Army and Marines artillery personnel are undergoing training in Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija, to enhance skills in firing cannons amid controversies in providing fire support to ground troops, particularly in Mindanao.

The training for “fire direction center” (FDC) specialists was opened recently at the Artillery Training School and will run for four weeks, Army Artillery Regiment spokesperson Major Rosa Ma. Cristina Manuel said.

Ten personnel from Field Artillery Battalions based in different parts of the country and six from the Marines assigned in Sultan Kudarat are taking part, Manuel said in an emailed statement.

They were sent by their respective unit commanders to “further enhance” their competencies as FDC specialists, she said.

The retraining came in the wake of the January 25 clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, where 44 members of the National Police’s elite Special Action Force (SAF) were killed.

That clash became an issue for the military after it was learned that artillery units under the Army’s 6th Infantry Division failed to provide immediate fire support to SAF members who were pinned down by Muslim rebels.

The retraining also comes almost a year after six members of the Armed Forces’ elite Joint Special Operations Group hunting down Abu Sayyaf bandits were killed in Patikul, Sulu, on June 19, 2014 due to “friendly fire” from the Marines’ artillery units.

Last January 27, some of the Marines who served in Sulu were sent back to their mother unit which covers, among others, Sultan Kudarat.

The debacle in Mamasapano is currently being discussed at the Senate, where military officials claimed that the SAF did not provide information on the beleaguered police commandos’ location so artillery units did not fire immediately.

Military officials also said the artillery units only fired white phosporous, not explosive ammunition, to determine the SAF members’ location.

The retraining aims to “review and equip more” the FDC specialists so they can “deliver the needed artillery fire support timely and accurately,” Manuel said.

During the retraining, participants will have a live-fire exercise to test their speed and accuracy in computing required data, she said.

“The survival of our endangered troops lies in our hands. However, any inaccurate, lacking or error in the data, as members of fire direction center, it is your responsibility to recommend to your battery commander not to deliver the requested fire for security reasons unless sooner corrected,” training director Lieutenant Maria Theresa Babiera said at the opening ceremony. (John Roson)

– end –