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As the artillery forward observer assigned to C-2/5 Cavalry (my call sign being Birth Control 28), one of my major responsibilities was to keep accurate and up to the minute track of where we were located. Being able to read a map was essential, but no matter how good you were at reading a map, one also had to develop a keen sense of keeping track of the direction the unit was heading and judge how many meters we were traveling afoot. A lot of the ability to do this responsibly came purely from experience in the field. Having to do this OJT day-in and day-out, month after month, gave me more expertise in map reading than any pre-Vietnam military schooling I received. But, I must admit, I did become fairly adept at reading a map and having a handle on where we were located at all times. I know Captain Doug Young put a lot of faith in my abilities. Sometimes, we would have a difference of opinion. He usually accepted my "guess" of where we were located over his own "guess." And that's what it was - a "guess". I just tried making the "guess" as scientific as possible.

But we all know what the terrain was like around LZ Ike. Going through bamboo jungles all day, rarely having clearly identifiable land forms to rely on, using maps that were far from perfect from an accuracy standpoint, and relying on our lensatic compasses to give accurate bearing readings, it was impossible to keep perfect track of the unit's location.

Almost every day I would have at least one "marking mission" fired by A-1/77th Artillery (the 105mm howitzer battery back on LZ Ike). A marking mission consisted of two rounds of white phosphorus (Willie Pete) ammo. One round each to be fired at two specific grid coordinates in a horizon. I would always pick two grid coordinates about a click away (1000 meters) that were not obstructed by the jungle vegetation. The artillery rounds had timed fuses on them and they were programmed to airburst at 200 meters directly overhead the specified grid coordinates. "Willie Pete" was a good choice of ammo to use because it made a distinctive pop sound when it went off, and it also left a very nice white fluffy cloud that was easy to see.  As each of the two "Willie Pete" rounds went off, using my lensatic compass I would shoot the direction to the airburst. Then I would calculate a back azimuth (the direction from the airburst to my compass) for each of the two rounds. I would then lay out my map and using a circular protractor then a straight edge, would draw the back azimuth line on the map. Where the two lines intersected would be our location. This method for determining location proved to be quite accurate most of the time. Let's put it this way, it was the most scientific "guess" I could come up with.

Once we were finished with our RIF (Reconnaissance in Force) and were digging in for the night, I would always shoot the artillery Delta Tango's (defensive targets). I would simply pick four targets, one in each of the cardinal directions about 500 meters from our perimeter. I would have the artillery fire live high-explosive (HP) ammo at these targets. For safety purposes, the first round would always be smoke. I would adjust the artillery rounds closer and closer to us until the rounds were bursting about 200 meters from our perimeter in each of the four cardinal directions.

The Delta Tangos served two purposes - 1st, they gave us close in registered artillery targets in the event we were attacked during the night; and 2nd, they gave further confirmation of the location of the unit. Captain Young and I would always confer after the Delta Tangos were fired and come to absolute agreement on our location.

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Updated March 21, 2002