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'Two lone Airmen' help control the skies of Afghanistan

Posted 12/1/2011   Updated 12/1/2011 Email story   Print story

    


by Lt. Col. Jill Long
504th Expeditionary Air Support Operations Group


12/1/2011 - Afghanistan -- When many think of airpower they think of the movie clips from World War II where the skies are filled with bombers and fighter escorts, anti-aircraft artillery blazing away, and the "ready room" filled with pilots. Today airpower has a different image; for many on the ground it is represented by two lone airmen, standing ready to direct a multitude of aircraft and joint fires capabilities in support of our joint and coalition partner services and their efforts on the ground.

The 817th Expeditionary Air Support Operations Squadron, part of the 504th Expeditionary Air Support Operations Group, is the face of airpower across eastern Afghanistan.

Their tactical air control parties (TAC-P) which combines specialties contributing to the entire tactical command and control network for airpower, ultimately boils down to one joint terminal attack controller (JTAC) and one radio operator maintainer and driver (ROMAD) known as a TAC team. The TAC teams from the 817th are dispersed across 109,000 square miles of terrain and provide the critical link to airpower integration with the ground forces.

Lt. Col. Larry James, commander of the 817th EASOS said, "The TAC-P are on the frontlines with the soldiers expertly requesting, integrating, and controlling close air support missions to ensure that ground forces are successful."

Officials said last month that airmen from the 817th EASOS played a crucial role in defending one of the Army outposts on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Maj. Chris Carden, who is one of two Brigade Air Liaison Officers (ALO), attributed the successful defense of the base to teamwork and preparation.

Capt. Thomas White, the other Brigade ALO, had conducted a preemptive review of the base defense plan from an airpower perspective and developed means by which airpower could be effective in all weather conditions. The TAC-P at the outpost took White's plan and integrated it into the tactical operations center by running battle drills with their Army counterparts who are responsible for direct fires. The teamwork they developed during these drills was key to their ability to provide effective airpower and resulted in the successful defense of the outpost with over 70 enemy killed in action.

Col. Edward Bohnemann, U.S. Army Commander of Task Force Blackhawk, said he has been quite impressed with the support he has gotten from the Air Force.

"I couldn't be more pleased with the Airmen that are deployed with us," he said.

The integration the airmen provide to the task force varies from executing terminal control of kinetic air strikes to providing classroom instruction on TACP-specific communications equipment, developing air support requests, and advising task force leadership on the most effective utilization of airpower assets.

James added, "We put a lot of responsibility on our Airmen, they regularly venture into harm's way with our soldier bothers and can literally save the day by putting ordnance on target."

In the end, when it comes to airpower integration it all comes down to the two lone airmen ensuring airpower is there when our joint and coalition partners need it.



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