Allied Strike 10: TACPs fight from ground up

by Senior Airman Scott Saldukas
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

GRAFENWOEHR, Germany — The black beret emblazoned with the flash and crest of the tactical air control party has been a symbol of an elite group of Airmen since its approval in 1985.

Known as TACPs, they are usually assigned to Army units around the world. On a battlefield — the most influential part of their job — they form a team that plans, requests and directs air strikes against enemy targets in close proximity to friendly forces.

“Our job is crucial for the joint fight,” Senior Airman Rich Garrett, 1st Air Support Operations Squadron JTAC. “We are able to provide real-time information that could potentially save lives.”

TACPs first made their presence known during the Vietnam War with forward air control officers operating in jeeps that contained large communications centrals. Radio operator, maintenance and driver personnel were enlisted members who would act as the radiomen with the FAC officers.

In April 1977, Air Force Specialty Code 275X0 was established to perform ROMAD duties exclusively.

Today in the TACP community, ROMADS are the newest additions to the unit and are enlisted members who are not joint terminal attack controller qualified. Upon completing rigorous training as a ROMAD, the TACP member will be named an official JTAC.

“I was pumped but nervous at the same time when I finally became a JTAC,” Airman Garrett said. “Knowing I was at the final level was a great feeling but I knew there would be a lot of weight on my shoulders.”

JTACs perform mission planning and provide final control of close air support aircraft in support of ground forces. Using their knowledge of munitions and their first-hand view of the battle, the JTAC requests the right combination of firepower to eliminate the ground target without causing casualties to nearby friendly ground forces.

“We work with the JTACs directly and are a liaison between our guys on the ground and Army personnel,” Capt. Raymond Ku, 1st ASOS air liaison officer. “We also advise the Army on what procedures and actions would be most beneficial for each situation.”

Once the enemy target has been positively identified, it’s marked using smoke or other marking methods. The JTAC gives the “cleared hot” signal to the pilot to handle the situation when all conditions have been met for the incoming aircraft to deliver its ordnance.

During combat operations, an ALO or JTAC will be available for control of close air support missions. These individuals are the only authorized Air Force personnel permitted to routinely control CAS missions in support of Army units or other ground maneuver units, allied or joint, when attached.

However, during emergency combat operations when these individuals are not available, a designated person may direct attacking aircraft for CAS.

“While we are deployed, we support Army units and provide the air power for units needing close air support,” said Master Sgt. Jeffery Harper, 4th Air Support Operations Group operations superintendant. “TACPs are the boots on the ground that directs the CAS missions.”

To accomplish their mission, TACP personnel are trained on portable radio communications equipment; radio telephone procedures; electronic counter-counter measures; tactical vehicle operations; field skills necessary for sustained combat operations with Army ground units to encompass map reading, compass operations, cover concealment camouflage and land navigation techniques; comprehensive knowledge of the Tactical Air Control System and Army Air Ground Systems.

Coming a long way in a short time, the equipment involved with their job is constantly improving and aids with the completion of a successful mission.
Some items that improve productivity include lighter individual body armor, mine resistant ambush protected vehicles, MRAP all-terrain vehicles and the use of unmanned aerial vehicles for surveillance.

“Since I have been in, a few things have changed for the better,” the JTAC said. “Our radios are more than half the size they were when I came in, and that’s a huge help. Not only does it lighten our load and prevent us from getting tired faster, but we have more room for other essential items.”

Although JTACs, ROMADs and ALOs directly deal with CAS missions, the success of their mission wouldn’t be possible without the people on the support side of the TACP community.

“We are a part of the TACP family but in our respective AFSCs,” said Staff Sgt. Marc Levy, 1st ASOS assistant NCOIC of material management. “It is completely different than a normal supply job, but it’s very rewarding and is an entirely different mindset and atmosphere which is needed to complete the mission.”