naval surface fires, engaging targets with air to ground fires and conducting terminal guidance operations.

The course was the first time that Latvian soldiers had been introduced to JFO coursework. The Latvian National Armed Forces also have an established and successful Joint Terminal Air Controllers program. JTACs call for fire support from an air terminal and function with JFOs to help provide targeting data.

"The course is very demanding - even for U.S. standards," said Sands. "The overall pass rate for U.S. Soldiers taking the JFO course has been between 65-80 percent... passing them at 100 percent was great."

According to the after action review conducted by the Michigan Guard traveling contact team, in the eight years of conducting the JFO course, a 100 percent graduation rate has been achieved five times. The grade point average for the Latvian students was 89.7 percent-with one student having a perfect score on all exams and simulations-and 13 of the students earned a first time "go" on all seven simulations.

During the course, cadre members worked with four Latvian Joint Terminal Air Controllers.

"Having the Latvian JTACs there was nice because if a guy wasn't quite getting it, we could tell," said Sands. "A lot of times it was a language barrier. You could see the gears were turning but they couldn't articulate it in English. The Latvian JTACs would break it down, switch what we were saying in English to Latvian, and then explain it and then get the guy back up to par. That was a cool thing."