CANYON LAKE, Texas --
Calling in an airstrike and ensuring bombs are delivered on target in combat is the essence of what Tactical Air Control Party members do, but those capabilities were put toward another use - locating survivors of natural disasters and directing aircraft to those individuals to save lives domestically.
During a domestic interagency search and rescue exercise at Canyon Lake, Texas, April 11, 2014, TACPs from the 147th Air Support Operations Squadron, 147th Reconnaissance Wing, added a new, unique piece to the state's joint disaster response efforts.
"When you think of TACP, you normally think of warheads on foreheads," said a master sergeant with the squadron. "Close air support is our bread and butter, but we're broadening our horizons as a unit and really getting vested in the domestic operations."
The weeklong exercise included several moving pieces amongst several locations throughout the state and the collaboration of several agencies, which included the Texas Air National Guard, Texas Army National Guard, Texas Task Force 1 and the Texas Department of Public Safety.
This is the first time ASOS has worked with all the participating entities at the same time in domestic response operations, which has proven to be a valuable asset.
"(The ASOS element) was absolutely beneficial," said Chief Master Sgt. Shawna Woods, Texas Air National Guard operations superintendent. "This was the first time Texas Task Force 1, Army aviation and ASOS had eyes on the same focus."
Woods said the primary responsibility of the TACPs was to de-conflict the airspace and control the flow of aircraft. However, in addition to that, the incorporation of the TACPs was a way to integrate an added capability from the Guard.
The interagency exercise presented an opportunity for the ASOS personnel to assess its ability to integrate with Texas Task Force 1 in joint operations, as well as develop standard operating procedures for future operations.
"We learned how we do business individually and as a joint force and how we can benefit from each other," Woods said.
During the exercise, the TACPs controlled two Sikorsky UH-60 Blackhawks, one Eurocopter LUH-72 Lakota, one DPS helicopter and one RC-26 Metroliner.
"An aircraft flying in here without any direction or de-confliction from other assets in the area can be a bad day, so just like we prevent fratricide on the battlefield, we're also keeping everybody safe here," the master sergeant said.
The goal of the exercise was twofold: to exercise command, control and coordination of joint and interagency aviation capabilities in response to a hurricane in Texas, as well as conduct training in actual search and rescue, incident awareness and assessment, and air mobility response operations.
The day started with members from the 221st and the 149th Combat Communications Squadrons establishing communications that allowed for the delivery of incident awareness and assessment capabilities to the representatives in the air operations center at Camp Mabry via a full-motion video feed.
The communications element was imperative to the seamless execution of the search and rescue exercise.
"(Communications) for command and control is very critical," said Master Sgt. Juan Rodriguez, an RF transmission systems airman from the 149th Combat Communications Squadron. "The on-scene commander can communicate in a given area, but it also gives reach back."
Network and radio communications set in motion the concomitant command and control from the air operations center to the forces on the ground, as they were able to view a live feed of the action in real-time through visuals provided by the RC-26 aircraft flying overhead.
After communications were established, the TACPs setup the landing zone for the helicopters to load and unload personnel and "survivors," and then members from Texas Task Force 1 and DPS set to the waters and geared up to launch the mission with players wading in the lake awaiting rescue.
This continued throughout the day, as rescuers hoisted survivors onto aircraft and delivered them back on land, rescuing 36 survivors total.
"With us being out here, we're making the response time for the aircraft from picking the survivors up out of the water that much faster," the master sergeant said.
"Being a part of the ASOS and coming out here training, we're finding new mission sets," he went on to say. "The guys are just used to being out training for that CAS piece, so coming out here and saving lives is something different and I think it's something the guys are enjoying - putting their skill sets that they've learned over the years in training to use in a different environment." The 147th ASOS is a Texas Air National Guard unit. For more information on the squadron or being a TACP at Ellington Field, call 832-632-1387 or 800-864-6264.