By 2nd Lt. Alicia Lacy, 147th Reconnaissance Wing
/ Published January 12, 2014
12/21/2013 -- AVON PARK AIR FORCE RANGE, Fla. - There is no room for error, and accuracy and timing are everything.
With almost any occupation, training is integral and maintaining proficiency is imperative; however, for tactical air control party members, being proficient in their jobs can mean the difference between life and death.
Maintaining the skills required to be adept in one of the most physically and mentally demanding career fields in the Air Force can prove difficult, especially for drill-status guardsmen.
To support that need, 14 TACPs with the 147th Air Support Operations Squadron, Texas Air National Guard, at Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base in Houston, Texas, trained here December 15-21, 2013, to perform periodic evaluations, currency training, proficiency training, and upgrade training, as well as using the opportunity to train with and mentor forward air controllers with the Czech air force as part of the National Guard's State Partnership Program.
Other tasks included jump operations, close combat attack, air assault and close air support controls.
Due to the dynamic nature of a TACPs job, it can be necessary for a member to recall weeks, months, and even years of training in a moment to be able successfully and properly execute its mission.
Because of this, nerves can run high as TACPs deliberate dozens of potential outcomes, calculate the precise positioning of the aircrafts, plot points and distances, relay targets and locations to key personnel, whether it's the ground commander or a pilot equipped with the firepower necessary to execute the mission, or make the recommendation to pull the trigger. All these things can happen within moments in the heat of battle, and any decision can pose great implications.
"(The necessity to maintain that proficiency is) critical enough to not want to display incompetency on the next UTA," said a staff sergeant with the squadron. "It is self-driven for pretty much everyone. If you want to be a sharp member, you practice, practice, practice."
And for the week, that is what they did.
During the weeklong training exercise, members worked with Air Force Reserve F-16C pilots from the 93rd Fighter Squadron, 482nd Fighter Wing at Homestead Air Reserve Base, HH-60 Pave Hawk pilots from the 301st Rescue Wing at Patrick Air Force Base, Air National Guard standardization evaluation program advisors from the 194th Air Support Operations Group at Camp Murray Tacoma, Wash., Army Reserve parachute riggers from the 421st Quartermaster Company at Fort Valley, Ga., and four forward air controllers from the Czech air force.
The members were able to utilize the 106,000 acre air-to-ground training range as a location to perform exercises in a joint environment, using real-world equipment, personnel and scenarios to better mirror situations they may face downrange.
"Live air is always better than simulated air because of the realism," said a technical sergeant with the unit.
At the culmination of the training, 38 F-16 sorties were flown, there were nine jumps from the HH-60, six BDU-33s per jet were dropped, about 120 joint terminal attack controls and four JTAC evaluations were completed, 16 day and night CCA controls were executed with 13,500 rounds of ordnance expended, and 36 controls among the four Czech FACs were performed.
TRAINING FOR ALL
Though the TACPs traveled to Florida to train, the exercise provided beneficial training for the other units involved.
The fighter pilots are gearing up for deployment, so the training was a valuable opportunity for them as well, said the ASOS commander.
In addition to the added experience with CCA and CAS controls, incorporating the Czech FACs into the training enabled them to understand how U.S. forces operate and vice versa.
"We work together during deployments, so we know what to expect," said another staff sergeant from the squadron, "and it also helps with the language barrier."
This is not the squadron's first time working with the Czech Republic's FACs.
As part of the Department of Defense's State Partnership Program, Texas and the Czech Republic are linked up as partners to support the security cooperation objectives of the U.S. European Command commander, whether it's through improving the partner country's capabilities or increasing cultural awareness and strengthening the relationship between the U.S. and the partner nation.
The squadron has worked with the European nation since about 2009, performing exercises in both the U.S. and the Czech Republic.
"Training here helped (the FACs) because they don't have the same airframes in the Czech Republic and vice versa," the TACP said.
From their experiences working with the 147th ASOS, the Czech FACs said they have learned new tactics and techniques that they have started to implement.
The SPP is a DOD security cooperation program run by the National Guard that also serves as a mechanism for training National Guard members.
The program began in 1992 and now nearly every state participates.